Before arriving to Florence, Italy I mostly heard about all the good things that the city has to offer like its beauty, art, culture and food. On the negative side, I was only warned about pick pocketing and catcalling. I arrived to Florence a day and a half earlier than everyone from my program because I got a good price for the flight. Upon arriving, I was very excited to finally get there and see everything I had been planning to see for months. As I made my way from the airport to the hotel the realization hit me. I am an American female, alone in a country where I could not speak the language and did not know anyone. I found myself overthinking about all the horrible stories of girls going abroad that have been on the news and felt scared to leave the hotel alone.
Nonetheless, It was a beautiful day out and I decided that I wasn’t going to let my fears keep me inside. I acted responsibly and dressed in plain clothes, left valuables back in my hotel and only brought a few euros with me. I looked at the area around my hotel on a map and memorized a few streets to get back and then I set off. I walked around for a few hours got a cappuccino and a slice of pizza and then spent some more time walking around the Duomo. Everybody I encountered was very friendly and helpful which put a lot of my fears at ease. I felt so much safer then when I got here and realized that maybe not all fearful assumptions I had about Florence were true.
Although I have only been here one week, I can feel myself becoming more comfortable walking around the city. That being said, I have not let my guard down because I have seen other ways in which foreign women might be taken advantage of. Through what I’ve experienced in my first week here, I brainstormed some helpful tips to help current and future students traveling abroad particularly in Florence.
1.Try and stay in groups
It is easier for people to single someone out if they know they are alone. It brings attention to them and often times the catcalling can be worse. It also makes it easier for someone to pickpocket people who are alone which has happened to two of my friends under these circumstances so far.
2. Do not accept “gifts”
Here in Florence a big scheme foreign girls often fall for is when people identify and approach them with what we think are gifts. Often times someone can be sitting outside having a meal and then a man might come up to you and be very nice and hand you a rose. DO NOT ACCEPT IT. If you do, you will be forced to pay for it. They get a lot of people that way so it is good to know that beforehand. Another thing they do is sell bracelets on the streets and come up to you when you walk by. They pester you about all their bracelets and encourage you to try them on. DO NOT. Again, the minute you let them put it on your wrist you will have to pay for it. Not only that but it also makes it easier for you to get pickpocketed during these interactions.
3. Be aware of your surroundings
This should be applied everywhere you go, but especially here. Not being aware of your surroundings and what’s going on makes you vulnerable. Don’t walk around with headphones on because you can’t hear cars or people walking up behind you. Don’t walk around with your face in your phone because you can’t see what’s going on around you. Doing these things make you more susceptible to being pickpocketed and to falling for another very popular scamming tactic in Florence. Another thing that people often do is sell their paintings in the streets. This isn’t a problem until they place their paintings on a sidewalk. The sidewalks here are extremely small and crowded which works in the favor of these people. What happens is that often times people just stumble upon the art pieces in the streets without seeing them. The rule is simple: you step on it you pay for it. This actually happened to me and it was extremely scary, but it ended up working out since no “damage” was caused.
Although these are just a few tips I have found useful from my experience so far, I think that they are helpful for people who are going to be visiting any foreign place, but especially in Florence. Visiting a different country is always an amazing opportunity to experience a new culture but being able to identify and avoid certain situations is really important in order to secure ones safety. I plan on always being cautions during my time here, but I will also make sure I am enjoying everything I can and exposing myself to cultural avenues that will promote my personal growth.