When sitting next to teenagers listening to Italian trap music in the McDonalds just didn’t impress you that much and your date thinks he’s the Holy Mother Teresa.
The unfiltered male attention you get when you’re a foreign woman coming to Italy can be refreshing when you first arrive. Especially when you come from Switzerland where everyone is timid and all that happens on a night out is a staring competition across the bar until one of you leaves because you have to tend to your cows, and you all just wished you had been a bit more, well, Italian. Compliments, passion, the universal language of love: Italians make you feel special - and sometimes like a complete idiot.
A Crab Restaurant, You Say?
Like that time when freshly escaped from Switzerland, I was striding through the hall at Rome’s main train station when suddenly, a guy asked me what time it is. It was the year 2013, the human race had long discovered the pocket watch and the cell phone. Digital clocks were surrounding us as we spoke, but Italians possess a superpower that makes you ignore reason. I told the stranger it was three o’clock and got into a conversation. He wanted to exchange contacts in case I “needed a guide” to show me where the Trevi Fountain is. Or we could just go together. Right now. The urgency made me cringe and I knew it was time to flee.
But no hard feelings, it takes courage to approach someone. It had only happened once in Switzerland. A man came up to me and asked if I wanted to grab a coffee, only he was so nervous he couldn’t say it properly and I thought he was asking where the next crab restaurant was. There aren’t any crab restaurants in Switzerland. It got awkward.
Anyhow, after this intense clock-encounter I still felt a bit flattered. Only to pass by that exact same spot a few weeks later and experience the same situation, same question, same guy, like in a creepy alternative reality. He didn’t recognise me and I was so perplexed that I ran off as if I was being pursued by a gang of Jehovah's witnesses.
Cold-Hearted Northern P*
The unlucky connection to Rome’s main train station continued. I was having lunch in that area with a guy I had met in a bar. But instead of checking out places to eat along the cobblestoned streets on that ironically sunny bitch of a day, he herded me inside the dark train station underground shopping area and headed straight to McDonalds. For no reason at all I thought I had to keep up appearances, quickly established what the least messy choice of food would be, and settled for the ridiculously small amount of six chicken nuggets. I felt I needed to take back power over where this was heading, decided to pass by the teenagers playing Italian trap music from their phone’s speakers and put my tray down next to a group of anarchists who had claimed half of the McDonalds as their temporary home.
The guy in question, the one I didn’t want to judge the way I chewed my lunch, started biting noisily into his double cheese burger, dripping Ketchup on to his sleeve, avoiding conversation. And good for him. Stain your Armani shirt. I was beginning to feel very much in league with the anarchists.
When I stopped responding to the six messages per hour I received from him over the next few days, he called me a cold-hearted northern puttana.
As if He Was the Holy Mother Teresa
Italy is lagging behind when it comes to gender roles - is what you read everywhere, referring to social norms that keep women in the kitchen and men doing the heavy lifting or paying the bill when you go out on a date. But then quite the opposite happened to a friend: At the end of the night, the bottle of wine cost 21 Euro. They split the bill and he said: “Alright,” sigh, “I’ll pay the extra Euro”, as if he was the Holy Mother Teresa announcing her mission to help the poor and destitute.
Apart from this incident, Italians are usually very generous. And when a guy offers to pick you up or drive you home, it’s often genuine. But beware when that guy is nearing 70 and wants to impress you with the letter he wrote to former prime minister Renzi on how to get Italy out of the recession and the fall of the shadow government. That’s when you need to get OUT OF THE CAR.
Trying to Be Spectacular
When you’ve been out there for a bit, you know that everyone has a signature move, the one that is meant to impress and you keep repeating because you think it makes you look spectacular in the other’s eyes. Mine is cooking a Swiss dinner because I can drink sips of wine throughout the process and I lie to myself about how exquisite the Swiss cuisine is. E. takes the guy to her favourite Greek. It works, she took me there and I fell in love with her. I'm sure you have one, too.
But the classic Italian signature move is the passeggiata on a hill or along the beachfront where you arrive at a point with a panoramic view and you stand there gazing off into the distance as if you belonged on the cover of a grocery store romance novel. It happens four times out of five. The fifth time will be something like a letter to Renzi or eating at McDonalds.
Enjoying a panoramic view is beautiful and thank you everyone who ever showed me one. But every time I was looking down from the Pincio I had to come up with an enthusiasm as if it was the first time I saw night descend over the city of Rome. The one time I admitted that I’d been there before, the guy made a face as if I’d just declared that I hated his nonna’s lasagna. Sneaky bastard, because whether you’re admiring the sunset over St. Peter’s or looking for star constellations on Gianicolo Hill, he’s done it all before. Probably even yesterday night.
More intriguing stories next week with another episode: Living Among the Children of the Dolce Vita.
Don't miss out:)