Youing Traveler Bronze Winner: If I Hear One More ‘Ciao Bella,’ I’m Going to Scream

by Tracy O’Neil

“If I Hear One More ‘Ciao Bella’ I’m going to Scream” is a humorous story about my month abroad in Florence, Italy. I write about my encounters with the Italian men, and how they were nothing like I had thought they would be.

Walking down the Ponte Vecchio at night in Florenceone can see many couples strolling hand in hand. An accordion player can be seen singing “That’s Amore” to couples sitting at a sidewalk café. However many tourists, especially American girls, become fooled by this romantic façade. Many girls, especially ones like medreamed of riding off on a Vespa with a dark-haired Italian guy. I blame the movies of my childhood like the classic Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen’s When in Rome and the I’m-ashamed-to-admit-it,Lizzie McGuire movie. In these movies the young American girls jet off on the back of a motor scooter driven by a cute Italian guy and in the next scene realize that they found true love. If those girls could have those adventures why couldn’t I? However, my Hollywood manufactured dream of finding a nice Italian guy quickly became shattered duringmy second night in Italy.

I was a newly-turned twenty-one year old studying abroad in Florence, Italy. There were several other twenty-something year olds who also came from my college, and what did we do on our second night in Italy? You guessed it, we partied. It was at a club called The Red Garterwhere I danced with many different Italian men. Dancing the night away with a dark-haired stranger can seem very romantic. It is this idea of meeting someone new and hoping that maybe this guy could be the riding-off-into-the-sunset- romance you were hoping to have. However, after encountering these Italian men, this image of romance quickly turned dim. When I would tire of dancing with the same man, I would try to tell him goodbye. This man, who had been giving me compliments throughout the night, wouldturn ugly. I’m not talking about a physical ugliness (for many of the Italian men I encountered were quite cute). I’m talking about an ugliness that reflected his personality. The stranger I was dancing with would grab my hand and not let go. The same thing happened to all of the girls in my group. The men would treat us as possessions, and once we had shown any interest in them they thought they owned us. One particularly seemingly desperate Italian guy followed my friend around all night and professed his love for her. I was beginning to see the Italian men were nothing like I had expected to find.

The next day we did a walking tour of the city. It was on that walking tour that I encountered my first “Ciao Bella”. In Italian, “Ciao Bella” means “hello beautiful”. The first time youhear the phrase “Ciao Bella,” it will put a smile on your face, plain and simple. What girl wouldn’t want a cute Italian guy telling her that she is pretty? It was then that I began to wonder, why are Italian men the way they are? Did all the men in Italy act the same way? In America, I would never get cat-called on the street, or have a random stranger profess his love to me. My curiosity got the best of me, and I had to find out the answers to these questions. It was after these encounters that I developed a quest for finding a “nice” Italian guy.

My quest wasn’t so much to find true love, but I wanted to find a nice guy who was looking to have a conversation with me without having a hidden agenda. I wanted to find out why Italian men were so abrasive, why they werewhat some might call “sleazy”. It was on a train to Venice where I met my first so-callednice guy, whosename was Damiano. We had a conversation for more than an hour. We talked about his family, my life in America, and his life in Rome. About an hour into the conversation he leaned over and tried to kiss me. I was some-what attracted to Damiano, but this man was practically a complete stranger to me; I was shocked that he was bold enough to go in for a kiss. When I rebuffed him, he laughed as if it were all just a game to him.

After Damiano got off at the next stop, it was just my luck that a new boy named Lorenzo sat down and took his spot. Lorenzo and I also had a very nice conversation. I should have learned my lesson from my encounter with Damiano, but it was a long train trip and I’ll admit that I enjoyed the company. This conversation, however, didn’t take a romantic turn. At the end of the conversation, Lorenzo asked me for my email address and said he hoped we could be friends. After my conversation with Lorenzo, I had a renewed hope that I had found my nice Italian guy.

After a brief day trip to Venice, I returned back to Florence late that night. When I arrived back in Florence,I foundmy tendency tostigmatize Italian men as sleazy hadcome back in full force. As I walked backalone from the train station to my apartment, an Italian man started to follow me. For a few blocks he “ciao bella-ed” me. I made the mistake of acknowledging him, and told him to leave me alone. I found out the hard way that telling an Italian man to leave you alone seems to be an invitation for him to try even harder. He pursued me for several more blocks. I finally ducked into a hotel and lost him. At this point, I was beginning to think that all Italian men were only looking for the next hook-up, or maybe they considered young American girls an easy target. I still wasn’t sure which was the case.

