Girl Code: Safety Tips For Traveling In Italy

by Tonya Tooley

Most American girls have seen the romantic comedies where the beautiful American girl travels to Italy and falls madly in love with a kind hearted Italian gentleman. When studying abroad in Italy, many girls have a secret hope they will find a perfect Italian man who will sweep them off their feet, take them on a vespa ride, romantically toss coins into the Trevi Fountain, fall madly in love, and of course live happily ever after. Sorry folks, this isn’t a warm and fuzzy piece about how to fall in love in Italy, it is advice about how to keep your wits about you and stay safe with all those handsome Italian men around.

Dressing appropriately can save you from unwanted attention and keep you anonymous.
Dressing appropriately can save you from unwanted attention and keep you anonymous. Photo Courtey of Nikki Powers.

American woman will receive extra attention when walking the streets of Italy. The attention can be nice, unfortunately it is not typically genuine and can come with an ulterior motive. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of wonderful gentlemen in Italy and around the world, but these tips will help you to deal with the extra attention, stay safe, and avoid all those ulterior motives so you can save time for the real thing!

Mannerisms

Overall, Americans are very friendly people. It is natural to make eye contact with a stranger and smile at them while walking down the street. Well ladies, this may be completely harmless, but in Italy it can initiate unwanted interaction. When walking alone in Italy try the following:

  • Walk with a purpose. Even if you don’t know exactly where you’re going, act and look like you’re heading somewhere. Look straight ahead and walk with confidence and people are less likely to bother you. Have bright confident eyes and politely ignore strangers you don’t want to talk to. 
  • Avoid eye contact with strangers. Sometimes it’s necessary when crossing paths with someone walking the other direction on the sidewalk, but don’t linger, acknowledge his or her existence and keep walking.
  • Don’t smile at strangers. This may sound mean, but in Italy a smile is a sign of recognition, and if you smile at someone they either think “How do I know you?” or assume you want to meet. If it is a man they will likely say “Ciao bella” (Hello beautiful) in response to a smile, and expect to stop and chat. Don’t walk around with a stone cold expression plastered on your face, but be intentional about your facial expressions and gestures.
Women on a bench facing the sea

Dealing with Attention

Even though you may be walking around with confidence, and putting off the “I don’t want to talk to you” vibe you will still get attention. As a young beautiful American woman, Italian men will try to start conversations with you, it’s a fact. Here is what to do if the attention is unwanted: 

  • The fake plan.  Give yourself an out. Make comments such as “I have to meet my family soon” or “I have an appointment with my professor in 10 minutes.” 
  • Don’t do anything you don’t want to do. Italian men can be persistent so stick to your answer.
  • Be skeptical. Ask yourself why is this person talking to me? Why did they invite me in for a drink? What are their motives? When you ask yourself these questions you quickly snap out of thinking this may be your Romeo.
  • Stay in public. It is fun to meet new people and take them up on their offer for a drink but do so surrounded by people. The worst thing you can do is let the person know you are alone, and  that no one knows where you are. 
  • Just walk away. Tried and true and the most simple of all. For example, a classic line is, “Are you a movie star?” This line is likely used on hundreds of women each day. Simply reply “no I am not” and kept walking. Often times, the pursuer will continue to walk next to you, invite you for a drink, and try subsequent lines like, “Oh you are so beautiful, the most beautiful woman ever.” Express your disinterest several times, continue to walk, and he will give up. 
Man and woman wearing masks in Venice, Italy

Flattery is nice, and statements like that can easily make a heart flutter, but remember the ulterior intentions. American women often receive glasses of free wine from random waiters and restaurant owners, but don’t go anywhere with them. The attention from a random man is not worth the risk of something terrible to happening to you. Remember the “Stay in public” rule. 

As tempting as a vespa ride, or a “private tour” can be, you lose all control in those situations. If you want to ride a vespa, rent one with some friends or wait until you really know someone who owns one. Would you get into a car of a stranger at home? Remember your mother’s advice, “Don’t ride with strangers.” This also applies to Italian vespas. 

Things To Bring Everywhere

Keep these few things on your person at all times. Hopefully you will never take them out of your pocket but you’ll be thankful they are there. 

  • Emergency number. Memorize this and the number of your study abroad advisor.
  • Mace. Buy a small container and have in your purse at all times. It is very difficult, if not impossible to find abroad so bring a pocket sized dispenser with you. They even have bedazzled options if you want to look good while being safe. Even if you don’t have to use it, it is good to have if walking home late at night or if you accidentally find yourself in an unsafe area. 

The intention of this advice is not to scare you or make you think that Italian men are rude or disgusting. However, if you are not prepared for the attention you may end up in questionable situations. If you never take the time to think about what to do when invited in for a free drink, or to hop on a vespa the romantic comedy scenes could take over and put you in an unsafe situation. Enjoy every moment in Italy – it is a beautiful country filled with kind people. Don’t walk around afraid, but do walk around smartly to enjoy your time!