Taming the Italian stallions
Defuse aggressive Latin lovers with fashion and attitude
"Come down, my Juliet," this complete stranger crooned. "I will buy you red wine and roses ... you are married? No problem! I am not jealous!"
His smooth-talking was innocent enough, even a wee bit charming. But all too often, Latin lovers push past cheeky flirtation into harassment and molestation. And their targets are usually foreign travellers, women without a protective papa, brother or fiancé.
So whats a girl to do? Dress the part, for starters. Dont look obviously foreign. Thoughtful packing can defuse the Italian stallions not to mention pickpockets and angry priests as you soak up sun in the land of la dolce vita.
Sunglasses: Avoiding eye-contact is key. Slap on some shades preferably witheringly sophisticated ones dark enough to mask your pupils. Black or mirrored lenses have the added advantage of hiding those sexy baby blues.
Scarf: Italian women are famous for their flowing, sensuous scarves. Go incognito with a swathe of silk, looped once and flowing free (think Princess Grace) or a jaunty folded band around the neck, screened with a confident retro pattern (a la Audrey Hepburn). Weather Italys brief rain-showers in style, by draping your head and swishing the ends over your shoulders: the Jackie O look is much more chic than a dingy old waterproof- hood.
Black trousers: No khaki, no track suit and absolutely no fleece. Nothing screams foreign quite as loudly as functional clothing. Slip into a svelte pair of classic black trousers, preferably palazzo-cut or flairs. Jeans are passable at a stretch but only if backed by considerable style and attitude.
Skirt: Shorts are sometimes worn, but mainly at the beach or during lo sport. Try a long linen skirt instead, which is equally cool and comfortable and wont get you banned from churches or three-quarters-length trousers. Skip the mini skirts too: Italian women manage to mix smart tailoring with sex appeal, but its a dangerous equation for a foreigner.
The Roman Catholic Church also frowns on bare shoulders. Carry a sweater
or jacket even a well-placed scarf will satisfy the men in black.
Leather jacket: Sumptuous materials rule the roost in Italy. Jackets are typically leather, fur, quilted silk or Burberry plaid, which looks wildly out of place in a Mediterranean setting, but is treasured as multo chic. To blend in best, opt for a tailored black leather (plastic passes nicely for animal lovers and synthetic designer knock-offs are a common sight in Italia). Avoid the bohemian cape and beret option, much beloved by opera buffs, old maids and art historians.
Heels: Again, the goal is sophistication and style. No stomping around in Berkinstocks ... but it is equally gauche to wobble and lurch Manolos over cobblestones. Heels with a flat platform base work best, though knee-high boots are a perennial stand-by. Stepping out in stilettos? Take a taxi. And link elbows with friends male or female while negotiating tricky cobblestones.
Purse: Leave the quality accessories home, as they only invite street theft and assault. Buy a small, flat "chest safe" which hangs on a cord around your neck (and can be tucked into a bra or waistband) for your passport, travellers cheques and credit cards. Keep petty cash and a card in a casual handbag. Choose one large enough to conceal screamingly-obvious tourist goodies like cameras, guidebooks and the all-important bottle of water.
Jewellery: Dont be a temptation: Keep it simple and inexpensive. Women walk securely down most streets at night, but the pickpocket threat is constant. A cheap gold wedding band, however, is a worthwhile investment to ward off suitors. Likewise, a crucifix broadcasts your "nice girl" status, but be careful to choose a delicate, model. The Vatican recently blasted stars such as Jennifer Anniston and Catherine Zeta Jones for flashy, jewel-encrusted crosses.
Yet sometimes "going native" isnt enough. The most impeccably-dressed, cosmopolitan traveller is occasionally revealed as foreign "fair game". Then the trouble begins: hissing, pinching, groping, stalking. Even the carabinieri the military police in dashing designer uniforms get in on the fun, swaggering out, machine-guns cocked, to demand dates from passing beauties.
The good news is that aggressive Latin lovers are "numbers men", chasing after any and all options. "No" isnt a personal insult here, just part of the game. The typical street stud will shrug off rejection theres more fish in the sea unlike British and American wolf whistlers, who often escalate into insults and abuse.
Expect a certain amount of harmless flattery and attention. This is, after all, their home turf and culture. Ignore the cries of bellissima or greet them with a sunny smile: its not so bad to be called "most beautiful". Save your energy for the real emergencies.
Confidence and carriage are key: so keep your chin up and shoulders back. Walk purposefully and try not to bumble about consulting a huge floppy map in a crowded place. Italian stallions close in upon lost prey with offers of help, drinks and free tours ... wink, wink, nudge, nudge.
Greet hissing or rude gestures with arrogant calm. Dont look away and blush: any reaction is a victory for the harasser. Maintain a bland, blasé expression. Let your eyes sweep over the creep without registering. Ho hum. Heres a column, a shrine to the Madonna, a dog being lowered three stories in a wicker basket and a chap clutching his crotch. Yawn.
Ignoring someone is a powerful message: you dont matter enough to disturb my day. Keep up the "continental cool" if Romeo scampers in your wake and tries to start up a conversation. A bemused smile and side-step can be devastating. Pretend not to understand Italian or English ... Hell get the message.
Getting touched, however, calls for another tactic altogether: pure outrage. Dont hesitate to make a fuss. Its all part of the Mediterranean melodrama. Glare, screech, stomp and shout. Enlist the help of strangers, especially ferocious old crones wearing black ("aiuto" means help). A stinging slap is often greeted by applause from bystanders.
Molesters sometimes take advantage of crowded buses to rub against fellow passengers. Try to position yourself near other women or wait for the next bus. Tourist hot-spots such as Romes Spanish Steps are also pulling zones, so stay on guard.
Be smart, be alert, but dont take it too far. Not all Italians are stallions. Some are perfectly nice, intelligent, friendly fellows intrigued by exotic beauty.
And you never know: the dark and handsome man under the balcony just might be your Romeo.
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