L’amore vs. La Mug: a JYAer experiences romance in Italy

Being abroad in Italy comes with a lot of expectations—it’s supposedly the country of good food, beautiful art, and romance. The expectations for romance at Vassar are usually much lower. They decrease at an exponential rate, starting sometime after freshman orientation week, when everyone is still wide-eyed and the Deece is the best part of your day because you have never seen anyone get Gatorade in such an attractive manner and ohmygod what if he asks you on a date after the tour of Baldwin?! I think my expectations started to go downhill quickly after the first time I stepped foot in the Mug and thought I’d mistakenly entered an extra-dark Hollister store where instead of putting perfume on everything, the employees just worked out in the clothes until they were drenched with sweat. Or maybe it was while I was still adjusting to the gender neutral bathrooms and there were no free sinks and I accidentally spit out my toothpaste on the really attractive upperclassman who lived on the hall. So, going to Italy for a semester, I hoped that romance would once again be an option in my life, and that I would see dramatic proposals in front of churches and roses delivered to doorsteps and maybe a duel over a woman or a sword fight between the Montagues and the Capulets. Anything along those lines. However, I am starting to understand that Italy, while a fantastic place that definitely delivers when it comes to food and art, has a different standard of romance than the United States, and that the Vassar romantic scene has some unexpected merits.

For example, the Italians have an odd idea of when is a good time to pick up a girl. By this, I mean that they believe that ANY TIME is a good time. Is she babysitting a small child? Throw a snowball at the little boy and see if that gets her attention! Is she crying in a stairwell? Just stand directly behind her and breathe heavily until she feels comforted. That girl running full speed on the treadmill? Now is probably a good time to strike up a conversation—offer to wipe the sweat off her brow. In fact, the University of Bologna website, when describing its workout facilities, states that, “at the gym, you can meet new friends and why not…your ‘sweety heart.’ If you can win someone’s attention while sweating, you have nothing to lose!” Seriously. Seriously. The university says that to students. This has brought to light the really positive qualities of Vassar romance—for example, that you will likely only get heavily breathed upon when you expect to be, like in the Villard Room or when you stand next to the casting results for the semester’s plays.

Having a roommate also never encourages dramatic acts of romance, no matter where you live. For example, if John Cusack was to hold a boombox under your window, he’d probably disturb most of the Quad and it would definitely inspire some angry and passive aggressive SayAnything posts. Unless of course, you live in Cushing, in which case he will only disturb the polar bears who live over there with you in Siberia. However, there are even fewer opportunities for romance in the Italian dorm living style. For example, you could be in my living situation—the all-girls dorm, where in order to sneak a man in, you would have to either convince him to cross-dress or invest in some Batman-level technology. The alternative, however, is a dorm in which you live in an apartment with 4-10 people of both sexes. This is great and fun and very modern, congratulations Italy! Of course, having a dorm with people of both sexes who are STRANGERS who DON’T SPEAK THE SAME LANGUAGE runs some risks, like, for example, walking into the room for your very first dinner and being told by a man with an unfortunate grasp of the English language that you “dominate his dreams” and that he is going to go “watch some videos” after he finishes his pasta. Risky.

Along the same vein, the weekend scene does not particularly lend itself to any grand romantic gestures either. In Italy, weekend nights will often lead you to a bar that has nice snacks (priorities), and then out to a piazza to sit on the ground. If you are lucky, while you sit on the ground in February in a dress that was probably created for the heat of the Arabian desert, a nice man will come up to you and start tossing bread by your feet, while yelling “COME TO THE PRETTY GIRL, PIGEONS. COME TO THE PRETTY GIRL.” The pigeons will indeed come. Conversely, contrary to popular belief, the Vassar weekend is blossoming with the flower of young love. Or, there are a lot of people who want to forget that they just got a B on their language quiz because honestly who even needs to know the subjunctive anyways, and are therefore wandering into the THs of strangers and cruising for free alcohol, snacks or possibly an attractive human. Because, really, we all just want a nice someone to buy us Bacio’s and tell us that our comment in our class about French wine the other day was really deep, insightful, and brought to light a lot of the most important issues facing the world today. If getting a slice of free pizza and maybe a kiss after midnight isn’t true romance, I really don’t know what is.

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