All the information below is provided by Pink Pangea community members based on their experiences abroad. Add your voice!
Feminine Hygienic Products
Mollie says: Tampons, Pads, and feminine wash are available.
Carrie says: Anything you need for feminine hygiene is available either at a pharmacy (pharmacia) or super market. If you need something specific for a yeast infection (or, as a pharmacist shouted to a friend of mine after breaking through the language barrier, “vagina cream!!!”) the pharmacy is the place to go.
Alex says: All products are available here at grocery stores, but they might be made of lesser materials and not work as well.
Mollie says: All legal: the pill, condoms, abortion, spermicidal creams.
Carrie says: Birth control is available in Italy, but you must have a prescription from a doctor first before going to the pharmacy. If you plan to have BC shipped to you from the States, be prepared that it could take a while to arrive because A, Italy’s postal system dates from about 1843 and B, if you declare that you have drugs in your package, it’s guaranteed that it will be searched, causing extra delays.
Alex says: Condoms are available again at grocery stores, but they are more expensive than they are in the US. I think birth control is available at pharmacies, but most women I know bring a supply that will last them their stay.
Alex says: Doctors in Italy usually perform multiple different types of medicine. While you can find someone specific, you are probably more likely to find a “jack of all trades.”
Mollie says: Men are very forward. They will stop you in the streets to tell you how beautiful you are. You just have to use your best judgement on how to respond if at all. Most Italian women ignore them.
Men are typically quite jealous lovers and some of them believe that if you go out once on a date this means that you are in a relationship. Be clear about what you want and also be aware that hook-up culture is not as strong as it is in the United States, but Italian men know this which is part of the reason (sometimes) they approach foreigners and not Italian women.
Carrie says: Italian men are very romantic! That being said, if you enjoy flowers, constant caresses and sweet nothings being whispered in your ear, you’ve come to the right place. If you prefer a little more independence and space, perhaps an Italian is not the right person for you. But, give it a chance! You might be surprised. Be prepared for a lot of attention, which can be perceived as clinginess by some people. The idea of personal space isn’t really known here.
Alex says: The dating scene is similar to home. Finding the right bar in Florence where you can meet actual Italian men can be a challenge because they tend to stay away from places where tourists can go. Still, you are most likely to find someone there. Look out for drugs and being roofied–especially in the popular tourist bars.
Types of Men
Mollie says: Most tend to believe they are hot shots (thank those Italian mammas!) They are very forward–age makes no difference. I have been asked out by a 10 year old and I am 23.
Typical men are very “manly” meaning that they prefer calling you, making dates, organizing the evening, picking you up, paying for dinner, etc.
They know the stereotype of Latin Lover and they like it.
More on Types of Men
Carrie says: A few things you should know about Italian men (from my own experience and from my friends): They like to go out late at night (for whatever reason, meeting at 11:30 PM isn’t late) but often will keep you waiting, so work on your night owl skills if you don’t have any. They are very passionate about food, sex and conversation, and they’ve always been impressed and pleased when I attempt to speak Italian with them.
On the physical side: Well groomed, well dressed (although that’s a matter of opinion I guess) and uncircumcised. Be prepared for tight pants and see how many men of all ages you see checking their reflections in the subway windows to make sure they look good.
Oh, and don’t be surprised if you find out your guy is more than 30 and still lives with his mother; in fact, be more surprised if he doesn’t. Family is traditional here, and mothers keep a very protective watch over their children. Very. Protective.
Alex says: Most Italian men are pretty forward and will come after you with full interest. Sometimes they can be persistent, but if you wave them away they will usually go. Some might be considered “feminine”–Italian men spend a lot of time on their appearance and are usually impeccably well-groomed.
Mollie says: Yes.
Carrie says: Italy’s gay culture is a little bit mixed. On the one hand you have high fashion and openly gay designers, but on the other is the Church and Vatican literally a mile away. There is a gay street near the Colosseum that is popular and I have not heard of gay bashings, but in a country that is high on traditional values, it’s best to be careful I think.
Alex says: I’ve mostly heard that it’s LGBTQ-friendly. A few of my friends have been to some gay clubs, but the scene is not thriving like New York or San Francisco.
