So you’re having a girl’s night out. You’re fairly new in town and you and a few girls from your Italian class have arranged to meet at the Duomo, where you might hang out for a bit, maybe pop into JJ Cathedral for a beer – the night is young and you’re up for whatever the balmy evening has in store. Sitting on the steps of the Duomo, waiting for some stragglers who are already on Italian time, you and two of your friends are approached by a group of three, rather greasy, but not necessarily bad-looking, guys, who have clearly been sizing up your little group for the past five minutes, closing in slowly, thinking when best to make a move. When they do finally say, “hello, where are you from?” in heavily-accented English, what do you make of the situation?
The first time you think, ok, well I guess their piazzas are like our bars. Even though you have a boyfriend at home, you don’t mind chatting for a few minutes while the rest of your crew assembles. What’s the harm in small talk, right? It’s a good opportunity to meet some locals, practice your Italian, partake in a cultural custom. But by the tenth time, you’re getting sick of being approached every time you’re waiting for a friend or hanging out with one in a piazza. And as your Italian improves, you begin to realize that all the “Italian” men you’ve been attracting are no more Italian than you are. And boy have they got an agenda! Two minutes in, and they want to know if they can see you tomorrow, and when you say sorry, I’ve got a boyfriend, they compromise: well then can I at least have a kiss? Come on, it’s just a kiss. A little one! They obviously have a lot to learn from the Italians, who at least show you a breathtaking view and tell you that “you shine with the light of the sun” before going in for the kill, uh, I mean kiss.
So what is the deal with these overly forward, almost invasive guys, that leave no piazza north of the Arno untouched, no foreign-looking girl un-harried? The truth is, nine times out of ten, they’re not Italian. And of the remaining 10% that is, I’m willing to wager that they’re not Florentine, but rather small-town boys from Empoli or Pistoia, in Florence for a big night out on the town. With respect to the 90%, Florence is home to many foreigners that are not of the, albeit prolific, Anglo-Saxon variety. Among them are a large number of Eastern Europeans, people from Albania, Romania, the Czech Republic…; many others are from Northern African countries, just a hop, skip, and a boat ride away from Lampedusa, Italy’s Ellis Island. Some are here to study, others to work at the textile factories in Prato or at the San Lorenzo and Porcellino Markets, and others simply moved to Florence with their families. Whatever their reason for residing here, and however shaky their Italian, they’ve apparently caught wind of the Italian Stallion belief that “foreign girls are easy,” because come September, come January, they are out there every night, the odds against them, hoping to strike it big and strike it easy.
And sometimes they do. A friend of mine called me one evening, very excited, “I’ve met this cute Italian guy in a piazza, no, I know what you’re going to say, it’s different, let me finish, he’s totally cute and so’s his friend and we’re meeting them for drinks tomorrow.” Turns out they were cute, though not Italian, but more importantly, what the boys had in mind for the evening quickly became evident. But because they spoke little English and the only thing my darling friend can do in Italian is count to ten and say ‘cappuccino, per favore,’ I stuck around to play the role of begrudging translator. Lucky Colombo ended up with my drunk-happy friend right where he wanted her – in his bed, and I ended up giving my number to Piero as a consolation prize. Colombo called my friend, and Piero called me, relentlessly, for the next three weeks. The first day, it was five times, the next three, and afterwards every other day. Piero gave up on me after about a month, but three months down the line, Colombo’s apparently still got his fingers crossed, calling every so often on the off chance that my friend will pick up and he won’t have to go back to haunting the piazzas.
His persistence is astounding – sweet in a pathetic sort of way, yes – but mostly just astounding. Almost as much as the overuse of the “How do I find (insert name of any big, tourist-friendly, easy-to-find, landmark here)?” pick-up line. Watch out for it, ladies. It is by far the most common, and is promptly followed by “What’s your name? Where are you from? and Can I kiss and/or make love to you?” Does anyone ever actually say yes, I wonder? “Santa Croce’s round the corner, on your left, but more importantly, how do I find my way to your bedroom?” I reckon they expect nothing less from us reportedly easy, jump-in-the-sack-at-the-drop-of-a-hat, American gals.