Being Black in Rome: Planning, Prostitution, and Pasta
By Gabrielle Jeannot
Living in Rome, Italy for 5 weeks I’ve developed a love-hate relationship with this beautiful city. I adapted to a lot of their cultural habits and realized both Italians and I share similar values. On the other hand, I also picked up on the “not so great” social dynamic between Italians and Blacks. All in all, I’ve grown to accept and appreciate the Italian way of living, but hope one day they realize that ignorance kills. Here is somewhat of a guide of what to expect based on my experience as a POC exploring Italy!
It takes absolutely little to nothing to walk into Rome (or any other major touristic destination) and lose your mind. There is so much to see and do so you get frustrated trying to choose what to do first, when to do it, etc. Once you have finally chosen what to do, you’re taken aback by how expensive everything is because of the last minute decision. Then, you have a nervous breakdown because nothing is going as expected and there goes your trip.
THIS CAN ALL BE AVOIDED!
First and foremost, you need to come to terms with the fact that you will not be able to see all of Rome or try every pizza, pasta, gelato, and wine they have to offer in one visit. Once that’s done, you can begin to plan your trip in accordance with your budget. Don’t be like me and try to challenge this unless you have all the time and money in the world. I landed in Rome beyond delusional. I talked about all the things I’m going to do without planning the logistics of it all. I didn’t take into account how I was going to get to where I needed to go, food I needed to buy to stay alive, and even the prices of tickets needed to enter these attractions. But, of course, my bank account sure did give me a rude awakening. It wasn’t cute, but it was necessary. When I realized how broke I actually was my inner “Julius,” the world’s biggest cheapskate, was awakened; I refused to pay full price for anything. I took full advantage of student discounts, promotions, and sales throughout my entire stay in Italy. I saw everything I wanted to see while still remaining within my budget.
Here are some great money saving tips I came across that will make your trip to Rome that much smoother and cheaper:
- The earlier you buy & the bigger the group, the cheaper the ticket
- If you’re a student, take advantage of the discounts
- Skip-the-line tickets (bought online and in advance) are worth it. Your day won’t be wasted waiting on line.
- 1st Sunday of Every Month in Rome: All museums are free! (except the Vatican; last Sunday of every month)
- List of all the free things to do in Rome: http://www.italylogue.com/things-to-do/free-things-to-do-in-rome.html
- Public transportation instead of Taxi/Uber: It’s cheap and efficient!
- Consider Airbnb or Hostel instead of Hotels
Italians Value Beauty: “La Bella Figura”
“I’m going to the market real quick so I’ll just throw on some old sweats and a hoodie,” said no Italian ever.
One of my favorite aspects of the Italian culture is how much they value aesthetics.
The saying “La Bella Figura,” the beautiful figure, dictates the way Italians live. They take great pride in beautifying and presenting the best version of themselves at all times.
At first, this concept was a bit intimidating. I felt out of place wearing my frumpy lounge clothes because everywhere I went everyone looked perfect! From the outfit choice to the way they walk and talk, Italians are nothing short of grace and simplicity. Living amongst them for 5 weeks, I’ve learned less is more and we all deserve to put our best foot forward not for others, but for ourselves.
However, this concept of maintaining a beautiful figure isn’t limited to one’s behavior or physical appearance. This philosophy also spills over into Italian art, architecture, and fashion.
Italians pay great attention to detail and nothing is done for the sake of being done. There is thought put into every stroke of a paintbrush, every indent of a building, and every stitch of fabric.
Prepare for the Stares
Staring is an essential part of the Italian culture. Italians stare when they're fascinated, intrigued, confused, annoyed, angry, happy if you’re black…...You name it, they are staring!
It's not a friendly stare nor is it hostile. It's simply a blank expression that can be interpreted in more ways than one. I personally don’t mind the staring. Oddly enough, I actually enjoy it.
One day, I went to the supermarket alone to get my groceries for the week and it’s like the world stopped as I walked up and down the aisles. People watched me as I put food in my basket, waited in line, checked out, walked, talked, lived, breathed, etc. Some of them smirked, others quickly turned away, and the bold ones just continued to make uncomfortable eye contact. Honestly, that day I knew I looked bomb so the stares were like reassurance that I look good!
