Tourist’s ‘Scumbag’ Act In Rome Sparks Debate

How low can you go?

Image: Getty

Food begging tourists in Rome have raised eyebrows, after asking other travellers to buy them food.


You might have thought Begpacking was booted to the sidewalk back in 2017 but it seems to have come back to bite us in the ass. That’s right: it has returned, and this time it’s not southeast Asia getting (rightfully) pissy with the phenomenon, but instead Italy (or as the case may be, one man in Italy, and a bunch of his Reddit friends).

Taking to The Internet’s Trashcan last week, tourist (and Reddit user) u/smeppel warned fellow travellers in the r/solotravel community about begpackers: “I’m in Rome and today I had a guy come up to me while I was sitting on a bench,” he said.

“He explained that he was from Hungary where he worked as a painter, had three more days of vacation in Rome, but had run out of money. He then straight up asked me to buy him some pasta at a place nearby. I told him I was on a low budget myself but offered him to bananas I had, which he ended up taking.”

“I’ve had something similar happen on my previous trip, pre covid, at a bus terminal in i think Vienna. Guy comes up, explains that he was visiting from the Balkans with some vague story about how his cash ran out and asks me to buy him some fast food at the kiosk. This guy actually got pissy when I offered him something I had on me, calling it shit food. This guy must’ve been in his 40s, the guy today about 30.”

“Maybe I’m too skeptical, but I don’t really buy their story of just running out of money for food. At the same time I can’t really figure out what their deal is it they are lying. Are they just really cheap travelers trying to eat for free? Something else?

“Anyone who has experienced this? I’d like to know if this is a common phenomenon or just a coincidence that it happened twice to me.”

Reddit user u/smappel

The comment section quickly got hotter than a fresh out of the oven Margherita, as citizens of the Internet jumped over each other to burn the ‘scumbag’ act of begpacking as if it were your hungry mouth taking a bite of gooey (and way too hot) mozzarella.

Image Credit: The Independent

Though some assumed it was really just tourists who had run out of cash, others said it might have actually been a more organised scam.

One Reddit user, for instance, wrote: “A fairly common scam in some parts of the world involves this kind of begging, usually in which the scammer is working with a local store. They beg you to buy some item (‘see, I’m not asking for money, just formula for my baby! You can buy it directly!’) and once you leave, put it back on the shelf of their partner store and pocket the cash. Relatively common in certain parts of Asia, although I’ve not heard of it much in Europe.”

Another said: “Common scam worldwide — ignore anyone who approaches you on the street. Send some money to a local charity if you feel guilty.”

This was followed up by yet more remarks, like: “Really common scam especially in Italy. They are organized groups trying to scam tourists. They’ve clearly been taught by someone because they use some actual psychological bargaining strategies to get you to give them more money.”

“I’m guessing they’re just local panhandlers, and the ‘I’m a tourist who had some hard luck’ story is working for them to get tourists to give them money,” another wrote. “It’s an icebreaker that lets them approach random strangers since a lot of backpackers are interested in meeting other backpackers, plus it makes them seem relatable, then they can ask for money/food and lean on the social awkwardness.”

There you have it. Either way (whether it’s scammers or begpackers), it’s not the greatest behaviour. Though true ‘begpacking’ – the kind that went viral between 2015 and 2019 is arguably worse, where rich tourists visit poor countries and then beg locals for money to continue on their travels (something which sparked much debate and drew much condemnation at the time, with some arguing it’s the worst thing you can do, and others saying it’s fine so long as you are actually selling a product or skill), neither are great.

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As travel has boomed its way back to normality this year, we are also seeing trends like ‘true’ begpacking make a resurgence, with bagpackers drawing scorn in Malaysia last month, prompting The Sun Daily to report: “A Kuala Lumpur City Hall spokesman said foreign tourists who beg for funds from the public or sell trinkets without a licence to fund their travel expenses are committing an offence since such acts are defined as an immoral activity.”

Not everyone thinks it’s so intrinsically immoral, however, with one writer for The Independent claiming she refuses to judge begpackers out of context, writing: “In the various media slatings, there’s an uncomfortable assumption that every white person in Asia has independent means and a rich family back home to call upon should they run out of money – that every traveller is straight out of the Gap Yah sketch. And while this is doubtless the case for many, it certainly isn’t true of everyone.”

“Of course, begging in a casual way as a long-term strategy to fund your fun trip around Asia is a different story, and one I heartily disapprove of. But there’s a distinction to be made too between begging and busking.”

The Independent

There you have it. Yet another controversial travel trend that’s back with a vengeance now The Spicy Cough has receded to the corners of most people’s minds…

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