How to Act Like the Tough, Beautiful Italian Women
I walked into my apartment in Bologna to find my Sardinian roommate swinging a broom at a small moth, which she had found in her closet and which was now fluttering across the floor.
“Madonna!” she yelled, and swung. “I hate these butterflies.” I pointed out to her that it wasn’t a butterfly but rather a moth. She didn’t seem to take notice, and swung again. My roommate was barely five feet tall, and had just taken a shower, so she was wearing nothing but a terrycloth wrap. Brandishing the broom as a weapon, she chased the moth back and forth across the room. She was a perfect lesson in becoming Italian; she cursed like a sailor and constantly responded “boh” (I don’t know) to important questions I had regarding rent.
The mail, the universities, the tax system, and the way people drive are all chaos, but somehow everything works and life goes on. This is Italy.
She once told me that our apartment had no number and that all mail should be sent to the building, where whoever gets mail can find their letters in the pile. The mail, the universities, the tax system, and the way people drive are all chaos, but somehow everything works and life goes on. This is Italy.
After some effort, my roommate killed the moth with a smack of bristles on wood. Then she looked up.
“I don’t care if it’s a butterfly or not, but it is definitely not a butterfly I want in my closet.” I had to agree.
“I need some espresso,” she announced, and wandered off to the kitchen. “You want some?”
Like typical Italian women, my roommate balanced grace, indifference, and a not-so-small helping of vulgarity. She was gorgeous, like most of the women I saw. When I first arrived in the country, I gaped at each passing female in awe and jealousy. Italian women who looked like supermodels scarfed down Nutella croissants for breakfast with juice and sweetened coffee, then pasta for lunch, then an inevitable pizza or bread dish with wine and possibly gelato at dinner. Despite the carbohydrates, they stayed thin and elegant, traipsing down the street in four-inch heels. In contrast, my heels did not mesh well with the ancient cobblestone streets. I fell more times than I cared to count. Pasta did not agree with my waistline either.
Like any American girl born before 2000, I based my expectations of Italy on the Lizzie McGuire Movie. I spoke Italian and had visited once before, but my study abroad semester would finally give me time to find him — Paolo, the movie’s gorgeous Italian pop singer who takes Lizzie on his scooter for a whirlwind romance through the city. I felt discouraged about my prospects of finding my Paolo or any romance in Italy.
Then I began to notice other women whose bodies looked closer to mine. Italians are comfortable with different versions of the beautiful body. Women who would not dare appear at the beach in the U.S. for fear of weight judgment sport bikinis here. Men, too, do not feel encumbered to hide their bodies in the American style of large, baggy clothing. Clad in tight pants and popped collars, they began to approach me. I met a Salvatore, a Marco, and two Matteos. I went on dates, but none of them had the potential to become my big Paolo romance in Italy.
Women who would not dare appear at the beach in the U.S. for fear of weight judgment sport bikinis here. Men, too, do not feel encumbered to hide their bodies in the American style of large, baggy clothing.
Perhaps the differences were cultural. Italian men take the subtlest hints of friendliness as sexual interest. When you meet a man for the first time, it’s not uncommon for him to check you out without shame or discretion. Though the famed phrase “ciao, bella” doesn’t have to be sexual, it usually is. Romance in Italy comes with different rules. Still, a different set of social norms has its benefits. The Italian man always pays for dinner. He drives the entire time on long road trips. After a date, he walks you all the way to your door; I suspect he does so in the hopes of coming upstairs.
Not enough, you say? The good news is that Italian women have adapted. They take men with a grain of salt and don’t put up with fake romance. They aren’t nice to men who leer, as opposed to many women in America who are socialized to stay calm. Yes, there’s street harassment in Italy, but nothing a response of “Up yours” in Italian or the local city dialect can’t cure. Necessity breeds pragmatism.
He drives the entire time on long road trips. After a date, he walks you all the way to your door; I suspect he does so in the hopes of coming upstairs.
My Paolo’s name turned out to be Daniele, a Florentine who drove me endless miles on his scooter. He let me pay for half of our dinners and still told me my eyes shone like emeralds. We weren’t in love, but he took me to places I never would have had access to as a car-less foreigner. He showed me how things worked in Italy and taught me how to deal with the things that didn’t work, like my stove, the public bus schedule, and nearly every elevator I encountered. He also steadfastly refused to speak to me in English, which helped my language skills.
By the end of the semester, I still had a foreign accent, but every now and then people would place it as German, or even Tuscan. Though I never fully lived out my fantasy as Lizzie McGuire by singing to a full crowd in the Coliseum, Daniele and I parted as good friends and I had found a little romance in Italy.
The Italian woman mindset has not faded but carries itself into the U.S. or wherever else I find myself. I’ve learned to stand tall when I walk, like the confident inner Italian woman that I am. I revel in my female power and beauty. I enjoy romance, but keep my B.S. detectors on. And then, when all else fails, I know that a hot espresso will cure anything.
How to Act Like the Tough, Beautiful Italian Women photos by Unsplash and Harri Plotnick.