Almost 6 years ago, when I was about to embark on my first trip ever to Rome, and first trip outside of the US for that matter, suddenly it seemed like everyone was an authority on Rome. People started coming out of the woodwork with any scrap of knowledge they had about Rome and Italy, even if they’d never been there. And of course, almost none of it was positive. Have you ever noticed how this seems to happen in life? As if I wasn’t nervous enough, going on this adventurous trip alone.
Well, here are a few of the things they told me, and what I actually experienced. Maybe you’ve heard some of the same. Maybe you’ve had different experiences. I’m curious to know!
1. Watch out for Roman men.
Ha. This is a good one, especially considering I met my husband the first day I arrived in Rome. (It’s always when you’re not looking, I tell you!) This piece of advice is stupid. I don’t really know what I was supposed to “watch out” for. Plus, I’ve had Roman men tell me to watch out for Neopolitan men. Ask a Milanese which men to watch out for, who knows what they’d tell you! Even my Lonely Planet guidebook listed Roman men as one of the top 5 negative things about Rome. Here we go generalizing again.
It’s true that women here may get a bit more overt attention on the street than they are used to in their home country, for example I sometimes notice men ogling women and they aren’t so subtle about it. But I wouldn’t consider that cause for alarm—it’s certainly not all men who do this, and it could be simply considered a cultural difference. As someone once told me--living in Rome is like living on a stage: everyone plays a role and everyone is constantly being observed.
2. (could be 1a?) Watch out on the bus and subway—the men will pinch your butt.
This one was already laughable even before I’d come to Italy, but, when you have no personal experience, and other people seem to, it makes you kind of impressionable. I am happy to report that this turned out to be an old-fashioned urban legend, and after nearly 6 years of riding public transport more than I care to, I have never been harassed. That’s not to say that perverts don’t exist on the city’s public transport system. I’ve heard a few first-hand accounts since I’ve lived here of some, ahem, questionable behavior. But, in my experience those occurrences are thankfully few and far between, and I’ve never witnessed any. So I wouldn’t give this one much weight. (Are people still saying this? I got it from a ton of people before I left.)
3. It’s a crime to drink a cappuccino after a meal, or after about noon. Italians only drink them for breakfast.
In my observation this one turned out to be true, in general. I’ve never seen an Italian order a cappuccino after a meal. I have noted that waiters will offer them to tourists, which perhaps makes the tourists think it’s an Italian tradition, but it’s not. The only explanation I’ve managed to garner from Italians is that, “After you’ve eaten a big meal, why would you pour warm milk on top of it?” A more typical after-dinner tradition is a simple espresso followed by a small shot of a digestive liqueur to be sipped, like grappa or limoncello.
4. Italians don’t wear shorts.
This I got from my aunt the night before I was leaving, just as I was setting out my shorts to wear for the flight and my arrival. I immediately changed to a pair of black pants, and despite the fact that it was the middle of the summer, I was relieved once I arrived because I blended in way better. Shorts are usually seen on the beach or in the gym, at least in my experience here in Rome. Ditto for running shoes. Of course, if you’re a tourist, you need to be comfortable. I’m just saying—I haven’t really seen Italians wear shorts or gym shoes in the city.
5. You’re going to get your purse stolen.
In all my time here, knock on wood, or as they say here facciamo le corna, I’ve never had my purse, wallet, camera, or anything I was carrying stolen. But, unfortunately, I’ve worked with many students and tourists who have. The trick is just keeping an eye on your belongings, wearing bags to the front and holding them close, keeping a hand on your wallet in your front pocket, being aware of your surroundings, and not being distracted. Especially on bus 64 that goes from Termini to the Vatican! I think these simple tips have prevented me from being an easy target. The pickpockets don’t tend to waste time with people who look like they know what they’re doing—there’s just too many distracted tourists that are easier to pickpocket.
Well, these are just a few---what have your experiences been? If you’ve never been to Italy or Rome, what have you heard about it? What have people told you?