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My Life as a Unicorn: A black girl in Rome

Piazza del Popolo June 2012

Piazza del Popolo June 2012

After a nine-month (not to give birth in secret) hiatus from Rome, an opportunity arose that was convincing enough for me to return to a city that I do not love. Many of my friends and former colleagues said it was only a matter of time before I returned, to which I say I suppose it was only a matter of time before receiving a contract that would more than make up for Rome’s lackluster post-work life.

When I tell people that I live in Rome, their “OMG, you live in Rome!!!” response, with a slight glow in their eye at the idealized thought of the opportunity to live in the eternal city, is met by my simple and lackluster response of “Yup” which is usually accompanied with a forced half smile as to not completely ruin their fantasy. After living in the city on and off since April 2011, Rome has failed to make me fall in love with her. Aside from a lack of places that I enjoy hanging out in, living in Rome as a black person can be a very unpleasant experience, an unpleasantness that smacked me in my face upon my return to this fine city.

When I first arrived back in Rome, I was staying at a friend’s place in Garbatella, a nice neighborhood not far from the city center. What I did not immediately remember was that seeing a black woman walking down the street, for many Italians, seemingly, is similar to a unicorn citing. During my ten-minute walk to the train I would notice many people staring at me, old women looking uncomfortable and sleazy Italian men giving me hyper-sexualized stares often accompanied by an undesired “Ciao bella”. While you do find some black people in Rome, many of them are immigrants without professional jobs and most are not integrated into Roman society, leaving them in the city’s periphery or near Termini, the main train station. So I suppose, me, dressed for my job at the UN, may seem very strange to people who conceptualize black women as sex workers.

My feeling of being a unicorn is further colored by stares of children on densely packed trains, similar to my experience in Japan, and groups of people turning and staring at me when I run past them during my weekend runs in the city. The feeling of being consider a sex worker is heightened by a taxi driver trying to kiss me in my mouth, or being approached and bluntly asked, “facciamo sesso?” For all the black women of the world who have been told, “Italian men LOVE black women”, please know that it is purely based on sexual fantasies, as far as I can tell, though I suppose I could be wrong. To be fair, my ex-boyfriend is Italian, but he is the least Italian, Italian that I know.

Perhaps this treatment is Rome’s way of fighting back at my dislike of her. Perhaps she is making me feel uncomfortable because I do not often have pleasant things to say about her. Whatever it is I can tell you this, living in Rome as a professional black woman is not something to be desired. While I love Italy for its food, wine and beautiful countryside, I think it is safe to say, and most black women in a similar position would agree with me, Rome is a great place to visit, but no place to live.

Now that I have got that out, all future posts on Rome will be positive! 🙂
I would love to hear other black women living in Rome or Italy chime in.

This Post Has 78 Comments
  1. Thank you for your honesty. I've found that many women of color sugarcoat their experiences living abroad and I guess it's because they don't want to discourage those of us looking to make that move.However, I want the TRUTH. Straight, no chaser. Unvarnished. It is the only way to make an informed decision about a huge life choice. So again. THANK YOU!!! My hope for you is that Rome convinces you to like her more even if you never "fall in love" with her. 😉 Namaste my sister.

    1. Thank you for reading. I do not sugarcoat anything so if you ever have questions about living or traveling abroad let me know. I think that those of us that are able to travel have to share our experiences with others and encourage them to go out and have their own.

      I am going to start dating Rome in these last couple of weeks before Christmas. I am really trying to love her!

      1. Hey, loved reading this post! I am currently thinking about traveling to Bologna for a summer mission trip where I would be the only African America. A few friends brought it to my attention that I may face some discrimination. I am from the south so I have experienced a little, but not too much. This trip is for 5 weeks and I want to make sure I know what I am getting into before I go? Was is livable? Did you feel like you needed to get away from Rome as soon as possible? Or were you able to continue to push through it and it got easier?
        I look forward to hearing from you!

