Sunday, May 10, 2009

Is He a Pervert or Just Being Italian

How do you know when a man’s hug or hand slightly creeping around your waist is not “Italian-ness,” but actually an unwanted sexual advance disguised as a warm gesture?

That was the topic in question at this Sunday’s after-brunch lunch among me and the other staffers when all of the customers had gone home. I told them the story about when I was alone with an elderly married man for business reasons. What seemed like an ordinary meeting turned into a reason for him to get me alone. His generous embraces left me confused and unsure about what was really going on.

The female staff present at lunch had also experienced unwanted touching by older men (sometimes relatives or family friends) in an ambiguous way. It was obvious that these men were betting on ambiguity, taking advantage of the girl being uncertain if he was being friendly or a pervert.

One of the waitresses retold the story of being greeted by a friend’s father with a caress to the back of her neck. In front of the friend, and with family present, she quickly reprimanded the father.

“Don’t put your hands on me,” she told us what she said with a firm and direct voice emphasized by a hand gesture that communicated “puntobasta.”

She said that out loud for her friend and her friend's family to hear. She explained to her friend that her own father never greeted her friends with a hug or caress, but only with a handshake, or the standard kissing on the cheek, and that only after the friend has become a part of the family. The friend was upset with her for calling her father out on the unwanted physical contact, but she absolutely refused to feel uncomfortable for telling someone not to touch her. Ironically, it was later discovered that the friend’s father had been molesting a little girl.

Many American’s that I meet in Florence are not accustomed to the Italian culture of kissing on both cheeks, but since it is known that Italians are warm, some of them step out of their comfort zone to return the cultural gesture. Nonetheless, the male staff present at lunch said that these little touches and side hugs are the Italian man’s way to slowly get close to a girl, full well knowing that an American girl may think the touch was a result of just being Italian. It’s their excuse.

“That’s how they do it. Have you ever seen how these guys act once their girlfriends have left the room? They are always hugging or touching other women,” my male American friend interjected into the conversation.

Unlike the waitress, I was not sure if the older man I spoke of was hitting on me, or just being warm. When the touching was happening, it was mixed with pleasant words and little side hugs. Then he brought me outside for a serious discussion about relationships. He walked beside me and wrapped his hand around my waist. I did not want to be rude. I thought of how upset his wife would be if I said her husband was getting a bit too close for my comfort. I did not want to ignite a fight between her and her husband, nor did I want to run the risk of being accused of false accusations, or provocation (I have heard many woman in Italy, say that men cheat because a woman is insisting he sleep with her, and since the woman does not let up the man will eventually give in since he is weak).

So I didn’t say anything. However, I know that I never want to be alone with that man again. I was so offended that an old, ugly man would even think I would be interested. In the moment that he was hugging me and putting his hands on my waist, I had thought that maybe I was reading it wrong; maybe he was just treating me like family. But then I realized that whether or not he was trying to get a feel, his actions made me feel uncomfortable, and in the end that is all that matters.

What is upsetting is that I am not the only one this has happened to. Many of my female friends have had similar experiences here in Italy. Of course things like this happen everywhere, but in the States we follow through on laws, such as sexual harassment, in order to make men think twice about turning a business meeting into an opportunity to make unwanted sexual advances on their colleague.

I left out significant details of my personal experience in order to avoid direct identification of the man, and to spare hurt feelings or misunderstandings of others.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The First, the Last, the Boy

There is a protocol to sex: Everyone needs to make sure that everyone else is having fun. I went out with the 21-year-old American boy after we returned from Munich, and what started out as intrigue soon dwindled into an akward union that left only one of us satisfied.

Monday night we met on Ponte Vecchio, and walked over to Pop Cafe in Piazza Santo Spirito for an aperitivo. The conversation was nice, but I felt that there was a change in our chemistry since returning from Munich. He seemed more reserved, and I was ... I dunno ... I was feeling more direct, or domineering. Perhaps it was because we were back in my home, a place he would soon be leaving and I felt, he really did not understand.

After we finished our wine he walked me back to my place. Once at the foot of my building door, I asked him if he wanted to come up.

"I don't care," he said.

"Is that a 'yes' or a 'no,'" I asked.

"Maybe" annoys me. What does "I don't care" mean? Is the person interested or not?

Throughout the evening he spoke of an animated Disney film, about two robots that fall in love, shocked that I had not seen it, he suggested we watch it. So we snuggled up on my tiny bed to watch a free download of "WALL-E." It was cute, but I can't remember the last time I watched a movie with a guy as a prelude to sex. Wait, wait now I remember. Yes, the last time that happened I was in college.

He made his move. He gently tickled my back with soft kisses. Being with him was sweet, no sparks, just sweet. And I thought he was a nice boy. Despite the thoughts in back of my head that said, "be careful he's just a boy. Don't get caught up," in all honesty, he just seemed genuine and good looking, and respectful of a woman. A precious boy. And I told him that.

"You're so sweet," I said in between a kiss.

"That's weird. No one's ever said that to me before," he responded.

That's when I knew this was not going to rank on the top 10 best sexual experiences of my life. What else do you do in these moments? You say nice things. In love or not. You compliment your lover. Those sweet emotions pull at you when your lying in bed with someone.

I love pillow talk. That's the honey of romantic trysts; spending time, clothes off, talking about nothing in particular. Maybe the American did not know who he was yet, because if he was secure with himself, as so he should be, he would have taken the compliment with a smile.

