Understanding stereotypes, Italian style

By Rachael Yaeger | gargoyle@flagler.edu

I spent the first two months of my visit to Florence cowering from Italian men, finding them repulsive, sleazy and greaseballish. Under the impression that most Italian guys thought they could get any American girl that walked past, I was constantly infuriated on the streets hearing the relentless, “Ciao, Bella.”

Little did I know that Italians like this were not attacking American women. We were invading their culture. An Italian man has to work extremely hard for the attention of an Italian woman. Ever so coolly and sleek, Italian women walk with their heads high and focus straight ahead during the day. At night they stand holding their cigarettes and drinks like diamonds in a store window being stared at by keen observers. Italian men exert themselves for the affection of a cold Italian woman, so it is no wonder that when outgoing American women started to visit their country, Italian men found them a blessing.

Eye contact with an Italian man after he has yelled, in what sounds almost like English, “You are so beautiful girl,” translates to, “Follow me.” A polite smile intended to be uninviting might translate to, “Come talk to me.” Sometimes our unconscious flirtatiousness as Americans is rather alarming and provoking to other cultures, especially in the instance of Italian men.

A classmate of mine innocently gave an Italian man her phone number. In the days to follow he had texted and called her every morning to see how she slept, every day to wish her happiness and at night to see if she would have dinner with him. Absorbed with the notion that a woman is interested in them, Italians seek the opportunity to pursue American women if they give them the time of day.

I am not excusing the behavior of a particular Italian male who felt the need to blatantly grope me while I was standing in broad daylight, window-shopping near the crowded streets of the Duomo (the largest church in Florence). Or the Italian that squeezed my waist so hard I nearly jumped off my bar stool, and said, “Say cheese” in my ear. I am saying that I do see, now, why Italian males might have thought it was OK to do such things. In essence, we as American women have dug our own graves when it comes to aggressive Italian men.

It is the plethora of screaming drunken Americans that flood Italian bars from Milan to Sicily that give even the most unobtrusive travelers a bad rap. I have found this “American” stereotype in my other travels throughout the world, but it was my prolonged stay in Italy that affirmed conclusions. My advice to those who seek to and do travel outside of the United States would be to observe and learn about other cultures before going and making footprints across the globe. Afterall, we not only represent ourselves, but also where we come from.

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