        1. Hi Michaela,

          Thanks for reaching out. I lived in Rome for two years and it was mostly a great experience. I can not advise on Bologna as I did not live there and every city in Italy is different. I do not think that you should let the possibility of discrimination deter you from doing anything in life. Because if that were the case, as a black person you should probably never leave your house. I think that you should take the opportunity to go to Bologna for five weeks and experience it for yourself!

    2. I am a worried mom who’s daughter has just got her ticket for Rome for a vacation.
      I wouldn’t be worried if she was going with a girlfriend but she has decided to go alone because no one can go at the same time.
      A young black women along, should I be worried or should I attempt to pack a bag and go with her.

      Worried Mom

      1. I think your daughter will be fine! I am sure that she will love the city. I know it is hard, but don’t worry mom!!

  2. Strangely I relate to this, the only difference being that nobody wants me for anything, certainly not sex, and I get the freak treatment and stares from people wherever I go in the world. There is no place on this planet where I am comfortable or accepted. Exotic otherness and fantasy object would be a significant step up from where I live every day. 🙂

    Probably good for folks with means to experience this kind of thing, get an idea of what it's like for those who have no way to escape, in order to understand what they live with every day, and must often endure their entire lives. I Imagine such experiences would, to some extent, be healthy for everyone to have, at least in small doses. It makes people think, promotes empathy, and builds character.

    1. Great points. The most important is the promotion and building of empathy. I feel like humans are losing their empathy. Thanks for reading!

      As far as the first part of your statement, you have to first be comfortable and accept yourself. It isn't easy but I realize a huge change came in my life when I realized that i do not need external validation because I am enough. we are all ENOUGH!

  3. I had a similar experience to this when I visited Brussels. The stares, masculine aggression, subtle hints that I was an outsider. To be honest, it hurt for the first few days. I think it is important to share these experiences, however I knew to not let it get me down. Some countries are worse than others (India, I'm looking at you), but in the greater scheme of things I believe living abroad takes work and pushes you outside of your comfort zone. Kudos to you for sticking it through!

  4. Ahhh…..I backpacked across Europe for 3 months with my white boyfriend (now husband) and the stares in Venice-Italy & Paris-France were quite disturbing at first. People stared with blank, unkind looks on their faces, and specifically in France sitting in a packed train, I'd frequently make eye contact with someone looking straight at me, and I'd immediately flash a good 'ol Southern hospitality smile, but I get NOTHING in return. My boyfriend and I would walk holding hands and the stares would get worse, to the point that we decided that it's best to not show affection to prevent calling even more attention to ourselves. One night at dinner, a family and their children were sitting across from our table and once again, the stares didn't stop from the parents or the kids……we couldn't even enjoy our dinner without being confronted with blank relentless stares and after so many months of this, we finally snapped and gave the family a piece of our mind.

    I couldn't help but to leave Paris, France & Venice, Italy with a feeling of disgust that these people weren't nice, and weren't used to people of color vacationing in their country. And when people ask about my travels in Paris and expect the usual "OH MY GAWD, IT'S SO BEAUTIFUL."……they're usually met with an unexpected reply of disdain for. Yes, they're used to seeing us in their country working low paying jobs or haggling for whatever around train stations, but they're not used to us as professionals or tourists.

    These experiences don't deter me from traveling, but it's important to know that when traveling while black, you'll frequently be reminded that you're difference and that everything isn't as peachy/rosy as some make it seem.

    1. Thanks for sharing. It is unfortunate when things like that happen, especially when it causes you to change YOUR behavior. I am sad for your experience in Paris. I haven't yet experienced that. Paris serves as a refuge for me when I want to get out of Rome.

      Keep on traveling!!!

    2. I am sorry you had that experience in Paris. My family (wife who is white and three mixed kids) and I went to France this year and had a great experience. Everyone was nice and welcoming. No bad experiences. I am African American / Italian. I have darker skin and as we are planning to move to France was worried about being a mixed couple. The funny thing is I saw far more mixed couples there than I have ever seen at home ( Los Angeles). I hope your future travels go better for you.

