Tourists beware: if it's fun, Italy has a law against it

Head for the beach or a park bench without knowing the rules, writes Peter Popham, and you could come home with a hefty fine

Sunday 17 August 2008 00:00 BST

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Louise Thomas

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In addition to the usual perils of sunburn, jellyfish attacks and bottom-pinching, holidaymakers in Italy face a new range of menaces this summer, the result of the Berlusconi government's frontal assault on what it calls the "security emergency".

The nation's mayors have been given carte blanche to write laws to address their own particular security hang-ups. The result is a blizzard of new rules and regulations that threatens to turn the bel paese into the biggest nanny state of them all.

Unwary foreigners risk getting hefty fines for doing things that are perfectly legal everywhere in the world except the particular town or city where they find themselves.

In Genoa, for example, it is now against the law to walk around with a bottle of wine or can of beer in your hand. In Rome that is okay, but if you stretch out under a pine tree or on the Spanish Steps to drink it, or merely to eat a sandwich, your "indecorous" behaviour may be penalised. Likewise if your al fresco snack is followed by a nap.

Stiff regulations are aimed at beach-goers: on one beach in Olbia, Sardinia, smokers risk a €360 (£280) fine, while nationwide, the minister of welfare has imposed a ban on massages offered by immigrants, warning of the possible dangerous effects of "aesthetic or therapeutic services" offered by those "not in possession of adequate training or competence".

At Eraclea, near Venice, parents need to keep a beady eye on their children: sandcastles are banned, as they "obstruct the passage" along the beach. Racketball and other ball games are forbidden on many beaches, and swimmers who dive heedlessly into the sea may face whopping fines if they are not in "permitted areas".

And woe betide holidaymakers in many seaside towns who wander away from the beach clad only in boxers or bikinis: it's against the law.

The nationwide witch-hunt against the vendors of counterfeit designer bags has been fortified in Ostia, Rome's most popular beach, by the use of patrolling helicopters, making the Italian beach experience even more hellish than usual.

Away from the water, things don't get any easier. Two people may sit down on a park bench in the city of Novara, but if a third person joins them and it's after 11pm, all three are breaking the law. In Viareggio the benches may contain as many people as care to squeeze on to them, but if one of them puts his feet up on it he risks a fine. Scatter breadcrumbs for pigeons in the city of Lucca and you could end up hundreds of euros poorer.

The drive against begging has been taken up by many towns – including Assisi, home of St Francis, who began his religious life as a mendicant. In the romantic city of Verona they have taken this trend to its logical conclusion, requiring the beggars' takings to be confiscated. And in Florence it is now illegal to clean the windscreens of cars waiting at traffic lights.

Silvio Berlusconi's government may be the first in the world to have introduced a "minister of simplification", with the job of identifying and abolishing redundant laws, but in the interests of greater local democracy and security his interior minister, Roberto Maroni, has allowed a thousand legal flowers to bloom.

Most of them will probably never be enforced, but that will be scant consolation to the pigeon-feeder whose holiday souvenirs include a large fine.

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