Mollie says: Yes. Women have power jobs and they dress the part. My roommate is a successful lawyer. Many young professional women are also unmarried and perfectly capable of supporting themselves on their own.
Carrie says: Women do not have the same position in society–yet. Because of the economy, women have been taking more and more jobs usually reserved for men such as bus and train drivers. There are also women who have high positions in government, but depending on who you talk to, they might have gotten the position for merits other than brains, if you catch my drift. Some lament the fact that they were given to women solely on looks, and others lament that they were given to women at all.
Alex says: As a woman in Italy, I feel as though I do not have the same position in society as men. When I go out to eat with some of my friends, the wait staff address men. Most my Italian women friends are quiet around their male partners–the guy does most the talking.
Mollie says: Effortlessly elegant women are everywhere. Fashion is obviously a big deal here, and women sport the best labels. American women are absolutely more forward when it comes to men, an Italian woman never approaches a man, nor does she call him. She waits for him to come to her.
Carrie says: Italian women can be (so I’m told) extremely jealous, and they like and expect a lot of attention from their boyfriends. That is not really me. They are also very sociable (actually, I’d say that applies equally to men) and to my knowledge, I’ve never seen an Italian woman do things by herself such as shopping or eating at a cafe. When I tried to explain to my Italian friend the pleasure that sometimes comes with eating alone at a restaurant, he looked at me as if I had three heads.
Alex says: Italian women are usually well-dressed, even to go and get something from the grocery store. Because there are so many young women studying abroad in Florence, it’s easy to tell the difference between Americans and Italian women. Italian women of our generation are usually less talkative until something offends them.
Tips for Women Travelers in Italy
Perception of Foreign Women
Mollie says: Most are interested in finding out more about my home and they also see it as a good opportunity to practice English. I have never experienced hostility, only excitement at my nationality.
Carrie says: My blonde hair is a dead give-away that I am not a local, although it doesn’t seem to give enough implication that I am an English speaker. Any time I go to a bar, I inevitably get a “Do you speak English” from a guy speaking very slowly. “Where are you from” also is an attempt at a conversation starter from many guys (not a good one at that), but I’ve always gotten friendly reactions when I say I’m specifically from the US.
Alex says: Depending where you are and which places you frequent, most guys will see your foreignness as an advantage if they want to have a night with you. Women are mostly annoyed to hear you are American, but some are interested and kind and want to talk about your experiences in Italy.
Mollie says: In Milan, subways are probably the safest since there are security guards at night as well as cameras. If riding a train, I highly suggest sitting in a car where there are other people present. Buses, taxis, and trams are also safe.
Carrie says: Public transportation, particularly in Rome, has its own risks (mostly taking the risk in assuming it actually is working). I’ve been pickpocketed twice on the bus since moving, and there are always signs in the metro to beware of thieves. However, I’d say this is a risk that applies equally to both sexes.
Alex says: Taxis in Florence are a great way to get around after dark–they even offer a discount to women traveling alone after eleven. Walking in the city center at night is usually safe.
Shady Areas for Women
Mollie says: In Milan, none. Use your best judgement when walking by yourself at night down streets without lights, though. The area around the Central Station at night puts me on edge a bit because many homeless people hang out there, but it is surrounded by security.
Carrie says: It’s always dangerous to walk anywhere by yourself at night. That being said, I have done it and have felt safe. That doesn’t mean I recommend it. In Rome, the area around Termini and Vittorio Emmanuele metro stops are particularly sketchy as far as the city center goes. Via Appia Nuova after the Re di Roma metro stop also can be dangerous, as I was accosted while walking home at night.
Alex says: In Florence, it’s not recommended to walk through the city’s outskirts at night. The city center is the safest place to walk, but during the day, walking anywhere in the city should be fine.
Mollie says: Anything is acceptable! When entering a Catholic church; however, make sure your shoulders and knees are covered.
Carrie says: Italy’s the home of fashion, so dress…fashionably. That being said, you really can wear whatever you want. However, in some churches there are sleeves and/or decent-length skirts/pants required, so keep that in mind. I have seen people turned away for looking indecent.
Alex says: Most clothing is acceptable, though Italians are certainly more modest when going into churches. Most churches ask that you cover your bare shoulders and that your skirt/dress is not too high. You may be turned away if you aren’t dressed right.