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The Surprising Fine: Why an American Tourist Was Penalized for Enjoying Ice Cream in Rome

Why an American tourist was fined for eating ice cream in Rome

Cultural differences in food consumption

Eating on the go may not be a big deal in the United States, but in some countries, such as Japan, eating while walking is generally frowned upon. According to Lonely Planet, in Japanese culture, it’s considered disrespectful to your food because you can’t appreciate it while you’re walking. Other countries, however, take this philosophy even further. In Italy, for example, eating, drinking, and loitering in areas designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites is not only frowned upon, it’s illegal. Fines can be as high as $450, as they were for an American visitor to Rome, according to The Guardian.

The incident at the Fontana dei Catecumeni

The Guardian reports that the man, who reportedly had an ice cream in one hand and a beer in the other, had wandered near the Fontana dei Catecumeni, a centuries-old fountain located in the heart of a square in Rome’s Monti neighborhood. Because the area wasn’t cordoned off as it normally would be, the man decided it would be okay to take a seat at the fountain to enjoy his meal. That’s when the police pounced on him for violating the law of “urban decency”. A fine was issued after the man refused to move even after being warned.

The Urban Decorum Laws in Italy

The laws on “urban decorum” in Italy were passed in 2019 and are considered an update to laws passed in 1946, according to the Library of Congress. These laws include bans on street drinking, bar hopping (also known as “pub crawls”), and swimming in designated city fountains. Dressing like a centurion is also prohibited, as is drinking from a glass container in a public area after 10 p.m., according to CNN Travel. Rome’s city council said the rules are “intended to address many aspects of city life, with particular attention to respect for the artistic and cultural heritage of the capital.”

The importance of respecting cultural heritage

We’ve all heard stories of tourists vandalizing historical sites, either by spray-painting or carving their initials into the wall. Tourists have also been caught committing indecent acts, stealing a souvenir from a historical site, or even damaging exhibits, according to Insider. So maybe enjoying an ice cream and a beer is not as egregious as it might seem in the grand scheme of things. But the law is still the law, and “ignorantia juris neminem excusat,” or “ignorance of the law excuses no one,” as Merriam-Webster translates it.


While it may seem surprising that an American tourist was fined for eating ice cream in Rome, it’s important to understand and respect the cultural and legal norms of the places we visit. Italy, with its rich history and cultural heritage, has enacted laws to protect its landmarks and ensure urban decorum. As travelers, it is our responsibility to familiarize ourselves with local customs and laws to avoid inadvertently violating them. So the next time you enjoy gelato in Rome, make sure you do so in a designated area and enjoy the experience while respecting the city’s rules and traditions.


1. Is it really illegal to eat ice cream in Rome?

Yes, it is illegal to eat, drink or loiter in certain areas designated as UNESCO heritage sites. This is part of the urban decorum laws, which aim to preserve Rome’s artistic and cultural heritage.

2. What was the fine imposed on the American tourist?

The fine imposed on the American tourist for eating ice cream near the Fontana dei Catecumeni in the Monti district of Rome was reported to be as high as $450.

3. Are there any actions other than eating that are prohibited by the urban decency laws in Italy?

Yes, the urban decency laws in Italy cover several actions. These include bans on street drinking, bar hopping (pub crawls), swimming in designated city fountains, dressing like a centurion, and drinking from a glass container in a public area after 10 p.m.

4. Why are there such strict laws to protect urban decency in Italy?

Strict laws are in place to protect the artistic and cultural heritage of cities like Rome. They help maintain the sanctity and integrity of historical sites by preventing acts of vandalism, indecency or damage to exhibitions.

5. Can tourists be fined for other minor violations of urban decorum?

Yes, tourists can be fined for various minor offenses related to urban decorum, such as littering, graffiti, or disruptive behavior that disturbs the peace and tranquility of public spaces.

6. What should tourists do to avoid similar fines when visiting Rome?

To avoid similar fines, tourists should familiarize themselves with local laws and customs before visiting Rome. It’s important to respect designated areas, avoid eating or drinking in prohibited areas, and follow the guidelines set by city authorities to maintain urban decorum.

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