Almost everything about Italy is romantic; the wines, the vistas, the restaurants and most importantly, the men. It is easy to get lost in the charming atmosphere you find yourself in and fall in love with the place and the people whilst travelling through Italy. Even knowing this I found it hard not to get carried away on my most recent trip to Italy, lose my better judgement and allow myself to be helplessly swept off my feet by handsome Italians offering me advice on the best places to visit. These are my personal tips for dealing with Italian men as a foreign woman travelling in Italy!
Don’t Take Everything at Face Value
Whether it’s the cameras slung over your shoulders, or the fact that you don’t look quintessentially Italian, most of the natives will know you are a tourist. On our first day in Rome my good friend and I were enjoying the sunshine on the Spanish Steps when we learned our first important lesson about men in Italy. While I was busy photographing some minute architectural detail my friend was being distracted by the charms of a good-looking man who had approached her and started up a conversation. When he offered her a bracelet she thought he was just being charming; once it was on her wrist however, she discovered that he wanted her to pay for it. Another man joined the conversation and began suggesting that all of this would be best resolved with a kiss. In the end it all worked out with a kiss being accepted as payment.
In Rome bridges and ceilings are rarely boring.
The lesson here is that not all flirting can be taken at face value. A small amount of suspicion towards unexpected “gifts” is a healthy thing. Don’t allow all the attention to turn your head. Having learned from our experience we later avoided a similar incident involving proffered flowers while we viewed the Trevi Fountain lit spectacularly for the evening. It was only after we refused them politely that we were told of their very cheap price and asked again if we wanted them. You must simply remain firm and refuse to hold the flowers and bracelets thrust at you or you will find yourself paying for over-priced souvenirs you did not want to begin with.
The Compliments Come Free of Charge
The “gifts” may not be free but the flirting certainly is, and you are free to enjoy that. My friend and I – we are both Americans – had been living in the UK for several years and neither one of us was used to the sort of unexpected attention we received in Italy. Our experience of American and British men left us more accustomed to shy smiles and quickly averted eyes when passing men on the street. Not so in Italy!
Cats and fountains seem to be everywhere in Rome.
Italian men have no qualms in admiring you openly and stopping on the street to talk with you. I had a man stop to talk with me while I admired some crumbling ruins by the street corner. He told me in Italian that my eyes were a beautiful green colour while he gently touched my cheek bone to emphasize his point and then he asked me in fragmented English if I wanted to go to lunch with him. Do not be surprised by the direct and openly flirtatious approach of Italian men. If you feel like it you may make eyes at the handsome suit-wearing gentleman opposite you on the train and smile back as you pass men on the street. Compliments are free, so enjoy them!
Tips for Serious Situations
The likelihood is incredibly high that you will have a lovely holiday in Italy and your only trouble will be that you have missed the irregular opening times of the tiny church you really wanted to see inside. However, it does not hurt to prepare yourself for the worst just in case you are the sort of person who always seems to attract trouble. In case you are wondering, I am one of those hapless souls whose luck seems to run from bad to ridiculous, depending on the day.
In Naples my friend and I encountered serious trouble when we missed the last train back to Rome and had to spend the night in the station waiting for the first train in the morning. There we met an attractive young Italian man who seemed very eager to help us read the information boards how to know when the train arrived and was ready be boarded.
Then he was suddenly a little too friendly and had his arm around my shoulder stroking my cheek and calling me bella. When I removed his arm and we left it seemed like the end of that. Later while we searched for an open bathroom in the more deserted parts of the train station we realised he had followed us there. At that point we hurried back to the part of the train station with more people in it and waited for our train within sight of the police.
Nothing happened but we felt safer knowing the police were there. If you do happen to run into a situation where you are uncomfortable remember that although you are probably safe the police are there to protect you. Of course, it wouldn’t hurt to know a few key phrases in Italian, such as help, which is aiuto, but if you are within sight of the police they will not let anything happen to you, even if you cannot explain to them why you are worried in Italian. Learn from our mistake; check train times three times and bring the address of a hostel or hotel just in case. Stay in the more populated areas and stand near the police in the train or bus station if you feel uncomfortable. Just be careful and pay attention to your surroundings, especially if you are travelling on your own.
Random Acts of Kindness
While you can encounter unsavoury characters in any city, you can also find truly amazing people on your travels if you look for them. Earlier in Naples we met an artist who appreciated that we stopped to admire his sketch work and gave us signed drawings. He also invited us to his next art show and introduced us to his friend at the museum. We were then escorted to a local pizza shop where the staff cooked our pizzas in heart shapes announcing that they were “my heart for you.”
Through this keyhole is the view of Rome I was told to visit by a charming Italian man. He was right, it was worth the walk!
Oh the whole it would seem that Italian men are simply more exuberant. They are not afraid to admire your beauty openly or to offer to tell you the best place to eat or visit. Everyone seems to have their favourite part of the city and if you are friendly, and show an interest in seeing more of the city than the guidebook’s highlights, then they seem more than willing to tell you about them. All of this is probably done with more honesty, openness and volume than you are used to. Don’t be too shy to go along with it and enjoy. Smile and flirt back when you are complimented. Go to the places that the locals say has the best view or pasta. Don’t expect Italian men to behave the way you are used to and don’t be afraid to say no to lunch invitations and bracelets that aren’t free. And above all enjoy your holiday!