Tuesday, February 3, 2009

As the Romans Do: Eye Contact

Tuesdays are my long days, which is strange because they are usually boring as well. I think it's because I'm too busy rushing from one place to another...or not rushing and instead waiting for the tram and getting held up behind slow-moving Italians. I had three of my classes today, but my schedule is all spread out so I started at 9:30 this morning with my on-site art history class and didn't end until 8:00 tonight with stats. I think I rode the tram six different times today because I have such long breaks in between classes.

This morning the tram was packed full and I barely made it on. Once I was on, there was nothing to hang on to so I had to rely on the people around me to hold me up when the tram took off or slammed to a stop. I've been in that situation before, (and really, everyone on the tram at that time is in that situation, unless you are the lucky ones to have seats or be near the handrails) but I've been standing next to other students and it wasn't awkward at all. This morning I had the wonderful luck to be standing next to an elderly Italian woman.

Here is what I have learned about Italian women: they don't like American women. Or men, really, but mostly women. This is a generalization, because I have met a few nice Italian women, but as a rule Italian women avoid American women. I don't know if this is just a cultural thing and not personal, or if they generalize all American women, but whatever it is they are not afraid to show their disapproval.

This morning the Italian woman showed her disapproval of me by first looking me up and down (and this was quite obvious due to our close proximity to each other), then shaking her head, turning to her husband, mumbling something in Italian, and finally turning back to look at me with those piercing Italian eyes. Now, I wasn't wearing anything outrageous (especially not compared to what some girls here wear) nor did I have my music on loud (I don't think I even had my iPod on) but previous experience has led me to believe she just didn't like that I was American.

All of my roommates and other girls I've talked to have had similar things happen to them--on the tram, walking down the street, in stores--so we are pretty sure the women (especially those of the 40 and up age set) just don't like us.

Now if only we could get the men to feel that way. Because if there is anything more awkward than an Italian woman giving you the once-over in disgust on the tram, it's an Italian man (we're talking ANY age here, middle school on up) giving you the once-over in extreme approval on the tram (and on the street and at the grocery store...). Maybe that's why the women disapprove? Because the men so obviously approve and even feel compelled to voice their approval with shouts of "ciao, bella" and long-lingering uncomfortable looks.

Either way--approval or disgust, man or woman--it's safest to do as the Romans do and just don't make eye contact or smile. It feels super weird at first, especially coming from a town where you know everyone you pass on the street, but that's the culture here.

Oh, and I read that the groundhog saw his shadow yesterday meaning more winter in the States...I'd just like to say that it is usually 50 degrees during the day here and the worst weather we've had is some rainstorms. The locals (and everyone from not the Midwest) complain about it though, saying this is the worst "winter" they've had in years. Oh Italians, always so dramatic.


  1. Wow, I didn't know that about Italian woman. Maybe she was jealous of your healthy youthful appearance:)

    and ps...it was -12 degrees when I went to class this morning...

  2. hmmmm, i don't know if they get jealous...but the next day a lady kicked me on the tram. she was sitting and i was apparently standing too close to her. i just don't know about them!