During my first trip to Rome several years ago, I was a little put-off by the aggressiveness of Roman men. In the US, I’m not used to guys calling to me from shop windows or looking at me so obviously as I walk by, coming up to me to ask me to go dancing or stop for a coffee. Here it’s a “no-date wasteland”. Sometimes I almost forget I’m a girl. The attention in Italy was really intimidating at first, till I realized that – for the most part, at least – it’s all well-intentioned and that if I made it clear that the advances were unwanted, they would very quickly leave me alone. I referred to Roman men as “aggressive”, but I don’t mean that in a violent or forceful way, just in that they make their … appreciation … known in a way that men rarely do in the States. After understanding this, I was able to take it more as a compliment than a threat.
In most cases, at least. There are a few big exceptions.
On my first full day in Rome I went to the Vatican and had a frustrating day in the museums. That night I was drained and just wanted to get a relaxing bit to eat before crashing and starting fresh in the morning. I decided to go to a restaurant that I had found on TripAdvisor a few blocks away from my hotel, near Piazza Navona.
There were only a few people in the restaurant when I got there (it was still really early for Italians). The person who was standing at the entrance and led me to my table wound up being my waiter. He was a young, thin guy, about my height or a little taller (I’m 5’8” so that’s not SO short) who looked more Moroccan or Arabian to me than he did Italian. But as I soon found out – because he started telling me his life story – he was born and raised in Rome and his passion was traveling. After he brought me my plate of carrot-filled pasta (which was… interesting), he stood there showing me pictures of him on his phone: posing in front of Egyptian Temples, posing in front of the Eiffel Tower, posing in front of some place in Spain that I’m sure I should’ve recognized but totally didn’t.
Don’t get it twisted: this wasn’t a conversation. He was asking me no questions, I didn’t say much of anything except “Oh, really? Wow. Uh-huh. How cool!” as he just kept talking and talking and talking. I would’ve liked to just be left alone to eat in peace but didn’t want to be rude, so I just kept nodding and making little non-committal exclamations hoping he’d get the idea. He didn’t.
He finally asked me a question, after I had been sitting there staring at an empty plate for ten minutes:
“What are you doing tonight?”
“Probably just going back to the hotel and going to sleep early. I have to be up early tomorrow.” I know, I know… it even sounds fake to me, and I was the one saying it. “In fact, if you wouldn’t mind bringing me the check, that would be great.”
“Ok, but don’t leave. I want to show you something.”
I wasn’t exactly sure what he meant, but I nodded in acquiescence just to make him leave. He dropped off the check with another “Remember, don’t leave” and then hovered by the front door, throwing glances back at me, as I put cash on the table, picked up my purse and walked toward the entrance – and therefore him.
When I approached he grabbed my hand and led me up a staircase at the back of the room.
“Um, where are we going?” I wasn’t really into this…
“I want to show you something in the library.”
At the top of the stairs he led me through a door on the right and sure enough, there was an incredible library! It looked like something out of a movie, everything in dark wood, old books filling the shelves with intermittent appearances of gyroscopes and busts of famous authors. Another dining room?
If you haven’t picked up on it by now, I love books and I love to read, so I was a bit distracted when we first entered, looking around at this fantasy around me. I only vaguely registered him turning towards me and pushing slightly on my shoulders as if to put me in place. Everything quickly came into focus, though, when I looked back at him and he leaned forward and tried to kiss me.
He did it so quickly that he was only about five inches from my face when I snapped to, turned my head away, took a step back and raised my arms to push him off. That didn’t discourage him, though. He just took a step forward, kept hold of my shoulders and leaned in again.
This time I shoved. I didn’t even say anything or take another look at that gorgeous room as I turned tail and fled, down the stairs and out through the front entrance.
I was shocked and horrified – and totally embarrassed that I hadn’t handled the situation better. I like to trust people and believe that if you don’t take chances you miss a lot of great experiences, but this was just the bitter icing on the horrible cake of my day. Oh well… live and learn!