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3Novices:Florence freeloader masters art of the free lunch

ROME // They say there's no such thing as a free lunch.

But in Florence one German man has proved it is possible to get away with blagging free meals and drinks all over town, if you have the nerve.

Ronald Siedler has enjoyed fine dining at some of the swankiest establishments in Florence without ever paying a penny. When the bill arrives, he simply says, "The Itallians are paying."

The Corriere della Sera on Tuesday reported that Mr Siedler, 37, had run up a string of complaints, leading the paper to nickname him "the scrounger of Florence."

At one favourite haunt, the historic Caffe Giacosa, which is owned by the fashion designer Roberto Cavalli, Mr Siedler enjoyed seven beers and some snacks, running up a bill of 62 euros. He a left a note informing staff: "The Catholic Church has paid."

Mr Siedler's freeloading spree first came to attention on May 31 when he refused to pay for the drinks he had consumed at a pub in the famous Piazza del Duomo in central Florence. The police received more complaints about him over the following days.

On June 6, there was a complaint from a restaurant in the town of Greve, in the Tuscan countryside 31 kilometres south of Florence, where M Siedler had allegedly run off without paying for his T-bone steak.

He displayed similar nonchalance while downing single malt whiskies in the Bar Palazzo Vecchio next to the famous city hall.

The local police have picked up the German several times and cautioned him, but his alleged offences are considered too minor to warrant his detention and would not necessarily lead to conviction.

He is believed to be homeless but speaks Italian and English as well as his native German and swears in all three when drunk and apprehended by the police, although restaurant staff describe him as courteous.

Italy's highest court ruled last year that stealing small amounts of food to stave off hunger is not a crime by overturning the conviction and prison sentence of a homeless man who had shoplifted cheese and sausages worth EUR4.07

The judges did however specify that this only applied in cases of "immediate and essential need" for food, a benchmark lawyers might struggle to apply to Mr Siedler's refined tastes.

* Agence France-Presse
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