Well, when in Rome…

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Why was not I surprised to see the headline, “Tuscan city bans ethnic eateries, fast food,” over the top of a recent AP story on USA Today’s website?

The city in question is Lucca. Not exactly Rome, Florence or Venice but a big draw because of its native son Puccini, whose operas I adore. I spent a day in Lucca once and was amazed at how quiet it was inside its historic medieval center. I mean no one made a sound. Now I think there was a ban against speaking.

According to the story:

Officials say new rules passed last week by Lucca’s conservative administration aim to protect local specialties from the rising popularity of “different” cuisines. The measure also bans fast food restaurants and hopes to reduce littering within the city’s ancient walls, a magnet for tourists.

“By ethnic cuisine we mean a different cuisine,” city spokesman Massimo Di Grazia said Thursday. “That means no new kebabs, Thai or Lebanese restaurants.”

Di Grazia said ethnic restaurants opened before the measure was passed could stay in business.

This recent ban smacks not of gastronomic racism like some claim but rather the ethnocentrism that I witnessed during my two-year stay in Italy. This is the same country whose Fascist leader Benito Mussolini banned Italians from speaking English, or so I was told when I lived there. Under Mussolini’s rule, if an American named Peter White came to Italy, he was introduced not as Peter White but Pietro Blanco. This is supposedly the reasons Italy ranks amongst the worst European countries when it comes to the percentage of English-speaking natives.

The Italians thought the world of me when I lived there because they considered me very clever. After all, one has to have a lot of brains to leave all the conveniences and choices of the United States for their country. I had to be one smart lady to want to live in Italy like them.

But honestly, I had no problem eating Italian food every day in Italy. I traveled often enough so I could enjoy Thai food in St. Tropez, Mexican food when I went home to L.A., Spanish food in Barcelona, French food in Paris. I didn’t need or want those restaurants in Italy. I admit I once ate Chinese food in Rome but it was more out of curiosity, not a craving.

I have no problem with the ban on “different” cuisines or fast food in this small town’s historic center. Seeing a Starbucks inside Beijing’s Forbidden City was nauseating. And one look at all the trash left around the Duomo in Florence, Piazza San Marco in Venice and the Spanish Steps in Rome shows how disrespectful some tourists can be. If this is what it takes to cut down on the debris left behind then so be it.

Do you agree?

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