He was taking his time, and I was asking him to hurry up and get to it. Maybe I was being too Samantha, but after him not taking to my compliment, it became apparent that I would just have to use him. But unlike my hopes of repeating certain acts throughout the night, he said he would only be showing for one single performance. And if I was not satisfied at the end of it, so be it.

And I was not satisfied at the end, middle or beginning. Maybe he did not know how it worked. It's called reciprocity. On top of that, he kept his socks on. Doesn't he know the rules: No socks, give and receive, repeats are a must, and its rude not to spend the night.

"Look at you, you look so mad," he said jokingly, laying there, acting like he just ran the New York City Marathon.

"This is an exchange," I said.

Of course I was pissed. Are you kidding, that's it? I felt bad for being demanding, but I chose him for certain reasons, just as he chose me.

He left in a rush. I think he was embarrassed, although really there is nothing to be embarrassed about. Things happen, chemistry is not right. I would have liked to try again, it took Carrie and Burger two times before they got it right, but the boy never surfaced again.

I think about what I did wrong. Maybe I was too mean; maybe I should have been nicer; maybe I should have just smiled and kept my mouth closed; maybe...

Now I figured it out. Maybe he was just too young.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Spring Fest in Munich

Löwenbräu beer, scenic hikes, juicy pork hocks, storybook castles, American boys and bikes … were all incorporated into my weekend jaunt with FlorenceForFun to Munich. FlorenceForFun is a travel agency that organizes affordable excursions to accessible cities of Europe primarily for American students studying in Florence.

I went on the trip as an assistant to one of the guides and managers, Anna McNiel.

We left around 11:30 p.m. on Thursday on a bus packed with 44 students, and drove through the majestic Alps to Bavaria. Anna warned me to sleep well on the bus because we had three days packed with activities ahead of us. So naturally I didn’t sleep at all.

 The next morning, with our luggage checked at the hotel, we hit the ground running, making a quick detour at Starbucks before beginning a four-hour bike tour of the city. Mikes Bikes Tour lead the group from well kept bike paths alongside gilded monuments, to the serene English Garden. We took a much needed lunch break at the Chinese Tower Beer garden. 

Under flowering chestnut trees, I sipped my stein of amber beer, while trying to conquer a full plate of heavy German food. Although my stomach disagreed with it later, I was thankful for the fried potatoes, topped with spiced sour cream and deep fried pork knuckles; finally, a greasy, unhealthy meal that was not centered on a boiled noodle or squashed grape.

 When we arrived back at the hotel, Anna and I only had time for a quick rinse and makeup fix, before heading out to the weekend highlight — Spring Fest. In a fog of cigarette smoke, women and men from 16- to 70-years-old drank, drank, drank. A lady with boobs up to her chin, that shook when she spoke, continuously dropped off fistfuls of beer at our table, while we sang and danced on top of benches.

The thing that amazed me, besides everyone having a good time and socializing with the patrons at the next table, was the cleanliness of the bathrooms. The portable bathrooms located outside the beer tent were cleaner than all the bathrooms I have used in an Italian restaurant or bar. A woman cleaned up the toilette seat after each use. Actually all the bathrooms that I used during this trip were sanitized mechanically or personally after each use.

It was that night that one of the students paid extra attention to me. I kept noticing him touching me, and naturally I wanted to touch him back. The beer helped me ignore the 10+ year age difference between us, plus he had a sweet smile and was from my hometown Cleveland.

Because I was technically working, I could not spend as much time with him that I would have liked to. We did manage to find a dark street corner, away from everyone for a long heated kiss, accompanied by some pushing up against a wall and leg wrapping.

The next evening we met up at Spring Fest, after I had spent the day hiking hills to visit Ludwig II’s fairytale refuge, Neuschwanstein Castle. Around 1:00 a.m. we took an exceptionally long walk to the furthest Burger King, and held hands while carrying back cold food for myself and Anna.

It was refreshing to spend time with a boy who was not dramatic, did not fake tears because I did not want to spend the night in his room and was laid back. He just seemed “untouched” by any negative thing in life or love, unlike me. And that is attractive.

On Sunday morning, the end of our trip, I called him to see if he wanted to join Anna and me for lunch in a beer garden with live music. I would never have called an Italian guy on the whim. They would have taken a phone call as a sign for desperation, pushiness or the worst clinginess. When I was in Sicily, I called x. one night, just to say “hey,” because I was bored. By the end of the conversation I knew that phone call was a mistake, and I would never see him again romantically. I was right.

In this situation, I figured I could enjoy Munich with another, and have a bit of fun with someone before they returned back to the United States. I knew it would not last, and if we saw each other back in Florence, I told myself “it could only be sex.” Let’s be realistic, he is not going to bring me back with him to his college dorm in the States, and I could not fit him into my current life.

In all, I was grateful to Anna for giving me work. Although, I admit being a tour guide is not my forte. I cannot make a connection with a person unless I make a connection. And that is difficult to do with a large group of people from all over the United States, in an age group that I feel I no longer have any common ground with. But Anna finds a way to ensure fun is had by all, and that everyone is taken care of. She also knows Munich like the back of her hand, and gave essential information about the city to those who wanted to break away from the planned activities.

Besides the natural beauty, Germany is a gorgeous country becauses everything works, and the Germans seemed to respect the space and rights of the others around them. I noticed this when we rode our bikes through the public parks and spaces, by how the bike path was shared, who had the right of way at a crossings, etc ... I would choose to live in Germany if I ever left Italy.