Around 750 of Rome’s 6000 taxi drivers have signed up to a six-week course in “courtesy, hospitality, language and excellence.” The course has been devised by the Italian capital’s municipal tourism department, and it aims to help the drivers deal with foreign customers. This includes teaching them how to provide basic information in a variety of languages, and the basics of common courtesy. It explores the complexities of cultural differences, including social norms in various cultures and potentially offensive hand gestures.
The city said the drivers are scheduled to take eight classes, aimed at making visitors feel welcome in Rome. This follows social media reports that don’t paint a flattering picture of some cab drivers’ practices, and as they are often the first locals tourists interact with, the government wants to help improve the situation.
According to Maria Cristina Selloni, director of the tourism department that developed the curriculum, demand for training has become urgent in recent years with a significant increase in tourists from China and the Middle East. “Someone has to tell the poor taxi driver that you can’t be the first to offer your hand to an Arab woman or touch a Chinese person’s luggage unless they say so,” she told the New York Times. “Maybe it’s asking too much that they know art history in detail, but a few anecdotes would be welcome, as well as advice on what shows or exhibits visitors should see. Plus a smattering of conversation.”
About half of the course is devoted to languages, mostly English but also Arabic and Mandarin, which is important as Rome is visited by around 14 million tourists each year. “We have to understand what is behind other customs,” Maria Cristina Selloni says. “At home you can like it or not, but when you work you have to be professional.”