Boys, Boys, Boys: A Solo Female Traveler’s Experience With the Men of Southern Italy, Montenegro and Albania

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“Southern Italy, eh?” He gave me the raised eyebrow of caution. “Watch out for the men.”

This was Alex, his voice lifting above the roar of hair dryers and hip music at the salon, two days before I left on my trip.

A lady friend of his, he continued, had recently spent several weeks in the Mediterranean land of machismo. “Apparently, they all use the same line: ‘I have a girlfriend. But tonight, for you, no girlfriend.’ She said it got really old.”

I laughed. To be honest, it hadn’t crossed my mind yet. Dealing with the men of a country as a solo female traveler is usually one of the first things people ask me about when they hear I travel alone—right after the “is it safe” question. But the truth is, I’ve been doing this sola thing for awhile now, and whether or not the men somewhere will hound me to death doesn’t really factor into my travel considerations. Plus, I’ve done the majority of my traveling in Latin America, where sidewalks can at times feel like catwalks of degradation. As long as the men aren’t physically attacking me, I pretty much feel like I can handle it.

But Alex’s comment did give me pause. When it comes to safety (and drinking tap water), I throw caution to the wind in Europe. It’s the civilized, more highly evolved land of social safety nets and low crime. Hell, the vast majority of Europe is safer than my hometown. My hairdresser’s comment reminded me that, oh yeah, right, I’d be venturing off sola in a scant 48 hours and that maybe I’d ought to mentally prepare.

You stand out as a female solo traveler, and in a way, get to experience a culture more deeply, if no other reason than the fact that its men are talking to you more. My last trip took me to Southern Italy, Montenegro and the capital of Albania (and Croatia, but I only stayed for a day, so I’m not counting it). The men in each these countries treated me totally differently—and, I think, reveal a little something about the culture.

Italy

Oh, Italian men. They have quite the reputation. American women swoon for their accents, their sense of style, their motorinos and chest hair. And they’re known for hitting on pretty much anything that moves, serenading you with sweet odes of professed passion.

I don’t get it. And Italian men, apparently, don’t get me.

During my venture Rome-and-southwards, I was largely ignored by Italian men. Which suited me just fine. Again, having traveled heftily through Latin America and once through Morocco, I’m stoked on anything that isn’t street harassment. I’ll take being ignored over obscene insults any day.

But it did cause me wonder… Who the hell are all these American women who are getting hit on Italian men all the time? I’m a cute enough girl, but do you want to know why I wasn’t getting any attention from the dudes? Because they’re surrounded by Italian women—who are impossibly gorgeous and stylish, with their cascade of curly hair and their moody black eyeliner. I wouldn’t hit on me either.

Traveling through Southern Italy was like an adventure in mutual disinterest—as though every guy I passed on the street exchanged a brief little dialog with me: “Thanks but no thanks.” Italy is a pretty culturally conservative place, and I’m a pretty not culturally conservation person, in appearance or attitude. So it makes sense to me that the Italian men and I didn’t vibe. In person, that is.

While I was in Naples my Couchsurfing inbox got flooded with messages from shirtless dudes in sunglasses asking me if I needed a place to stay. (“Um, no.”) But this was the extent of the Italian sleaze I experienced—an indirect, easily ignored, half-assed attempt.

Maybe that was the secret to the purported flirtations of Italian men: that it’s largely impersonal, having less to do with you and whether or not there’s any real potential for something to happen, and more to do with, I dunno, not having anything else better to do? Hitting on someone just for the sake of hitting on someone?…

Montenegro

If ever a girl was thinking of a place to take advantage of men, Montenegro would be the place to do it. I had more offers for rides, tour guides, free drinks, places to stay, etc than anywhere else I’ve been.

But the curious thing was a) all the attention was from middle-aged men, no guys my own age, and b) they somehow managed to stay just on the right side of appropriate and respectful. I never felt violated or threatened by any of the Montenegrin men; it all just came across as really, really nice.