Finally, on my way out someone who contributed to the staring approached me just to say how much they loved my hair. After that moment, I realized that whatever expression is on their face does not reflect what goes on in their head. Nonetheless, staring, no matter the intent, is a bit off-putting (especially if you’re not used to it), but whilst in Italy just remember NOT to take it personally, it's part of their culture. So just go about your merry day and embrace it.
Personal Space? Nonexistent
You know that bubble you walk around in on a daily basis? Get ready for it to be popped. People, cars, and even animals will be so uncomfortably close to you, you’ll start to question whether you have a sign on your forehead that says “get as close as you can.”
In all seriousness, they mean no harm (unless they’re pickpockets). It’s just another facet of their culture. Italians are naturally intimate, affectionate beings. Conversations are held literally face to face and they greet strangers with 2 kisses on the cheek (social kissing) before a handshake. Being Carribean, I understand this all too well especially when it comes to social kissing. At family gatherings, I’ve kissed all these “aunts, uncles, and cousins” I never knew I had as a sign of respect; this idea also holds true in the Italian culture. Though you may be in Italy, you are by no means obliged to kiss anyone if you’re not comfortable doing so. This is just heads up so you’re not alarmed when someone tries to lay it on you.
Nightlife: Testaccio is the place to be!
“Work hard, play even harder.” Being a student in an accelerated program abroad, I was stressed all the time, but I made sure to reward myself whenever I completed an assignment to keep my sanity. Besides my weekend trips to other cities in Italy, the nightlife kept me afloat throughout my stay in Rome.
Testaccio, the city’s nightclub district, is one of the most underrated towns in Rome because of its’ lack of curb appeal. This area has a huge African population and is home to some of the best nightclubs in Rome. (You can club hop with ease here!) I fell in love with this part of town not only because I fit in somewhere, but also I finally went to a club that played something other than pop and techno music. I was getting down to hip-hop, afrobeats, Caribbean music, and reggaeton in ROME. That experience alone cured any homesickness I may have had at the time. Here are some of my favorite clubs in that area:
Via di Monte Testaccio, 69
Via di Monte Testaccio
Roma, Italy 00153
Qube: “Black Qube” Events (Saturdays)
Via di Portonaccio, 212
Roma, Italy 00159
(not in Testaccio)
Be sure to check their FB pages prior to going! Events change daily.
Ladies, your independence is a threat
Alright. So here is where the hate part of my love/hate relationship with Italy comes in. Being a black woman in Italy has its’ pros and cons.
Pro(ish)- Because we are fetishized out there, we can pretty much get whatever whenever. Con- They expect something in return.
The mentality of some Italian men has been warped and shaped by the widespread sex trafficking industry. Today, 1 in 2 prostitutes in Italy are Nigerian. That’s 50%! And that doesn’t even include the prostitutes from other African countries. Needless to say, the only image they have of black women out there is a prostitute. Men have tried to kiss me WITHOUT my consent at clubs, I’ve been called “coco Bella (beautiful chocolate), coco, and bella,” and I’ve been offered “gifts” in exchange for my company. The men feel entitled to my presence and are threatened when I reject them. Unfortunately, this is our reality. So please be aware of your surroundings ladies and don’t be too trusting.
Porta Portese Flea Market
If you have the time do yourself a favor and stop at this popular flea market in Rome. You can get quality clothing and other souvenirs for a very good price depending on how good of a haggler you are. It’s run entirely by immigrants of all backgrounds (Africans, Indians, Arabians) trying to make ends meet.The money spent there will be both beneficial to you and the vendors.***I got this fur coat for only 30 euros yall! THIRTY, 3-0, Euros!
My experience will not necessarily be your experience. The outcome of your travels is entirely in your hands. You can travel and let everything that does not go as planned negatively affect you, thus ruining your experience. Or, you can travel with the mindset of making the best out of every situation and enjoy your trip. With that being said avoid being a Debbie Downer and channel your inner Positive Polly and have a great time!