Posts Tagged ‘Italy’

IDroma: Why Italy Makes No Sense


Italy is romantic, sure. But Italy is far too romanticized, too.

While the Italy virgin surely holds hopes of evening strolls along calm waterways, perhaps stealing a kiss or two in the shadows of the Colosseum, or luxury shopping down Via Montenapoleone, to enjoy these things, it is almost comical the number of inconveniences that Italians seem to intentionally bestow upon foreign visitors.

Maybe it’s Italian pride, I don’t know. But I don’t possibly understand how urban planners, politicians, and the like can even fathom some of the design elements of Italy’s infrastructure that just make it impossible to navigate.

I’m no inexperienced traveler, either, by any stretch. With 43 countries under my belt, including four previous visits to this very country, I tend to be pretty street smart. I often rely on public transportation, I have a good sense of the layout of a city from just a quick glance at a map, and I manage to find my way. And yet in my last visit, which consisted of just 16 hours, I encountered not one, not two, and not three, but four massive inconveniences.

First, there is an express bus from Roma’s Fiumicino International Airport to Vatican City and Termini Station. Apparently. Despite having no fewer than 50 massive advertisements plastered throughout the arrivals area, finding the stop for it is virtually impossible. While it says “Bus Station No. 1” on the advert, it does not specify any operating hours, and does not give any additional instructions as to where this supposed Station No. 1 is. And when you follow the signs within the airport, the one that says “Shuttle” refers to a within-the-airport shuttle (despite the Express bus to Termini being called “Shuttle” as well). So upon that failure, I walked down to the “Local Bus Station,” only to find distance buses most of which do not go to Roma. The ones that did specify Roma on the departure screen were for the next day, and it was only about 23:00 at the time.

Upon making it on Trenitalia from Fiumicino to Roma Tiburtina Station, the timetable for the Metro specified that the last train leaves just after midnight. I was there about 10 minutes prior to that, only to find a roped off entrance area. This made me depend on a taxi, who typed my address into his GPS. I saw the route pop up, which was just two stops and about five minutes on the Metro, and it was about 3km away. About 20 minutes and 15 turns later, I arrived at my destination—with a 17 euro charge. I screamed at the man in English which he didn’t understand for driving me in a circle, making wild gestures, so he knew I had been here before, and he agreed to 10 euro, which I paid and left. Just expect it—if you don’t speak Italian, you will get ripped off by a taxi driver. If you don’t, it’s your lucky day. In my case, it was just funny that he insulted my intelligence by typing the address into the GPS, and continuously ignoring the suggested route as I watched the machine recalculate, and recalculate, and recalculate. He probably should have made sure I couldn’t see that, anyway, and may have gotten a few more euros out of me.

Fast-forward to the next day. I went to enter the Metro for the two-stop ride over to Tiburtina to catch a 14:03 train back to Fiumicino. When I was near the station, I realized I forgot something important at my friend’s flat, and literally sprinted back, about 800m, to grab it. I got on the Metro, and arrived at Tiburtina station at about 13:57…a semi-comfortable 6 minutes to make the connection. Except that at Tiburtina, as you exit the Metro, the overground trains are one direction, and the only place in the entire station you can purchase Trenitalia tickets is the other direction. Without a sign informing you of that, of course. So in my instinct, I just left Metro and walked towards my track platform, passing about 200m of wide-open hallway. And not a single automated ticket machine. In Italy, you cannot purchase tickets on board, either….so my only option to avoid a 100 euro penalty was to run back past the Metro, to the other side of the station where the ticket booth was. I saw a bank of about 20 automated machines, and was just dumbfounded why they could not put a single one of those machines either at the Metro exit, or in the direction of the train platforms.

I honestly believe that Italians do things this way just to laugh at foreigners…but that’s just my two cents.

Election to Address Italy’s Culture of Machismo? Apparently Not…


Everyone knows about Italy’s male chauvinist reputation. Whether it is justified or not, every girl who mentions a plan to visit Italy will hear the same advice from those around her: Be careful around the aggressive men.

Having spent enough time here, I know it is pretty much harmless–lots of hooting and hollering but very rarely physical action. So while you may not have to worry for your safety, you, attractive woman, will have to accept being looked at like a juicy, t-bone steak.

So goes the reputation, anyway–a reputation that Italy has been trying to shake off for some time now.

And re-electing Silvio Berlusconi as Prime Minister for a fourth time in this month’s election (24-25 February) will not be the way to do that. Could you imagine Berlusconi even having so much as a chance to be elected in a place like politically-correct America?

If I recall correctly, Bill Clinton was nearly impeached from office for having an affair with a legal adult, despite his excellent track record in doing his job.

Yet, Mr. Berlusconi has closed the gap with the current frontrunner, Pier Luigi Bersani, and still has a shot to win the election (see Reuters article on the latest news here).

