Traveling as a woman of color in Italy

 

10

MAY 2019

There’s one question I get asked as a frequent traveler — and part-time resident in Italy.

What’s it like traveling as a woman of color in Italy? It’s a topic I want to discuss having spent over 4 years traveling —and living there — for long periods of time. 

Disclaimer: The following experiences are my own, and naturally will differ from other people’s experiences. I ask you take this into consideration while reading. 

An incredible country to visit — woman of color in Italy 

In the world of travel, Italy consistently ranks high on many travelers’ bucket lists. And quite rightly too.

The landscapes are exactly how the guidebooks, travel guides and documentaries show them to be. In short, Italy is beautiful.

However, every country has its downsides, and so too does Italy. In recent years, it’s gained somewhat of a name for not being the most welcoming of nations to foreigners.

1. People are more curious

Whether you want to call it glancing or staring, it’s something that happens a lot as a woman of color in Italy.

And from personal experience, there are several reasons behind this.

  • Admiring beauty. It’s widely known that Italians — especially men — like beautiful things, which also extends to women. The more unique, or exotic looking (I’ll come to that later) you are, the more likely you’ll turn some heads.
  • Locals haven’t traveled as much. Depending on where in Italy you travel, those stares can stem from curiosity. It’s something that as a frequent traveler I don’t immediately think about and take for granted.
 

Storytime — woman of color in Italy

I remember the first time I visited Vicenza, a small city in the region of Veneto.

Visitors here in general are more noticeable given that it’s not a bigger city like Venice or Verona. One day, when my partner and I were in the city center, I noticed some women staring at me.

At first I ignored it, but soon I noticed more women beginning to stare. It began to grate on me, but I said nothing.

I’ve never liked people staring at me in general, even in my home city of London. Eventually, we stopped at a bar for a coffee, and I was relieved for some respite. It didn’t last long.

After a waitress took our order, I saw that the lady serving behind the bar began staring too. Feeling my agitation returning, I decided to take a bathroom break.

Traveling as a woman of color in Italy — 8 things to keep in mind 1

Traveling as a woman of color in Italy — Piazza dei Signori in Vicenza

 

Not what it seems — woman of color in Italy

Upon returning to our table, I told my partner, who explained, ‘they’re probably just curious’.

He also added that in a city like Vicenza, many people had probably not traveled much, or left the city. Saying that, a new face is more likely to draw attention, more so a person of color.

My partner also told me that the lady behind the bar spoke to him while I was in the bathroom. She told him I was wonderful — for what reason I don’t know.

And as we left, she gave us the biggest, most sincere, smile. I felt slightly embarrassed after by my earlier feelings, because as it turns out, it was nothing like I’d imagined.

This isn’t to say that all the stares I received earlier stemmed from curiosity. However, this day changed my perspective, and for the better.

Nowadays when we’re back in Vicenza, or anywhere else in Italy, I don’t even notice if anyone’s staring.

Traveling as a woman of color in Italy — 8 things to keep in mind 2

Woman of color in Italy — Vicenza rooftops

 

“…personally guarantee that your experience traveling as a woman of color in Italy will be a positive one. But, I’d encourage you to visit and make your own judgement.”

Booking.com

2. The exotic factor

Despite the fact that I’ve long brown hair and brown eyes like many Italian women, I’m seen as ‘exotic’.

As a woman of color traveling in Italy, it’s something many women will, or have, probably experience/d.

While no-one wants to be labelled, being seen as exotic isn’t the worst thing for me. In fact, I’ve been hearing this since I was around 15/16 years old, so it’s nothing new.

Traveling as a woman of color in Italy — 8 things to keep in mind 3

Women of color in Italy — you’re seens as exotic as this Bird of Paradise flower…

 

3. Very few people look like you

I remember traveling to Mexico a few years ago, and feeling immediately at ease.

As well as recognizing similar cultural traditions, I was surrounded by other morenos that looked like me. 

In Italy, this is of course more of a rarity. This isn’t to say it bothers me, but you naturally stand out more.

Traveling to different regions — woman of color in Italy 

There have been times where I’ve felt more conscious when visiting other parts of the country.

