Ciao Bella

One thing that I’ve experienced almost daily in Italy is people, mostly older men, saying ‘ciao bella,’ at me as I walk past them in the street. My first thought is that my name isn’t Bella and that they must have me confused with someone else they know called Bella (kidding, bella means beautiful in Italian). No, at first, I found it pretty scary. When walking around by myself and a strange man tries to talk to me, a stranger danger alarm sounds in my head. When this happens in America, I speed up my walking pace and become ultra-aware of my surroundings for a couple of blocks until I’m sure that I’m in the clear. At first, that’s what I did here too. My brain interpreted their words as threatening and, to be fair, with statistics of female assaults in the US so high, with good reason. My cultural expectation is that a man catcalling me in the street is potentially a prelude to worse things.

After raising the incidents with colleagues and reflecting on these interactions, I don’t think I interpreted them correctly. I believe that their ‘ciao bella,’ is comparable to a friendly nod of the head – just the old Italian man equivalent. Aside from a couple of occasions where there was an additional ‘dove vai (where are you going),’ they simply say ‘ciao bella,’ then proceed with their day as they had been before, no following, no additional comments. Sometimes there’s staring, but I’ve found that to be a common occurrence with all Italians when I’m here. To clarify, I don’t think it’s because I’m an incredible beauty that they can’t get enough of. It’s more that I’m very pale, freckly, and slightly ginger, and there’s pretty few people who look like that in Italy.

Using the DIVE technique to evaluate this situations was very useful. Being female has given me a pretty strong awareness of how safe I feel in situations. This means that, whilst walking around Italy by myself with these interactions occurring, I was on high alert a lot of the time. Using the DIVE technique to evaluate these interactions has allowed me to feel safer and more relaxed. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to be aware, but being able to be passively aware, rather than on-edge, creates a much nicer atmosphere for exploring a new country and, as a result, has allowed me to place more focus on appreciating my surroundings.

Me sitting in a cave in Bagnoregio where a priest used to live and make olive oil and where part of Pinocchio was filmed! Bagnoregio is the most gorgeous town on top of a hill that can only be accessed by a very steep bridge.