Let’s recall a couple of Silvio’s greatest examples of chauvinist buffonery:

  • In the run-up to the 2008 Italian general election, Berlusconi said that female politicians from the right were “more beautiful” and that “the left has no taste, even when it comes to women.” It should be noted that he won the election.
  • Around the same time, he criticized the composition of Spain’s Council of Ministers as being too “pink” because it was composed of an equal number of men and women.
  • He compounded those comments by saying that Spain’s composition would be impossible in Italy, given the “prevalence of men” in Italian politics.
  • And finally, let’s not forget the fact that he paid a 17-year-old girl an alleged $65,000 in 2010 so that she “would not have to become a prostitute.” Berlusconi was 73 years old at the time. And it should also be noted that he had sex with the girl. (Does this somehow not fall into the category of “prostitution” in Italy?)
Old Silvio and the 17-year-old girl he paid (for sex) "so she would not have to become a prostitute" (photo credit:

Old Silvio and the 17-year-old girl he paid (for sex) “so she would not have to become a prostitute” (photo credit:

It will be interesting to see if he is elected yet again, in which case, the movement for gender equality in Italy will be set back a decade or two yet again.


Enjoy Italy’s Highest (Staged) Art Form: Football!


Italy and football go together almost as fittingly as Italians and pasta. The Azzurri (national team) are a national obsession, and the fans are just as fanatical about the top professional league, Serie A. While names such as Internazionale, Juventus and AC Milan have a major global presence, every club has its share of passionate supporters. I wonder, however, if they are aware that what they are watching is actually athletic theatre. Given today’s significance as Super Bowl Sunday in America, where players are supposed to perform “on the biggest stage”, I figured the timing is good!

What, you thought these games were actually contested on the field? I love Serie A as much as the next guy, but in the country that gave the world organized crime, it would be irresponsible to think that that activity has not trickled down onto the football pitch.

Match fixing became front page material (again) in 2011 when it came out that several former Italian footballers were involved in fixing matches across several leagues in the country.

To detail the extent of it, look no further than the autobiography of Matias Almeyda, an Argentine national who played for eight years in Serie A with Lazio, Parma, Brescia and Inter. Almeyda outlines stories of performance-enhancing drugs being fed to players through IV tubes before games: “They said it was a mixture of vitamins, but before entering the field I was able to jump as high as the ceiling.”

Perhaps more disturbing than the potential long-term health effects of these suspected steroids (Junior Seau, anyone?) are the close ties Almeyda talks about between some clubs and organized crime families.

After a disagreement with Parma owner Stefano Tanzi, Almeyda claims that his house was broken into, his car was stolen from his own garage, and a message was left on the wall with machine oil. That’s kind of like opening a box on your doorstep only to discover a pig’s head inside—well, maybe not that bad, but you get the point. What’s worse, Almeyda said the exact same thing happened to teammate Savo Milosevic after a similar issue with Tanzi.

Long live Serie A as a form of top-flight entertainment, but I’ll side with a few centuries of Italy’s organized crime culture over a few hodgepodge efforts of Serie A to clean itself up in light of some international media attention. And, I’ll keep watching, too!

Italian Food as a Source of National Pride


That Italy is a culture of proud machismo is well established. That Italian food is one of the most popular around the world is also fact. Put those together, and you have an extreme sense of nationalistic pride in the country’s culinary offerings—pride that can be so over the top as to create some opportunities for humor at the Italians’ expense.

Spend enough time with Italians, and it can be a great joy to watch their reaction to any creative alterations to Italy’s staple dishes; you will never see any kind of “Italian fusion” being embraced by Italians. You want to try to make lasagna with a cheese other than ricotta? Not here, you won’t. You want to add something fancy like turkey or mushrooms to spaghetti al pomodoro (simple spaghetti with fresh tomato sauce)? That’s just blasphemous. And don’t even think about using a cheese-based sauce with seafood.

Secondly, it can provide a laugh when you erroneously pair ingredients that you are genetically supposed to know don’t go together. For example, if you prefer a seafood-based sauce with your pasta, you use long noodles. If you want meat sauce, that’s when you need short noodles. Get it mixed up, and your Italian friends will have a (comical) fit. While you’re at it, try cutting your pasta with a  knife, or cooking your pasta too long so it’s soft and mushy as opposed to the preferred al dente. You may not have friends anymore.

Finally, because Italians are so proud of their cuisine—and indeed, it is the only suitable cuisine on earth—you are likely to get humorously defensive reactions when you suggest that while Italian food is good, you prefer Peruvian, or Thai, or Japanese, or Lebanese. Just rubbish. Have they actually tried those other cuisines? Doesn’t matter…you’re not only wrong, but silly for even suggesting such foolishness.

And when you do encounter this, it’s only fitting to laugh, given that over-the-top pride exemplified even from the country’s leadership—among his many other blunders, Silvio Berlusconi managed to offend an entire country (Finland) by knocking their cuisine while serving as Italy’s Prime Minister.

Make sure you treat your Italian food wisely...

Make sure you treat your Italian food wisely…

“That Thing About Italian Men” (Guest Post)


Today’s post comes courtesy of Val, who runs a really funny blog I found called Faking Fabulous. It hasn’t been updated lately, but Val details some of her escapades living in Italy, and although today’s post was originally written in 2009, it holds oh so true today! I am just going to paste what she wrote on that day, as it makes a point far better than I could do so myself.

