That Certain Something


As to the title:  French women have it; Italian women have it.  I don’t got it.

While surfing websites about Rome, Athens, Florence, Barcelona etc. yesterday, I got to thinking about tourists and what a strange species they are.  I had the misfortune (or fortune) to stumble upon a secton about Rome entitled “Thieves, Gypsies, and Pickpockets”  Another section:  “Crime.”  Another section: “Crimes Against Tourists”  These sections went on for PAGES about all the different ways tourists can be scammed, violated, and robbed of money and memories (camera theft) in the major tourist destinations like Rome.  Especially, Rome.


On the subway to my son’s tae kwon do class, I asked him what he would do if someone threw a baby at him.  The look on his face was, of course, incredulous.  So my lecture began: “The gypsies have a tactic where one of them will either pretend to drop or they will actually toss a “baby” at a tourist in order to distract them and while the tourist is having a heart attack, freaking out, or trying to catch the baby, their pockets get cleaned out.”  I paused.  “Usually, it’s not a real baby, though.”  My son:  “Usually?”  I shrugged.  My son asked, “How do they know we are tourists?”

I had to laugh.  A picture flashed through my head:  a family of four, all wearing Birks, smelling of sunscreen.  One or both of the adults is sporting a knapsack that might as well have a bullseye on it that screams in fluorescent lettering “TOURISTA.”  Then there’s the haphazard walking, the gawking at ancient buildings, the ever-present camera, and numerous other signs.

“Oh, honey – it’s kind of obvious.”

Tourists, as a species, stick out like polar bears would in Tanzania.  So, this morning as I schlepped to my local Starbucks in my usual North American summer uniform of tie-dyed tee shirt and denim shorts, I wondered: why? And is there any way in hell I can blend?  Picture woman, walking by herself on a city street in Toronto, laughing wildly.  Other pedestrians move away, avert eyes…

Why?  No European woman would be caught dead looking the way I do most of the time.  I can’t picture the situation improving when I’m tramping around Europe – comfort is key.  European women look…different.  They look pulled together, effortlessly elegant.  Only the very young and thin wear denim.  If I dressed more like an Italian /Spanish/ French woman – would I still have that “tourist bullseye” tattooed on my rear?  Probably.

It’s not just about the clothes…it’s an aura.  European women  have that certain something that North American girls just lack –  something that cannot be easily named.  Is it posture?  Is it the walk?  Is it their clothes?  I have no more hope of looking like a European woman than I have of passing myself off as a polar bear.  Especially, in the Mediterranean. My husband and son – they are the most likely to blend, blessed as they are with dark hair, eyes, and skin.  My daughter and I, with our blue-green eyes, freckles, and skin so pale we glow in the dark – not a chance.

I bought some casually elegant dresses to wear but now I have nowhere to hide my money belt.  I have dark, chic sunglasses but if I wear them, I won’t be able to read the fold out street maps I bought.

Somewhere, across the sea, petty thieves are laughing.


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