      1. I agree with you Robert, Paris to me has always been one of the most neutral places I’ve visited and I visit frequently. Professionals or tourists of black/African decent don’t appear to be a novelty in French culture especially not Paris.

    3. those people who were staring were probably jealous to see such a beautiful couple together and maybe just mad to see yall in a interracial relashonship.don’t let people still your joy, because thats nothing but the devil trying to attack yall through people .

  5. Rome just sucks. Thanks for sharing your experience. Many people like to believe that Europe is this magically progressive place, when in fact racism and sexism are rampart and not that far from the surface. I was wondering if you have travelled to any nordic countries – like Sweden and Norway. They have an almost sterling reputation for their progressive social policies, and I wonder if that translates into not staring or being blatantly "curious" about people of color, or if their good graces are only reserved for other nordic folks. Also, have you been to Osteria del Sostegno in Rome? It's by the Pantheon, and a delicious little restaurant.

    1. Thanks for commenting. I have been to Sweden and I had a great time. I also have a black friend who grew up in Sweden and she feels that it is completely integrated. I must say, the friends that I have from the Nordic countries are quite progressive in their thinking.

      I have not been to that restaurant but will put it on my list to try. Thanks!!

  6. Hi! I'll be moving to Rome in September and will for looking into an internship at the UN headquarters here in the near future. Any advice on how to snag that job?

    Thanks in advance!

    1. Hi Praxie,

      The best way to get an internship at FAO (which is where I worked) is to find the subject matter or projects that you are interested in and just send emails to the responsible officers. Try to meet them for coffee and hopefully you can turn that into an internship. Good luck!

  7. I lived in Rome for almost a year. I just returned back to NYC last month. I never had any issues with racism. As far as Italian men loving black women…Italian men love ALL women. They were trying to pick me up, my asian friends, my Australian friends etc…Personally I think the people are oversexed, men and women. I never had stares, there are so many foreign people living there I am surprised they were all staring at you. Anyway I am going back in Jan for about a month. I have so many friends there that I miss. It's a beautiful place to visit but definitely not to live. The economy is in bad shape and I think Rome is to BC, not advanced enough for me.

    1. Hi Kensome,

      Sorry for the delayed response, I somehow missed this. I am glad to hear that you didn't experience racism in Rome. That is a beautiful thing. Did people know you were American? I found that my black friends who clearly looked American didn't have the same issues that I and friends of mine who are African had.

      I agree that Italian men are oversexed. It really became ridiculous at times. There are a lot of foreign people living in Rome, but foreigners are not well integrated. Romans barely integrate with people that live on the other side of the city as them. Nearly all of my Roman friends have the same friends as they did from childhood, those that grew up near them.

      I have friends in Rome that I miss and I will return to the city to visit, but it will take a lot to get me to move back there. But anyway, glad your experience was positive.

  8. I am Roman guy, 38 years old.
    I used to live in uk for about 12 years and from one year I am back in Rome where I got my parents;
    I am very sad to hear this true story.
    In one hand I always been concern to suggest Rome to my British B. friends and girlfriends, because I always knew that in Rome people has the tendencies to judge…HONESTLY??? that's happening so much between Romans people, it's a sort of their way to first into your life to judge any angle or anything that you are believing into.

    Cases are like your outfit, your freely way to expose your self…. well that is quiet annoying them.. why? because most of the Italian has not free life. This is very controversial, but the presences of a strong and judgmental Religion caused in the people some serious comportment damages.
    Damages like : accepting differences of opinions, way to live, way to dress, way to be your self and last ,but more important where you come from.

    I am now founding difficult to re integrate my self with the classic Roman, even if as I said I am coming from Rome.
    The friendship here it's something different, because they are not open to new people, they are growing up at the school with their friends and those friends will be for life.

