Monday, November 27, 2006

Five Things They Told Me About Rome

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?

23 comments:

michelle said...

Beware of Italian men, don't wear shorts, and no cappuccino after 10 a.m. Yup, these are the biggies. And I agree with your analysis :)

I'll also add the generally held belief that you'll be kidnapped by some form of the Mafia and held for ransom in the Aspromonte Mountains if you travel south of Rome. Unless your mother or father is a wealthy northern Italian businessperson or politician, this isn't going to happen (and even then, it's still awfully unlikely).

Ms Adventures in Italy said...

Great list! I'll offer my own take - 1) Roman men. I would modify to all men, but no different than any other country. I did notice the Carabinieri/Police/Military are much more aggressive in Rome - just stay away from Testaccio. :) BTW, the Milanese say beware of "Southern" men which includes Rome and south.
2) You're lucky about the public transportation perversion incidents...I had quite a few first-hand in Rome, even one guy that came after me twice! I was mad after that. No pinching, though. The 64 bus is full of weirdos.
5) This happens a lot, but to people not paying attention. Don't talk on the phone with your other hand full. Keep it on your purse or be a target! Two of my British girlfriends got their purses stolen, one in Trastevere (dinner outside) and the other entering the Metro with a suitcase, though she left the suitcase, chased the guy yelling and he threw it back at her as he ran away. Lucky. :)

Shelley - At Home in Rome said...

Michelle: Interesting about the kidnapping, all joking aside...I wasn't aware of this as a real phenomenon in the 70s until I saw then read "Io Non Ho Paura" ('I'm Not Scared' is the English title). Not only one of my favorite Italian movies but also a cultural lesson...

Ms: I was hoping you'd chime in for the Milanese men! ;-) I had a feeling it was "all Southern men" but didn't want to guess...

superkimbo said...

When I did my study abroad in Florence, I took a trip to Naples. My landlady (we just called her Signora) gave me such a warning about Naples that I was almost afraid to get off the train:

Don't wear any jewlery! Don't carry any money! Lock everything up with the biggest lock you can find!

And what did I see immediately upon exiting the train? Shop, after shop, after shop, selling locks - big locks, mall locks, all different kinds of locks. That certainly freaked me out. But in the end, everyone was as friendly as can be, one older couple even accompanied me back to the airport because I somehow managed to get myself lost.

Shelley - At Home in Rome said...

Superkimbo: Thanks for stopping by, and, love the name!! As for Naples, I have to say that I too am guilty of having given numerous warnings to the US study abroad students Iw worked with, the few times we took them down to Naples. Luckily nothing ever happened but unfortunately you do have to be particularly careful there. I am often fascinated by Naples, especially because I know so little about it, and I am currently reading a book that decodes a bit of the story of crime in Naples, which is very eye-opening. I hope to write a review on it when I finish. It's in Ital so it will take me a while.

Ebony and Ivory said...

I heard all these things too before going to Italy last year. I stayed near Termini and so may people told me to be really careful around there, but honestly I found it to be an OK place there, no problems. I will say about the men...there was a man who was working at our hotel, not an employee but he was some sort of a handyman repairing something. He didn't speak a word of English but every morning he would greet me and we would have a conversation using my very poor Italian mixed with some Spanish, but we were able to understand each other. He was very flirtatious, but not totally forward about it. The day before we checked out, he asked me if I would go out with him and I noticed he was wearing a wedding ring and I know for a fact he saw mine, so I respectfully declined. There were also two men near the Trevi fountain that followed us for awhile, that was kind of scary. I think the only other thing is the pushy rose vendors. When one man shoved a rose in my friends face, she let out this horrendous scream and everyone turned around and there was silence amidst the chaos at the Trevi fountain. Of course we all started cracking up immediately afterwards.
So, what is it about "southern men" vs. "northern men"? Are they more aggressive??

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

Hilarious. Shelley at some point I would like to hear why you chose Rome for your first trip out of the U.S. Sorry this long reply but your post brought back some good memories.

I also went to Rome for the first time by myself. I've been abroad before but had either friends or family in those cities. I booked my trip and the week before I left the Pope died. Everyone told me don't go. Cancel my trip. Rome is a mess anyway, can you imagine with 4 million extra people?

I also heard about the men, I knew about the no milk rule and having been to London, the Caribbean and Paris I know Americans on the whole and esp. here in Los Angeles dress more casually, so the no shorts (but city shorts/bermudas are an execption?) didn't shock me.

