By Beth Richards
Who doesn’t love going on holiday? You count down the months, weeks, days until you jet off to your destination, filled with excitement and hopes of 30C heat.
However, as a tourist it is easy to let this excitement overpower your better judgement and forget to respect a country’s local laws and customs.
I should know. My family and I experienced exactly that – and paid for it.
Compared to a lads’ holiday in Ibiza, family holidays are generally considered to be a safer way to travel.
Having your parents take charge of everything from travel insurance to renewing your passport allows you to put your mind at ease and feel safe abroad. However, one thing your parents cannot do for you is take responsibility for your own behaviour.
Several years ago, my family and I treated ourselves to a holiday in Rome.
One of the many places we wanted to visit were the Spanish Steps in Piazza di Spagna, a monumental stairway linking the Trinità dei Monti church to the square below.
Once we arrived we spent a few minutes reading the various plaques on the walls.
However, as children and pre-teens, we lost interest pretty quickly.
We left our parents reading about the history and started to take turns sliding down the bannisters of the Spanish Steps.
We heard the faint conversation between our parents discussing whether we should be doing this or not.
It was the classic difference of opinion on parenting. Our mother, sensible and law-abiding, insisted we should be more respectful and stop playing on the monument.
Our father, on the other hand, said: “Nah, they’ll be all right.” Turns out, we were not “all right”.
The next thing we heard was an ear-piercingly loud whistle from across the piazza. There must have been at least 50 other tourists there, and they all stopped and stared at us in silence.
A very understandably angry Italian policewoman came storming over to us. You did not need to speak Italian to understand exactly what she was saying.
She was not happy. A million “scusis” later and a very embarrassing walk away from the scene of the crime, we returned to our hotel room hanging our heads in shame.
It’s safe to say that this experience taught us a lesson on being culturally sensitive that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.
There’s nothing like being publicly humiliated to really ingrain something into your brain.
In hindsight, I understand why the policewoman was offended by our actions – it was rude and disrespectful, but it shows just how easy it can be to forget to be respectful of the local customs of the country you’re visiting.
Moral of the story: even if your children are a bit restless after a day of museums, don’t even think about letting them play on a holy national moment.
More importantly, mum is always right.
Bethany Richards, 19, is a student at the University of Kent. She is also a brand ambassador for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office where her main role is to promote the Travel Aware campaign.