Che Bello Sorriso

What a beautiful smile

Every morning I interact with the same Italians – some guards, the coffee guy, and maybe the portiere. And some of them say hello, and some of them smile, and some of them mostly ignore me and act like they’ve never seen me before.

Except when I dress up. When I put on some nice clothes (especially a skirt and heels) and I do my hair, and put on some makeup and some big Italian earrings … everyone is very friendly. “Buongiorno!” (big smile) The people who normally ignore me say hello and smile. The people who normally say hello, chat a little bit and smile more than normal. People I’ve never seen before say hi as they pass me in the parking lot. It’s a whole different experience. And I find that I walk with a bit of a bounce in my step. “Everyone is so nice today!”

And then I put two and two together, and I realize that they are all really superficial.

Beauty and clothing are disproportionately important here. So, on the one hand it’s nice to have the positive reinforcement that I look nice today. On the other hand … really? You can’t  just be nice to people because you’re a nice person?

on an unrelated note:


Italian Logic: Oxymoron.

example: At 845 am, during the height of morning rush hour, half of a main road is shut down, ‘causing congestion and backups a couple of blocks away. Why? They’ve decided that morning rush hour is the best time to repaint the light poles.



Filed under Culture

3 responses to “Che Bello Sorriso

  1. I conducted a similar “experiment” at a summer camp in high school. Just like you observed, the days I wore dresses or skirts, people would look at me more often and were more likely to say hi to talk to me. (I remember even recording my “data” in a notebook! haha)

    It was a jading but educational experience. It gave me a lot to think about regarding women, sexuality, being taken seriously, and manipulating people. In the end, I don’t hold it against someone for wanting to look at or interact with something beautiful. It’s how they follow up on those desires that is good or bad.

    • It’s interesting because there are certainly many ways to look at it – and to react to it.

      Because if you take things to the extreme – what if I showed up to work with dirty clothes and dirty hair, and I smelled bad? Do I also expect people to treat me as they do when I have makeup and heels on? We should love one another regardless of appearances – but are there societal limits based on context?

      And as for being taken seriously – work attire for Italian women is quite different from that for american women. I’ve never seen so much cleavage in the workplace as I do here. And i wouldn’t be surprised if these women tone it down b.c they are at the american embassy.

      And then … maybe here it’s not a gender thing at all. Maybe the men have the same exact experience. Fashion is just as important for them as it is for women. So maybe it’s an indication of respect because they feel that you are making an effort to appreciate things that they value in their culture.

      As always, Katharine, I appreciate your insight. :) Kinda wish we could sit at your house now with a glass of wine and talk this through. Miss you!

      • Fashion can be important to men?!? That hadn’t even crossed my mind. I am married to Peter, mind you…

        Thanks for blogging about this type of stuff! There will definitely be wine and talking when you’re back.

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