Scum

This is another in a continuing series of stories from my daily life examining human scum.

Last night I met some friends in the main piazza for a beer. We were sitting on the steps of the duomo, shooting the proverbial merde. At some point we noticed a sea of people to our left suddenly stand up and move towards us, avoiding two men engaged in fisticuffs. The men moved down off the steps and into the wide space of the piazza, followed by their fellow scummy friends. Someone identified them as Albanian, but I’d guess Moroccan or Tunisian. Who knows what they were fighting about, they were drunk. One was smashing a bottle over the other guy’s head, and it really looked like lasting damage was being done. Meanwhile, 20 meters away, the police just watched and refused to move a finger. All that was needed was for them to get in their waiting car and drive it slowly into the piazza, and the fight would immediately break up.

My friends work for an American college study abroad program, and they had just brought the new students to town. So this was the first night in Perugia for about 150 American college kids, and this is their first impression.

After a while, the fight died down. We continued yakking until my friend ‘Bart’ noticed his bag was gone. He had put it behind him, leaning against his back, so we turned around to see if anyone behind us had noticed anything. Immediately the Scum Boss asked us “can I help you? what’s wrong?”. So Bart went to sit down next to him and calmly explained the situation. There hadn’t been any money or a phone. Just some papers for work, his diary, and two USB devices. The Scum Boss sympathised in a friendly way and then called his Scum Minion over and, in Arabic, told him to go get the bag. It was returned to Bart within 20 minutes, for 10 euro. The USB devices were gone, and his keys in disarray, some missing. His papers were torn. Through all this, the Scum Boss addressed Bart as ‘my friend’ and smiled and patted him on the back as if he really were doing altruistic deeds. Somehow this made me want to punch him even more.

The Scum Boss is the same person, in fact, who once stole food from Bart and another friend ‘George’. Bart and George used to make a lot of homemade salsiccia. One evening we had plans to have a grill at a friend’s house, and Bart and George stopped on the way to pick up some extra food items. They put the bowl of salsiccia down on the counter of the little grocery store as they browsed the shelves. After paying, they left the store, only to realize they had forgotten to pick up the bowl. It was gone. They raised a stink about it, and the lady behind the counter yelled at the Scum Boss (in Arabic), who had come in at some point, to just go get the stuff. He went around the corner and retrieved the salsiccia. Bart was about to tear the guy’s head off, but George pulled him away before the situation went downhill.

We live among these people. They know where we live, they know where we shop and work. There are consequences to tangling with them.

The only other major fight (besides the one last night) was about a year and a half ago. It was a full on brawl between the Perugini and the Scum. Broken bottles flew back and forth. Finally, after a significantly long time, the police got in their car and drove into the piazza. The crowd dispersed. The only police reaction to the fight was to fine the bar that had left their recycled bottles out.

I am convinced that this sort of thing could only happen in a place like Italy, where the proper authorities do nothing to stop bad behavior and the average citizen either doesn’t care or doesn’t want to get involved. The Anglosphere, at least, does not suffer fools the way Italians do. This recent story is, to me, a typical expression of American disdain for fools.

Any tourist knows that public busses are the pickpocket’s natural habitat. It’s never happened to me, but I know it’s common–it’s a integral part of the cultural landscape. Everyone on the bus knows who the pickpocket is. As does the driver. Yet the driver will stop and let the guy off, and no one on the bus will say a thing. Try that anywhere in American or Australia or Scotland, etc. and the average citizen will, as they say in Glasgow, set about ye.

The effect of last night’s events, on a personal level, is that I have the urge to pack up a leave this town, if not the country. More than the Scum, I hate the indifference the Italians have for scummy behavior. There are scummy people everywhere, all over the world, looking for scummy opportunities. They prosper in Italy because the culture here is resigned and complacent.

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