I went on my trip anyway and fell in love...with the city:). I was stunned to see women wearing stockings! It's bare legs year round out here, even when it's cold. I was wearing a skirt,flats and no stockings in April (it was not cold that day) and the looks I got. LOL

The men were fine (and I mean that both ways). It threw me the first day, I'm completely invisible here in L.A. Nobody was rude, just flirty. One "incident" stands out in my mind, I was walking back to my hotel near Piazza del Popolo on my last day in Rome. I was eating a gelato and because I had gift bags in my hands I asked for a cone not cup. It was around lunch time and I was on a side street not far from the Trevi fountain. Three Italian business men walked by me. One smiled and said something about the gelato and bellissima, I couldn't understand him. First, I only knew a little Italian back then. Second, he and his friends were drop dead gorgeous and I was struck dumb. He winked and all I could do was giggle, I couldn't even speak. I was wearing a pair of J Crew cords, a jacket and a scarf nothing sexy at all.

They, on the other had were wearing suits and just had a way about them.

re: Pick pockets. You are right. I haven't had any problems but I did notice some tourists walking around with backpacks and not paying attention.

I'm glad I went on my trip and didn't let all the negative comments stop me.

FinnyKnits said...

It won't surprise you that most of the legends of Rome/Italy that I managed to retain revolve entirely around food and shopping. Namely that they are both world class and not to be missed. I couldn't agree more.

The one funny legend that I always hear is about buying leather in Italy. People always ask me if I am going to buy a new leather jacket or some such nonsense every time I go. Clearly they haven't seen the exchange rate, or the vast availability of Italian leather goods in the US, that makes this idea seem silly.

Anyone else get this?

Moon Martini said...

Before heading to Italy I was told to watch out for the men. Ha!
To be honest,I was probably ogling more than they were!

I was also told to not wear any jewelry as it would be stolen off of me. Again! False.


Another great post! Thanks

McIntosh said...

I like your top 5, although I agree you could probably use 2 as your 1b. When I went for the first time (summer of 2002) I got the same warnings. Now, after visiting Italy on multiple occasions, I dispense warnings of a different nature:

1. Avoide any restaurant that offers menues in English/Spanish/German/etc... Clearly they are targeting tourists and will probably charge you a few euros more than the "native's" cafe around the corner.

2. Don't continually buy water from the street vendors. They will charge you an arm and a leg. The fountains/water pumps found throughout the city provide adequate water.

3. Yes you want comfortable shoes to walk around in. Please don't wear blindingly white trainers unless you want to scream tourist.

4. Learn a few key phrases in Italian. It will be appreciated and you will have expanded your experience.

Shelley - At Home in Rome said...

Ebony: What a crazy adventure. I think Alan Epstein would like to hear about the married man hitting on you. Hee hee.

NYC: You were here during such a historic moment! I am always amazed that when push comes to shove, no one does it better than the Romans in terms of organizing tourists and logistics on a huge scale. I was so impressed by how well it all went off, and wondered: why do you only break it out for special occasions?? And BTW, Italian stockings are the craziest, most creative and fun I've ever seen!

Fin: Once a student I worked with bought 3 leather jackets in Florence and asked me if she had to declare them when she went through customs in the US. I told her it'd prolly be a good idea since it might be hard to pass off that she brought 3 leather jackets over to Italy. Geez.

Moon: I know, I've been told that scooter drivers in Naples will steal the watch off your wrist. My question: do they take your arm with it?

Mcintosh: These are GREAT additions to the list. I always tell my guests to avoid restaurants with pictures on the menus ;-)

Kelli said...

How did I not know you met Ale on day one? That is so cool!
And I'd have to say the things I hear about Rome -- other than the men -- are to bring lots of cash, lots of comfy walking shoes and lots of room in your luggage for all the beautiful things you are going to want to haul home.

Jennifer said...

My husband and I went to Rome in May, a first trip out of the US for both of us. So naturally, like you said, everyone had 'advice' for us! Especially my mom :) And it was mainly about the pickpocketing and things... but I agree with you, I think it's just a matter of being aware of what's going on around you. And really, in any large city in the world, it's something to think about- not just Rome! I didn't notice anything in particular about the men.. then again, I was too busy staring at all of the beautiful buildings and things I'd only imagined seeing in person to notice! hehe :)

Julie said...

My sister spent a semester in Rome. She loved it, especially their ice cream.