I was of course only getting the attention because I’m a pretty young(ish) American girl traveling alone. Montenegro is really trying to woo Western tourists, and I think I was something of an anomaly; there weren’t many Americans, weren’t many backpackers, weren’t many women alone. I think I was on the one hand intriguing for this reason; I think Montenegrins in general also really want tourists to feel welcome, want to take care of them. I must have sparked all the paternal instincts of the middle-aged men there. But somehow not in a demeaning way. Most curious.

Albania

At a certain point one night, it got ridiculous. I had to put on my sweater and get the hell off the dance floor.

It was like moths to a lightbulb. I have never received more male attention from males I actually wanted attention from than in Tirana. It was dangerous.

Albanians my age, it seems, really want to be Western. They’ve lived most of their lives in post-Communist Albania, but still relatively isolated from the rest of Europe. They’re ready, it seems, to be a part of the rest of the world.

For most kids, this striving seems to take the form of mainstream culture, the Top-40 kind. Stylistically, Tirana is filled with tons of extremely beautiful nouveau riche girls, who could, at first glance, blend in on Parisian sidewalks. You look a little closer and you realize that they don’t quite have it right yet; they wear a little too much make-up, their clothes not quite expensive enough.

But the point is, they’re trying really really hard. They have the posture, the poise, the carefully cultivated look of class in the arch of their fingers as they lean back and drag their cigarettes. They also don’t seem like a whole lot of fun—a little snobby, to be honest.

So I stood out, and not just for being foreign. There weren’t any other girls in Tirana like me, in sneakers and a band shirt, with short hair and tattoos. I’m a dime-a-dozen in the Bay Area, but in Tirana, I was the only act in town. And every single rock n roll dude, it seemed, was eying me. Or talking to me. Or offering me drinks or asking me out or wanting to dance with me.

Big-fish-in-a-little-pond syndrome. I’d never experienced it. After the initial rush of validation, though, it felt funny. It didn’t seem real and, in a way, it wasn’t.

It was like Genti’s indie rock band. An Albanian turned Brighton boy, Genti was just another dude in a band in England. But in Albania, he was becoming a big deal, selling a ton of albums and appearing on Albanian TV. It would have been easy, he told me, to really make it there. “But, I dunno,” he yelled over the barroom clatter, “do I really want to be the guy who was ‘really big in Albania’?”

I paused, and asked myself the same question. I was pretty damn sure that if all these rocker dudes were suddenly delivered into the Bay Area, they wouldn’t be tripping off me so much. I wanted to tell them, to put my hand gently on their shoulders and let them know, “Honey, there’s a big world out there, and it’s filled with a fuckton of cuter girls with more tattoos than me.”

But they’d have had to take my word for it. Cause it’s so damn hard for an Albanian to get a tourist visa, or to afford to travel anywhere where rock n roll girls live, places steeped in privilege.

So I did all I could do, which was to shake my head and laugh.

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6 Responses to “Boys, Boys, Boys: A Solo Female Traveler’s Experience With the Men of Southern Italy, Montenegro and Albania”


  1. 1 Diedre Blake October 28, 2010 at 6:22 am

    I really enjoyed and appreciated this article. You have such a wonderful way of painting images with your words….

    I thought I’d share with you a bit of my own experiences. I had been warned beforehand that in Rome I might be seen as a prostitute because I am Black (apparently a number of North African women living in Rome are prostitutes- Who knew?) I did get the excessive staring and cat-calls, etc. from Roman men… and the nastiest looks from Roman women. I never could figure out if this was because of the above-mentioned reason (being seen as a prostitute and all). Perhaps these men were simply curious because I didn’t look like the Black women they had seen before or, of course, the White women. Perhaps they simply thought me to be attractive. In the end, I got sick of all the stares and attempts at making conversation.