With my new friend Lorenzo in the back of my mind, I decided that maybe he was the one Italian guy to stop me from stigmatizing. I emailed him and told him I enjoyed our conversation on the train and he responded back the next day. He told me that he liked me very much and that he wanted to come visit me in America. He wrote:

Tracy, you have nice accents, I like you very much. You are a very beautiful girl. I am very happy to know you. I will visit you in America. Kisses.

Lorenzo

This seemingly nice guy, Lorenzo, was feeding me the same lines I had heard my whole trip. He thought I was beautiful; he liked me, blah blah. I had heard it all before. Needless to say I did not respond back, and didn’t hear from him again.

Similar stories such as these pored out of my female companions mouths. My friend told me shehad a similar experience; she met a seemingly wonderful guy, they talked for several hours, and at the end of the night he kissed her. The next day she emailed him and he wrote back and told her that they had to be “secret e-mail friends” because he had a girlfriend, but he still wanted to see her. These Italian men start off soundingso nice and innocent, but they turn out very differently than originally perceived.

One especially startling story came from three of my travel companions who went to the Pizzale Michelangelo, a vista point high above Florence, which Fodor’s See It Florence and Tuscany guidebook boasts “Piazza Michelangelo, set above the River Arno, commands impressive views over the city with the Duomo to the right.” My friends couldn’t wait to take pictures of Florence from a spectacular view. To their surprise, they got to “view” more than they had bargained for. Apparently, an Italian man on a motor scooter called them over and he flashed his “junk” (a nice way of saying privates) at them, and drove off. My friends ran screaming in different directions, but later had a good laugh about the whole thing.

After awhile, I think we all had enough of the Italian men. At the clubs we would come up with creative ways to get rid of any unwanted men. One thing we would try was to dance in a tight circle at the clubs. One time I told a guy that I had a fidanzato, or fiancé. Even that didn’t seem to matter. His reply “If he is not here, no matter”.

I don’t know why any of these occurrences surprised me. I had been warned prior to my trip by my Aunt Kathy who had gone to Italy in the late 1970s. My aunt told me “those Italian men will be following you around, they love blondes! When I was there Italian men would pinch my butt!” Thank goodness no butt-pinching occurred during my trip, but they did seem to like my blonde hair.

After my own encounters with Italian men, and hearing the stories from my travel companions I had decided to halt my quest of finding a nice Italian guy. I didn’t think it was possible.  I was at the point when I would become annoyed that I couldn’t walk down the street without the men calling out to me. I would walk through the market place and get called “Barbie” due to my blonde hair that stuck out like a sore thumb amongst the sea of brunettes and raven-haired women. I would hear “Ciao Bella” so much that if I heard it one more time I thought I would scream. The phrase “Ciao Bella” that had once put a smile to my face now became clichéd and annoying. Every girl wants to hear that she is beautiful, but when you’re not wearing any make-up and you’re hot and sweaty from the July heat you know the man calling out to you can’t possibly be sincere.

Despite my annoyance with the Italian guys, I was intrigued by them as well. They all seemed to be the same. The “ciao bellas,” the “you’re a beautiful girl:” I had yet to hear anything original. Despite that, I still found myself wanting to understand why these men were the way they were. I was in a bar in Sorrento when two Italian guys asked me to play foosball with them. I was reluctant to join them because I had my share of Italian men, however, it was that nagging intrigue that I found myself saying yes, plus I’ll admit they were cute. Needing a fourth player my friend Pam joined in. I played several games with Pam, and our new friends Luigi and Vincenzo. It was then when I found myself having a nice conversation with these guys. At the end of the night, they thanked us for the game and we went our separate ways. These guys were the nicest Italian guys I had met on my trip. Anytime where I can engage with an Italian guy and not have him tell me I’m beautiful, grope me on the dance floor, or try to kiss me I call that a successful conversation. They renewed my faith that maybe all Italian guys weren’t the same. In addition, I did meet some of the nicest, funniest Italian waiters at Trattoria Anita. If you don’t mind a little gray in the hair, then the older model of Italian men might also be an option to consider.

Having only spent a month in Italy I never did find out why Italian men act the way they do. The obvious explanation is that being an American tourist made me an easy target, but I feel as if there is still another unexplored explanation out there. However, now twenty-three and engaged that quest will have to be continued by some other woman. I am sure that sign-up sheet won’t be blank for long.

Ladies, if you are looking for love in Italy let me heed you with this piece of advice: be warned of the “ciao bella,” it is a Jekyll and Hyde phrase that will make you smile one minute and will make you scream the next. My word of advice, avoid the men and enjoy some Gelato when you are in Italy instead.


Tracy O’Neil graduated from California State University of San Bernardion with a B.A. in English. She is currently getting her single subject teaching credential, and is engaged to a wonderful man named Luke. They plan to get married in the summer of 2012.

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