“The Thing about Italian Men”

(credit: Faking Fabulous: 16 December 2009)

WARNING, WARNING! This blog contains sexually related content. Do not read if you are one of my brothers, my nephew, or my Dad as it may embarrass you! The rest of you may proceed.

Before I came to Italy I was warned about Italian men. “Don’t look them in the eye and don’t smile at them,” I was told repeatedly. “In Italian culture eye contact and smiling is a signal you are interested and it’s okay for them to approach you. Italian men are quite forward. And all they think about is sex.”

“Well, that’s inconvenient!” I thought to myself. In business and in self defense women are taught to walk with confidence and purpose, to keep our heads held high and look people directly in the eye. And how am I supposed to not smile? It’s all I do! “Okay, okay,” I told myself. “No looking at men in the eye.”

I was also warned that Italian women are very jealous and if they catch you looking at “their man,” be prepared because they will have words with you about it. “It’s best just to keep your head down when walking and if you bump into someone don’t bother saying scuzi because no one does.” Great! I get to go to one of the most beautiful destinations in the world, never talk to anyone, and the only thing I’m going to see is the pavement!

For the first month and I half I followed this advice. I averted my eyes at all costs. I mostly kept my head down and walked the “city walk.” This is not easy to do by the way, when you have no idea where you are going and you have to look up to the side of a building to discover what street you are on! It’s definitely an acquired skill.

During the month of November, Rome experienced an indian summer. Winter coats were not necessary until the very end of the month. One night, when I was in a particularly good mood, I decided to head out to the City Center for dinner on my own. This required a 25 minute walk from my apartment. I was enjoying the warm Mediterranean air and had a bounce to my step. About 15 minutes into my walk I saw a gorgeous Italian man walking my way with a motorcycle helmet in his hand.

He was distinctively tall for an Italian (6 feet 2 inches) and had the quintessential thick, wavy brown hair and olive skin. He truly was the picture of male Italian beauty! I could not help myself. I did a double take when I passed him. That was when it happened. His eyes connected with mine and I held the gaze for only a second before remembering the rules of Italian mating.

“OH CRAP!” I thought to myself, and swiftly looked down and continued walking. But it was too late. The ritual had begun. He jumped on his motorcycle and followed me down the road. When I crossed the street he followed me. When I cut down to the next street he followed me. He parked his bike, took off his helmet, and signaled for me to come over. I did, and promptly said to him in Italian that I could not speak Italian. I asked him in Italian if he could speak English. He said he could… a little. He asked me for my number. “Why do you want my number if you cannot speak English?” I asked. “Language exchange,” He replied.

Language exchange is a pretty common thing in Italy. Many legitimate people are interested in meeting native English speakers to improve their English and learn the slang that is not taught in foreign language courses.

Naively, I gave him my number and we agreed to meet the next day at a public place and at an early hour to have a language exchange. Honestly, I knew it wasn’t all innocent, but I thought there may be some fun flirting and I’d get to hang around with a really good looking Italian guy for a while. To spare you all from the uncomfortable and (only after some time has passed) “funny” story of how I almost got date raped, let me just summarize it like this; apparently language exchange in Italian really means fluid exchange.

Even though I was warned about Italian men, I was really surprised about how aggressive this guy was. Did he really think I was going to sleep with him on the first night? I mean, you know, without him even buying me dinner! A girl’s got to have her standards you know! ;-) Anyway, this event was a good reminder that I was in a different country and didn’t know the rules here.

Since then, I have been approached on the street several times without me accidentally initiating it. Italian men are definitely not shy about going after what they want!  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have the “don’t even try it” scowl on my face anymore like I did when I first got to Italy, but I am definitely not giving the, “Hey, come talk to me,” signal either. I’m just walking, head up, no smile. Just walking.

Now that I am finally meeting some English speaking friends in Florence, I’ve been asking about this trait in Italian men. “Why are these guys so horney?” I inquired. The new group of girls I met last week had many thoughts on this topic and they were happy to share, as most of them have Italian boyfriends.

One woman shared something with us that her Italian boyfriend told her when she asked him the same question. What he explained was this. Look around Florence. Look around most of Italy. We are surrounded by beauty 24 hours a day; beauty in architecture; beauty in landscape; beauty in food and beauty in the human form. We are surrounded by naked statues or paintings of physical perfection. At every corner there is a scantily clad statue of some man or woman posing suggestively with an exposed breast or a perfectly proportioned penis proudly displayed for all see. Sensuality and sex are in the air here. It permeates our thoughts without us even realizing it. It is not shameful; it’s beauty.

I thought about this explanation for a few days, and as I walked through the city and through the Uffizi Art Gallery, I realized this man was absolutely correct. Florence is the birthplace of the Renaissance; the time of reborn appreciation for beauty in all things. Sex and sensuality ARE everywhere in Italy. Without realizing it, being here heightens your sexual senses. It makes you see things in a different way. It helps you see beauty in all things; even in that which is not particularly beautiful.

It all makes perfect sense to me now!

Huh… Maybe this is why I keep having erotic dreams about a man named David.