I spent years travelling alone among the men of Italy. I wish I had known all these insider tips, which I’ve now learnt from my own Italian Hubby!
Italian men will do things that overstep “boundaries” in your culture. Their boundaries are different.
One thing they will do, relentlessly, is chat you up in the street, in the middle of the day. Many a time I have been followed the entire length of a road by boys offering ice-cream, asking if I had a boyfriend, and congratulating me on having “two beautifuls blue eyes.”
In Italian culture it is fine to do this by day, as it is not considered intimidating. As soon as the sun goes down, the same behaviour is regarded as sleazy and desperate.
So if anyone tries to pick you up while you’re taking photos of some fountain, he’s probably a nice boy; but if someone tries to chat you up in a bar or nightclub, you should give him the brush-off.
If the level of pestering that you get from Italian men is ruining your holiday, you need to ditch your shorts and backpack and put on a mini skirt, all the make-up that gravity permits and a pair of wedge heels that look like the plinth of a marble statue. (Be careful if you choose spiky heels like these; they can get jammed between cobble stones.)
The sleazier Italian men try their luck with tourists whom they think are probably hard up for male attention; if you’re in Birkenstock sandals, that means YOU. If they think you are out of their league, they will leave you in peace.
Telling men to get lost
If you are feeling intimidated and want a man to go away, say “Mi lasci in pace?” angrily. It means “Will you leave me in peace?” and it always works. If it doesn’t, you need to start screaming at the top of your voice for help.
Italians are generally very tactile, but men don’t touch women unless they get signals that it is wanted. Your instant reaction to any uninvited touching should be to slap the man’s hand off you the same way you would slap a mosquito.
When a mutual acquaintance introduces two people, they usually give each other a Hollywood-style fake kiss on both cheeks. The man offers to shake hands and the woman decides if she wants to do the kiss thing – he follows her lead. Kissing is common among younger people but with older men, I’d stick to the handshake.
Sometimes men actually make their lips touch your cheek, which means they fancy you. If you have already been flirting then you asked for it. If not, show what you think of him by showily sanitising your cheek with an antibacterial wipe.
Italian culture is very beauty-oriented. Children get art appreciation lessons at school from the age of six. While courting you, Italian men are likely to tell you your eyes look like two stars that just fell from heaven, and that your beauty is so uplifting it has actually increased their IQ.
They are not saying these things because they think it will get you into bed. Italians will never say you’re beautiful if they don’t really think it: they can be brutally honest. They expect you to take compliments with self-confident poise, like an Italian woman.
In case you’re wondering, it doesn’t fizzle out after marriage. Italian men always notice when you’ve been to the hairdresser. They always have an opinion on your new dress. They always think your shoes are privileged to be allowed to touch your beautiful feet.
If you do decide to go on a date with an Italian, you will be taken home and introduced to his parents, aunts, uncles and probably half the neighbours before going out for the evening. This is another way your Italian beau will reassure you that he is a nice boy from a nice family, with no shady secrets.
If you have been on more than five dates with an Italian man and still not met any of his family, you need to face the fact that he is married.
For a date, an Italian man may take you for dinner, or for an ice-cream and a walk along the seafront, or maybe to the beach. He may invite you onto the back of his motorbike to see a local beauty spot. He will not invite you to go to a bar and consume alcohol with him unless he thinks you are a woman of ill repute.
On the beach
Italian men like taking their date to the beach. Most Italian men wear a kind of swimwear which may remind you of a banana and two kiwis slotted inside a credit card holder. Don’t be scared! Just take a large sun hat which completely hides your face.