It all began just scant steps from the front of St. Peter’s Basilica. It bagan innocently enough: a tourist wanted to know the meaning of “SPQR” the semi-ubiquitous acronym found throughout the city. I collected the group and for their edification proceeded to explain it’s meaning:
“SPQR stands for Senatus Populus Que Romanus, or ‘The Senate and People of Rome’. It has been used in the city since the ancient Republican times. It is inscribed on anything paid for with tax dollars. You can see it on temples and triumphal arches in the Roman forum, and on manhole covers and garbage cans around the city.” But I didn’t just stop there. I had to update it a little bit…
“It also has a couple of others meanings, the gentler version is ‘Sono Pazzi Questi Romani’ which means ‘They Are Crazy These Romans.’ That’s the one Katie Couric used on the Today Show when they taped here in Rome. The other version, which the Romans find really offensive is Sono Porci Questi Romani’ which means ‘These Romans Are Pigs’”
The moment this translation was out of my mouth a rabid Italian (and presumably Roman) tour guide leapt out of the crowd and shooting daggers out fo her eyes and breathing fire, she tore into me:
“Tu sei pazzo! Non hai ragione! You’re crazy for living here!! Where are you from? I don’t call your city crazy! You don’t pay taxes here! You’re a bad person! Va funcuolo! I wish you were dead and I wish I wasn’t so deeply sensitive about Romanness!” The last two sentences she didn’t say, but were certainly implied.
It would’ve been impossible to demonstrate my point any better. And in a sense that’s what makes my tour so wonderful. However, getting yelled at by that crazy crazy Roman tour guide and then getting yelled at by Vatican Museum custodians means that while my tour may be memorable for the elegant delivery of the factual elements it’s also marred by the consistent run-ins with the locals. I chalk it up to being a little out of rhythm after being on holidays. I sure as shit hope to not draw so much ire in the future.
Unfortunately, henceforth any time any tourist asks me about the “SPQR” I’m going to want to tell them about “this one time this high-strung, crazy, and ultra aggressive tour guide came literally screaming out of the crowd because I told this one tour group about the insulting Sono Porci Questi Romani translation…” At which point I think we all know that that bitch will be back.