ROME — A group of Chinese tourists at Rome’s Colosseum waits excitedly for a turn snapping a selfie. And yet this time the ancient Roman amphitheater isn’t the main attraction.
Instead, they were taking pictures with Pang Bo, a police officer from their home country's Guangzhou region.
“At first they are amazed: Chinese police wearing a police uniform in Rome?” Bo tells NBC News.
Bo is one of four officers from China patrolling the streets of Rome and Milan this month as part of an experimental exchange program between the two countries.
Three million Chinese tourists visit Italy every year, with May being the busiest month. For many of them, the language barrier is a bigger obstacle than the uneven cobblestones of the ancient cities.
The Chinese officers are deployed around popular monuments such as the Colosseum to help tourists with anything from directions to chasing pickpockets.
“Fortunately, not many are victims of crimes,” Bo told NBC News. “Most of the time they want us to help out with directions. They have a map and ask us how do I go there and there? But for that I have to ask my Italian colleagues!”
Milly Mong, a Chinese tourist, described the idea as “wonderful” and “really helpful.”
“As soon as we saw them we felt home,” she said.
“When we travel to another country, language is always a barrier,” another Chinese tourist who didn't want to be identified added. “We are so happy to see the police from our home country. It’s great help.”
Lorenzo Jacobone, a captain with Italy’s Carabinieri military police, said that the presence of officers from China was providing much more than the opportunity for selfies.
“This is the start of an operation that will pave the way to a wider cooperation between the two countries," Jacobone added. "Soon some of our policemen will be deployed to China to help out in return Italians who are there for work or tourism."