Sunday, February 05, 2006

Blondes have more fun?

It's not just being blonde, course. It stands to reason that a lone female in her twenties or thirties ends up with different experiences to fellow travellers, particularly in countries with a lingering chauvinistic culture. But in Italy, where colouring is generally dark, I'm pretty sure that the blonde makes a difference too. Anyhow, everyone's travel journals are from their own perspective, and mine is that of a blonde female who frequently travels alone.

Sometimes I've read travel journals or advice by men, or those who've travelled in couples or groups, or those who've journeyed cloistered in a car, and I've thought 'Yes, but what would it be like for me?' Well, hopefully my travel journals and reminiscences will provide an answer for other women who want to explore these places alone, by public transport, and maybe young and blonde.

The first time

On my very first trip to Italy, in the staid surroundings of Lake Garda, I learned the Italian word for a blonde through having it shouted after me as we strolled through town: bionda!!'. My attractive brunette friend complained that she felt unusually invisible. I wouldn't say we got hassled - much - but we did get chatted up by restaurant waiters who plied us with local food which we later read was supposed to have aphrodisiac properties. [We finally turned down their invitation to an out-of-town nightspot (we wanted to see the thousand fountains that supposedly ornamented said venue) when we began to wonder about the respectability of this smart tourist restaurant, but that's another story]. The handsome boatmen (the faster the boat, the smarter the uniform and the handsomer the crew seemed to be the rule) were charmingly attentive, and I was most impressed with a lad who took the trouble to chat us up in five different languages.

How it works

It didn't take long (or the contrasting experience of a trip with a brother) to learn the way it generally works in Italy. A large proportion of Italian men - many of them young and, it has to be said, dashing - work in the tourist and hospitality industries. Life is probably fairly dull, most of the customers elderly, unavailable, and unable to speak Italian, and the presence of young women will brighten the day of any Italian male. If they are blonde, that makes them exotic, conspicuous and probably foreign (and therefore loose, easily-impressed heavy drinkers). If they are alone that makes them eccentric, unusual and (especially if they speak Italian) amazingly intrepid.

Free stuff

Many travellers will have experienced the generosity of Italians: the bottle of Limoncello left on the restaurant table for customers as well as the general helpfulness. I would guess that one does even better as a single blonde woman. I've enjoyed a complimentary glass of prosecco at a cafe in Florence (for being 'lovely'), a delicious slice of chocolate cake ('it is my gift') at a restaurant in Capri and fresh fruit in Rome. A friend once had a whole takeaway breakfast pressed upon her in a bar. And none of these with any agenda; just a generalised admiration. Everyone is pleasantly and bewilderingly impressed with a single female traveller who has a smattering of Italian.

This blog

In this blog I will post some random accounts of my travels in Italy and maybe elsewhere, as well as such titbits of advice as occur to me. Stay tuned for sweeping generalisations about gender relations in Italy and pointers for single female travellers.

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