But she told me European women don't shave. She was in St. Peter's Square and a woman wearing a sleeveless shirt raised her arms above her head stretching. Kateri, my sister, almost had a heart attack. She said to me when she got back that European women don't shave. I don't know if that's true for all of them. But sometimes I wonder.

I have an Aunt and relatives from Switzerland. They came to visit us years ago. My Aunt didn't shave her armpits. We'd taken them to a water park and found out the hard way. lol I was too young to realize what was going on. My older sisters were mortified. I guess I should ask you, as a general rule do European women shave their arm pits? lol I can't believe I'm writing that.

Kateri did her homework on the steps outside somewhere and she said that the men thought she was trying to get their attention. I don't know. I probably would've just done my homework in my room.

Anonymous said...

i've lived in rome for over 12 years and boy, could i tell you some horror stories about being groped on the bus!!! butt pinching and all. you're lucky you were spared because it is rather infuriating.
yeah, in my time here i noticed italians are easing up on the no-shorts rule... it's become trendy with the young people now. i remember when i first got here, wearing flip flops was a MAJOR no-no. i did anyway, but people stared as if i has 4 feet. now that diesel started making flip flops, italians wear them too (and not just in their bathrooms or on the beach!)

Shelley - At Home in Rome said...

Kel: Yep! Matteo introduced me to his cousin to help me find a place to live when my other option fell through at the last minute. The cousin was Ale and the rest is history!

Jennifer: I totally agree, this is good advice for any big city. Many of my students actually had much more trouble with pickpocketing in Madrid, and my parents also got pickpocketed when they visited Madrid.

Julie: LOL! I forgot about this one. In my experience, many women in my parents' generation (born in the 50s) don't shave their armpits, but women in my generation (born in the 70s) do. That's just been my experience and observation.

Anon: Good point about the flip flops. Many of the students I used to work with were from California so flip flops were the main footwear, and the Italians would always wonder why...but the last time I went to my hairstylist, he was (gasp!) wearing brown flip flops and I teased him about it, but he carefully pointed out that it was a fashion statement because he had paired them with some "molto trendy" brown pants and a particular shirt... love it.

Charlie Q said...

Shelly: excellent post! Uncanny how the majority of your list runs parallel to the discussion on our recent podcast... which I'd love to invite you and your readers to listen to!

Here is a link to the podcast on iTunes: Rome Review Podcast: Episode 003

Or, my name above is linked to the specific page on our website.

By the way, the post to your blog was sent to me by one of our listeners in L.A.! What a world we live in.

Auguri, Shelly!

Charlie Q

Shelley - At Home in Rome said...

Charlie: What a small world we live in! I will definitely be checking into your podcasts--thanks for stopping by!

Tracie B. said...

the neapolitan men are VERY vocal with their appreciations of passing women.

did you know that some women even LIKE it? i can't stand it, and after 3 and a half years i'm still not used to it.

as for the pickpocketing in rome, it is definitely a problem in my experience. i saw it happen more than once on the bus that goes near campo dei fiori. we pointed him out, and i put my hand in HIS pocket. when he got off the bus, there was a girl screaming "oh my god! where's my passport?!"

what i want to know is why did she bring it with her? if you exercise a little common sense though, you can avoid these mishaps.

Shelley - At Home in Rome said...

Hey Tracie! Great to see you! I am with you, I will never get used to the "appreciation" as you call it, and I'm glad that in Rome it's not as vocal as in Naples.

Your story about spotting the pickpocket is awesome. While I've never seen a pickpocket in action, I've had friends who have, and they all tell me that no one says anything, but they all have yelled something to alert the person. I guess people here are so used to seeing it they don't bother saying anything.

And, I used to always tell the students to make a copy of their passport and leave the actual passport at home. You're right, it just takes common sense!

Crafty Green Poet said...

I love Italy! I haven't been to Rome but was very happy wandering around in Torino and Ventimiglia and places in between. I would agree with most of what you list here. What most surprised me was that I could understand Italians speaking Italian at normal conversational speed! Because i really had expected to struggle with that!

Also I'm really pleased to have found your blog - its nice to read about Italy!

gracie said...

When in Rome, on the bus from Termini to Castel Sant'Angelo, it was the driver who told me to watch out for my wallet!! But I guess it's the same in every city's crowded public transportations! About the cappuccino, please, not after a meal, only at breakfast or for a quick stop in mid-afternoon!

Shelley - At Home in Rome said...

Ciao Crafty Green! Thanks for stopping by!

Gracie: It's nice to know that some drivers are looking out for their passengers.