I stood out like an exotic thumb on my first trip to the Dolomites. However, I can honestly say, that the only one who was aware of this was me. Nobody treated me any differently from the group I was traveling with.

It was another reminder that overthinking can sometimes create something that wasn’t there to begin with.

Traveling as a woman of color in Italy — 8 things to keep in mind 4

You’ll stand out from the crowd – traveling in Italy as a woman of color

 

4. The migrant situation

Unless you’ve been sleeping under a rock for the past few years, you’ll be familiar with the European migrant crisis.

Italy has been one of the main countries receiving the majority of migrants arriving from Libya by boat. Over the years, the growing number of migrants have added increasing pressure on services in Italy.

Add to this the existing socio-economic problems, particularly after the 2008 financial crisis, and you’ve got a pressure cooker about to explode.

Traveling as a woman of color in Italy — 8 things to keep in mind 5

The migrant situation has added to growing foreigner hostility Credit: ©Irish Defence Forces from Ireland

What does this mean for travelers of color — woman of color in Italy

In light of this, there has been some growing hostility towards migrants.

There have been many stories about African migrants experiencing racism in Italy, or being exploited by employers for cheap labor.

Saying that, black travelers may experience some hostility — depending on which part of the country you visit.

Again, not every black traveler will experience this. Also, once the people realize you’re a visitor and not a migrant, you shouldn’t encounter any problems.

This isn’t to condone any maltreatment towards migrants, but in the context of travel, you should be fine.

5. The political situation in Italy

Without boring you about Italian politics, let’s just say that the current* government isn’t exactly foreigner friendly.

And by foreigner, this can also include those from other European countries, and not just migrants. The rhetoric of the coalition party has added fuel to the fire about attitudes towards migrants.

Traveling as a woman of color in Italy — 8 things to keep in mind 6

The current ruling party isn’t positive about foreigners in general

6. Not speaking the language

When I first traveled to Sicily, I was completely blindsided by the language barrier.

Back then, I only had Spanish as a Latin language and was assured I’d be fine. Wrong. I struggled with just about everything and felt sad, despondent and altogether useless.

As soon as I arrived back home, I made it my mission to learn Italian.

Though Sicily has its own dialect, I started learning Italian to not just converse there, but also in the north. And within 3 months, I was able to learn the basics and have a conversation. 

Opening doors — woman of color in Italy

As cliched as it sounds, language really does open doors.

I’ve seen people’s expressions change from emotionless to smiles in seconds, upon realizing I can converse in their language. More importantly, as a woman of color, I feel proud to see that change in people.

I’m not suggesting that you’ve to learn Italian if you’re a woman of color. What I’m saying is that having some knowledge of the language can play a role as to how some people treat you.

Traveling as a woman of color in Italy — 8 things to keep in mind 7

Language can open more doors, especially as a woman of color in Italy

7. Is Italy racist?

Speaking from personal experience, I’d say no.

I’ve never experienced (touch wood) any kind of hostility as a woman of color traveling in Italy. On the contrary, I’ve met my partner, made some new friends, and even see Italy as my second home.

This isn’t to say, however, that there are areas and regions in Italy that may not be as open. I’ve not come across any — so far, so cannot comment on this.

Traveling as a woman of color in Italy — 8 things to keep in mind 8

The only way to experience Italy as a woman of color is to see it for yourself

8. Visit Italy for yourself

I can’t personally guarantee that your experience traveling as a woman of color in Italy will be a positive one.

But, I’d encourage you to visit and make your own judgement. For travel is about opening your eyes to the good, and the not so good, aspects of any given destination.

What are your views on this subject? Have you traveled to Italy as a woman of color? What was your experience? Let me know in the comments below. Please keep comments civil.

*Correct at the time of publishing.

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission if you click a link and purchase something that I’ve recommended. Thank you for your support.

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Lisa Rivera

Lisa Rivera

Founder

 

Welcome to my site! I'm Lisa, founder of Following the Rivera. I write primarily for a ‘flashpacker’ audience, a demographic (late 20s onward) that enjoys glamping over camping and staying at boutique/luxury boutique hotels. Flashpackers also like to indulge in the local food and wine, cultural activities, as well as a spot of wellness on their travels. Want to know more? Read on....

       

 

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