By Michael Hall
February 6, 2020
BOLOGNA, Italy — Alluringly dark hair, curly or straight, has the healthy bounce of Pantene commercials. Chiseled jawlines and slender silhouettes defy contemporary belief that carbohydrates induce unsightly weight gain. Their spoken language thrillingly plunges and effortlessly rises, accompanied by the corporal movements that elicit a sense of belonging. These are Italians; and they sure are attractive.
To be candid, it seems naïve to suppress the desire — inherent in many — to date outside of one’s culture. The excitement of learning a culture’s unique idioms and customs with a romantic partner far exceeds the same exchange with an elegant, yet married, Italian professor. You show me a proper piadine and I’ll introduce you to the wonderful world of Altoid mints; who isn’t to gain here? Perhaps our societal saturation in those perfect romantic comedies is to blame for quixotic desires, but it seems that dating an Italian may not always pan out as expected.
After all, the potential cultural barriers exceed the amount of times you can casually ask for a lighter to light your pre-rolled cigarettes. For starters, the time it takes to aesthetically integrate with Italians is years beyond the few short months that many SAISers spend in Bologna. No, that sick tie-dye shirt you made with your sister won’t help you fit in. Yes, your jeans are supposed to have holes in them, but nobody cares how many times you’ve almost fallen from getting your toe caught in them while dressing yourself. Black is the Bolognese uniform and tattoos are ubiquitous.
In case you haven’t already been ostracized by wearing a baseball cap, raunchy behavior is sure to peg you as a lowly Erasmus student, rather than a self-assured Masters-in-the-making. Keeping a low profile is an art many true Bolognese have mastered – and some of us SAISers could benefit from taking note. Not everyone in the bar needs to hear you enter. If you move a chair, lift before repositioning; nothing will turn more heads than when you shove scissors in everyone’s ears, dragging four metal legs across tile so your party of eight can sit together.
Perhaps no impediment to romance is as tangible as language. Ironic how we are referred to as Bolognese within the SAIS circle yet, as a cohort, speak relatively little Italian and prefer Beirut Snack or Delizioso above all else. One can navigate Bologna speaking English, but ultimately will never achieve true social integration. When it comes to romance, there is the inevitable self-doubt that rises when confidently sashaying across a bar before realizing that despite the litany of Carhart beanies and Levi’s jeans, this is Italy. People here speak Italian.
Nevertheless, hope remains. If you’ve ever heard a foreigner speak your mother tongue then you’re familiar with the occasional mispronunciations that are unabashedly adorable. After all, that person is trying, despite all odds, to appreciate, respect, and communicate through your culture. SAIS Bolognese who have found romance, when asked, often reveal that it isn’t just Italian or English spoken, but a hybrid of the two. There is something inherently sweet about attempting to speak a language, and, when in doubt, there is an argument to be made for the heart-warming cocktail of high velocity and higher enthusiasm. Nobody can judge your Italian if you speak too fast! In the end, it may just be this stupefying gust of poorly-pronounced Italian that creates enough time to rid yourself of any negative SAIS stereotypes and land yourself a date.