    Travelling alone in Rome, being a Black female, who happens to also have visible tattoos, and whose wardrobe is more based in the 40s than the new millenium, seems to be a special recipe for mostly unwanted and excessive attention… Anyway, I’m going back to Rome in February… perhaps the novelty will have worn off by then. ;)

    In Croatia, I had the great experience of people staring at me everywhere I went (by the way, there was also the blatant pointing.) My friend assured me, however, that this had everything to with my being Black rather than being attractive. I never knew whether or not I should have felt insulted by this comment… and I still don’t. This was 10 years ago, and perhaps there are more Black people there now. What I will say is that while I was there, the only Black people to be seen were on television… and what program do you think they were on? Well, that would be “Cops,” where they were largely being arrested for doing something illegal. Oh well. ;)

    -db

  2. 2 Traveler November 6, 2010 at 11:56 am

    Having a sense of style and knowing how to dress pretty much makes people stare at you in 9/10ths of America, and everywhere in the developing world. My habit of wearing jeans until they fall off in long shreds got some really crazy stares in Vietnam. All the layers that go into crossing irony with non-irony with comfort with five decades of rock & roll to arrive at ripped jeans and a band t-shirt get kinda lost in translation — whether you’re in Saigon, or Mobile, Alabama. They assume you’re either a bum or a rock star, and either way they don’t have a slot to put you in…so they treat you different. Nice, maybe. In the end, it’s nice to get some preppy clothes and not have to deal with it once in awhile.

  3. 4 Alexandra August 9, 2012 at 2:35 am

    Latin America: Cat calls, rude comments, men trying to grab me on buses and in taxis, men thinking that coming on to me in English would be a turn on. NOT! Bitchy women staring me up and down and being nasty to me.
    Germany: Stares, cat calls, and rude comments. Women giving me the once over and being nasty. (And I’m from a German family, so I LOOK German, even if I am not from there)
    Spain: Less stares, less cat calls, less harassment. But long, steamy looks from skanky looking men … what, staring at me intensely for long periods of time is supposed to make me want to talk to you? Makes me want to give you the finger and tell you to f-off. But I never do that. I also never admit that I’m American. Ever. Unless they somehow see a passport and then I make something up about how I got that passport. Admitting to being American is a big detriment to traveling overseas in so many ways. Admit that you are American while you are a woman solo traveling? No way, dude. I am always married and always from another country … alleviates so many problems on so many levels. But after being overseas for years and being harassed on a daily basis for years (women who wander around alone are a THREAT to many of these very chauvinistic societies AND the men think you are: easy, rich and their ticket to an easier life), I think I’d rather be a Buddhist nun that attempt dating. I’m so turned off of men now.

  4. 5 erinfrances August 17, 2012 at 9:56 pm

    I laughed out loud at “I had to put on my sweater and get the hell off the dance floor”. Fabulous!!

    I’m currently in South America now, and yep-yep, there can be some unwanted attention. But I’m also surprised by how the majority have so far, like the guys in Montenegro, stood on the better side of respectful.

    Liked the post v much!

  5. 6 BethJ December 5, 2012 at 7:37 am

    Not to be dreadful or focus on race, but being a white woman makes travel different. I am an African-American female, but I don’t look like Halle Berry aka having white features, etc. I’m light-skinned with “good hair”, but I have an ass, so for most men this is not attractive.

    I rarely have problems abroad because men of MOST races WORSHIP white women. I mean worship as in you are the Jesus of women! LOL! I may have some trouble in Africa, but I just find some white women and VOILA, I’m non-existent. In life, it’s a bore, but it has been a godsend for my travels. I do find I am treated like a second-class citizen abroad for the most part, but I am pretty used to it being an American citizen living amongst Republicans! LOL-Part II!

    And it simply amazes people that I can speak their language, fluently, when I come to their country. And it does make me quite the novelty, in a good way. I am a token, even abroad, but it has been tokenship in a good way. It allows me to show people that all African-Americans don’t rap, sing, dance, or play a sport. I feel like an ambassador in some ways.

    And they always notice that I am NOT a travel snob which unbeknownst to most Americans, is second only to ugly American. I find Americans tend to be snobs when they have traveled extensively which is an odd phenomenon. Buy then again, being competitive is part of our lifestyle, so I guess it is to be expected. I just don’t have that in me I guess. I love to hear about others travels. I don’t care if they went on a tour or went backpacking. I enjoy hearing stories. And when it’s a travel snob, I just excuse myself and find more interesting talk. They usually get the hint and either leave or STFU – preferably both. LOL!


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Lauren Quinn is a writer and traveler currently living in Hanoi. Lonely Girl Travels was a blog of her sola travels and expat living from 2009 to 2012. She resides elsewhere on the internet now.

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