Misadventures in Italy Part Two

Day Two: Chonk Chong (as you will recall that is my Law and Order sound)

I make it in Rome in one piece and without further aggravation. This was actually the first time I was not pulled to the side and given extra questioning or pat downs due to my traveling while being black. Don’t be surprised folks, before 9/11 black women were the number one group to be profiled in airports (because apparently we don’t travel for pleasure or business but to be drug mules for our boyfriends).

So we stayed at a 2 star hotel (American translation means 1 star hotel). Yes, I understand in other countries with more history a lot of the hotels in the city areas are really old and therefore lose space when they try to update their facilities with things like bathrooms and more than one full sized bed in a room but it was still a bit of a shock and a learning lesson. We also had to turn in the key (not card) with a key chain the weight of a boulder to the front desk every time we left the building. Type A Cosmo girl will do no less than a 3, and preferably 4, star hotel for the future. Having to hold the shower nozzle was a bit of a challenge and made me yearn for the days of college dorm bathrooms. And three women to a hotel room is not desirable. Gotta like the gals you’re with and don’t mind getting flashed a few times!

Anywho, friends and I walked a bit of the Roman streets and were greeted with confidence boosting catcalls. My favorite was a guy who called out the window to us “Spettacolare!” (aka Spectacular) (four black women, take that Psych Today!). Our hotel was in the more diverse area because I passed by two! Black hair salons and a black beauty shop.

Now quick backdrop on my limited knowledge of race relations in Italy. It’s not yet a melting pot but it’s getting there, whether folks are happy with it or not. I encountered loads of Africans and Asians (mostly Chinese and Indian/Middle Eastern). Many aren’t too happy with the Africans there due to the constant and pushy nature of vendors selling goods on the street. Get this: it’s not illegal to sell knockoffs on the street but it is illegal (huge fine) to buy them. Translation: we just want to fine the unknowledgeable tourist so we can get some money for our government. Anywho, the diversity was a welcomed surprise yet Italians could tell the difference between the local African Immigrants and tourists of the African diaspora.

Oddly, but often enough, whenever I travel overseas locals never assume I am African American. I (and my friends) have been considered everything from Puerto Rican, Panamanian, Canadian, British and African but never American. Even the cleaning lady for our hotel in Florence who was African herself thought my friend and I were Brazilian. What’s the deal? Who spread the false rumor that Black American women don’t travel? I’ll just put the blame on BET.

Okay, so next we did our TWO hour orientation/check in with Contiki (so unnecessary as we did the check ins on line and if they gave out itineraries, like professionals, things would be so much more smooth and time efficient). Our first stop with Contiki (who I will never recommend even to my worse enemy, well perhaps them, but just them) was a walking tour of some of Italy to see the Pantheon, Trevei Fountain, Spanish Steps. Sure wish I got to see them cause I got left behind. The tour guide did not explain that following him would be like an episode of the Amazing Race. By the end of the tour only 10 people (out of 55) were still with him. Note to Contiki, you have failed if you lose over 75% of your tour group!

But my loyal sister stayed behind with me and we had a fabulous time on our own. I began my two pound weight gain with pizza (the yummy memories still haunt me), pistachio gelato and wine of course. Always wine…(up next, shopping and Florence and boys, oh my)

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2 comments

  1. I lived in Barcelona for a year (about 5 years ago), and it was the same way. Immigration exploded due to the boom in the economy and construction business, resulting in a greater need for cheap labor. I saw a lot of Chinese and Subsaharan African immigrants in addition to many many people from South America. It was very simple to tell the difference between African tourists and African immigrants. African immigrants were extremely poor, and face a lot of racism, since no one wants to hire them. Many of them are forced to beg on the street or steal, which I have seen.

    I totally agree with you on the stereotypes that black women deal with here in the United States, but I disagree about the stereotype that black women don't travel abroad. The reason they assume that you are from a country other than the US is because it is extremely rare that people in Europe come across African American tourists. In my entire year in Barcelona, I ran into two African American men, and that was only because they were coworkers and living there. So technically you could say that I have never even met an African American tourist. And might I add that I walked everywhere, took public transportation and went out every weekend. I met a lot of people, but African Americans weren't around.

    Now that they've met you, I am sure they will consider asking other people of color if they come across if they are from the United States.

    Did you know that my mother is from Austria and the first time she spoke to a black person was in the United States ? It is EXTREMELY rareto this day to even see an African in Austria, as they tend to prefer Spain and France as their destinations.

    Anyway, looking forward to more stories. The one about the shower made me laugh. My grandma's shower in Austria was laughable.

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  2. I agree its not that African American women don't travel, I have found in my travels all over the world that if your not a stereotypical American in Bermuda sock with a fanny pack most people don't not identify you as American. Not to mention that most people cant identify those from other nations very well at all.
    My Dutch husband has even been asked by his own country men where he is from. Just human nature.

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