Living Among the Children of the Dolce Vita

When there’s a gladiator behind every corner waiting to ask you out and you're invited to dinner, along with Sally's boobs.

When you think you can make friends by going to the library for a good old language exchange but really you're attending a speed dating event without knowing it. Photo by redcharlie on Unsplash.

When I was 18, I got on the train in Zurich and drove to Rome for a weekend. I was into ancient history and wanted to explore the city by myself. I got blown away completely as I walked around, gawking at columns and statues like the tourist I was. Little did I know that behind every corner waited a gladiator ready to spring at me and ask me out.

Obviously not a real gladiator, but the men who dress up as gladiators and stand in front of monuments so tourists can take all these wonderfully authentic holiday pictures. Swiss-me had difficulties declining such a direct approach and opted for avoidance. Only that by the end of my trip, I had to do an inhumanely amount of detours to get back to my hotel to avoid bumping into one of these men thinking they were meeting me for an aperitivo later. In hindsight, and as we learned from episode one, I could have probably just walked by and they wouldn’t have recognised me. But I was 18 and believed this was a city where blimey, everyone must have just miraculously fallen in love with me. I was also very foreign.

Getting Into Your Pants Romantically

Italians think it’s easier to negotiate foreign women into the sack. Don’t stereotype-police me, Italians admit to that themselves. And nothing’s necessarily wrong with that. They’re probably right. There’s nothing horrible about having a casual fling either, nor is there any need to justify it. Or so I thought.

Italians apparently don’t want to be so blunt about it. Even if they just want to get into your pants, they’re going to do so romantically. They shower you with compliments and promise you the world. They take you out to dinner, linger over a drink and have a philosophical chat about happiness in the age of technology with you.

Then he checks his phone and you have a quiet inner battle, setting creepiness against possible true love after half an hour/the attractiveness of this person. Until he puts his phone down a wee bit too early and you get a glance of just how much Sally Inghilterra is missing him by sending over a picture of her cleavage. You continue eating your Carbonara and wonder if you should offer some to Sally’s boobs.

A Super-Rat, for Christ’s Sake!

Italy has locations so beautifully corny that they’re usually reserved for Hollywood or paintings in churches. The pub we went to one night was definitely not one of those, but all we wanted was a last beer. However, we had walked straight into the sanctuary of every man who didn’t get lucky and was making his last desperate attempt at four in the morning. We drifted into that bay of sharks completely unprepared.

Heading to the bar, 30 heads turned, their owners staring at us like famished animals. Then they attacked, surrounding us with their moustaches. No “fucking back off” could keep them away and drink was seemingly the only answer. How I craved some of that Swiss frostiness that always surrounds such social settings. I wondered if any of them had any cows they needed to tend to.

These things don’t just happen at four in the morning in strange bars. I had just started university in Rome and was surrounded by American study-abroad students who could legally drink for the first time in their lives and behaved accordingly. I had to find people who drank wine instead of Jägerbombs and signed up for conversation classes with subsequent aperitivo in a library. And how friendly and chatty everyone was, especially the Italian men coming to learn English.

Pathetic me thought I was about to make real friends, when Giuseppe dropped me off at home and without any warning planted a big wet kiss on my mouth. A second ago I had been explaining to him how a collection of rats can be bound together by their tails by substances like hair or gum and become one big super rat, for Christ’s sake. I was so taken aback that I broke into a fit of giggles, shaking my head saying “Nah, no no no, no, no-ho” over again while getting out of the car and slowly blending into my doorway.

Becoming the Molester

Rome is a place where a lot of creepy shit goes down and you need to be prepared to fence it off. It starts with being in a crowded public bus and suddenly feeling something stiff against your hand while you were peacefully escaping the smell of too many human beings listening to Gap in the Clouds by Yellow Days. You pull back your hand immediately and look into the face of an old man who dares to grin at you and actually has an erect penis. It continues with a psycho grabbing your naked foot in the vegetable section of the supermarket and stroking your big toe with his fingers.

Don't you ever assume your bum is safe on Roman public transport. Photo by Manki Kim on Unsplash.

The creep-barometer rises ever higher as we move onto a digital level, when a telephone operator tries to sell you a new plan for your phone but changes his objective mid-conversation when he realises you’re a foreigner and starts chatting you up. You hang up and read “I want to know you” seconds later on your Whatsapp by an unknown number. You’re not connecting the dots right away because you’re not a lunatic, but yeah, there he goes admitting that he’s the guy from before, stealing your number because he has “access to all the numbers in Italy” and he “liked your voice”, and therefore feels entitled to infringe on all the data protection laws ever created.

But there was one incident where I was the molester. I have this quality (or psychological issue, depending on your perspective) that I feel compassion for stuff that in normal people’s minds doesn’t feel a thing. Like when a pack of crackers has fallen down from the shelf in the supermarket, I need to put it back, not because I crave order, but because I feel sorry for the bag of crackers laying on the floor. Or when there’s one clementine left in the bag and I eat it not because it doesn’t make sense to leave it, but because I don’t want it to feel alone in there. Even if I hate peeling damned clementines.

So - big shocker - every time I park my motorino and walk away, I blow her a goodbye-kiss. Only this time, a guy stood right behind where I parked and thought I blew the kiss at him. It took me a moment to understand why he was gesturing at me, and then I struggled not to grin but I really didn’t want to be that man with the erect penis. So I started “No, no no, what? Me? No. No-hoo”-ing and vanished into the street.

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