    As Kensome Kelly above said, fortunately we are not all the same, and honestly I do love very much Black Ladies, not for matter of sexual view, but….. will be to long to explain, that would required to much attention on another topic.

    All the best to everybody

    Daniele

    1. Please. I come from a Catholic country, too. Religious upbringing is no excuse for that kind of obscene behavior. And most Italians ARE definitely, absolutely free, judging by statistics in divorce, abortion, etc. Sure, the Vatican is right there, but so what? It's not like the Philippines, where contraception was illegal until last year. We can't blame religion for everything.

  9. Hi, I came across your article while trying to find out how travel is for black people in Rome. Next year my 15 year old son and myself will be traveling to Rome for his spring break. His school is offering a trip and to me this is a once in a lifetime offer for him. He is very excited to take the trip. I often worry about travel to new places wether it’s here in the states or anywhere. However, this will be our first trip out of the country. Thank you for your honesty although it’s different living there. I still have not figured out why black people or so disliked everywhere.

    1. Hi Yvonne,

      Rome is a wonderful and beautiful city that is full of history. I think that you should definitely take the opportunity to see the city. You will be fine and I think that both you and your son will love it. While I am often made aware of my blackness while traveling, it has never resulted in me being violently attacked. More than anything people stare in different countries where there are low populations of black people, if any, but do not let that stop you and your son from seeing the world!!

  10. This was a great perspective to read. I’m planning to travel to Rome next year to run the Marathon (in October). I will be travelling alone and I’ve seen mixed reviews of the black experience in Rome online. I anticipate some stares and periods of discomfort, but I can’t let that stop me from seeing the world.

    1. Janice, that sounds so exciting!! Definitely do not let it stop you from seeing the world. I haven’t let it stop me! Rome is a wonderful place and I encourage everyone to visit. It is totally different when you are visiting a place and when you are living there. I will be adding more post about Rome in the near future with tons of tips on things to see and do so stay tuned for that. One thing I suggest is to use airbnb for lodging or stay at a 4 or 5 star hotel. Accommodations in Rome can be pretty bad sometimes.

      On another note, I ran a 10k there a few years ago. I’m not a long distance runner and I trained along the Tevere which is completely flat. I wasn’t expecting the hills on race day, they almost took me out. Take that into account in your training. 😉

  11. It’s not just Rome – as an expat living in Europe – the only negative experiences I had were in Italy. If you are doing activities outside the expected stereotypical ones such as being a tourist, hiking, looking like a professional or walking in a nice neighborhood, it’s like some people get confused and react by being rude and stupid. I told the ticket taker in my google translate Italian on the Cinque Terra hiking trail who didn’t want to help and was full of sneers that he’d better get used to us because there were more coming….

  12. I am a Filipina in Rome and surprised that I have stayed here for a long time, 8 years and still counting.
    Italians really stare a lot and before, it get me really uncomfortable. I take the public transport everyday to work. But now i got used to putting my headfones on and go on with my day. They dont bother me much now, i worked also for the UN and other agencies. But it is not only italians who do this, even other filipinos i see on the street. They might have a stereotype in their heads that if they are not italian they might be sex worker or house cleaners or babysitters… so why are they dressed so professional? I believe it is because a big percentage of office workers in rome are still italians and they become curious as why other nationalities could afford to dress nicely.
    In my opinion, those italians that have travelled a lot and tried to live outside of italy tends to be more open minded while those who grew up and have never been outside tend to be more close minded.
    I am tall, brown skinned with long black hair and average asian features…a lot of times i get approached and asked if i was malaysian indonesian or thai…and when i tell them they will ask me back why i was tall…so probably they are just curious.
    I get ripped off or neglected inside the store when i go out even if i speak italian…i believe if they refuse to accomodate you or hear you out it is maybe because they are afraid of speaking english and their defense mechanism is just to look angry or be impolite to save face.

    1. Thank you so much Grace for sharing your story. I agree that Italians that travel, like anyone else, tend to be more open minded. I have many Roman friends that are lifelong friends so not everyone is bad, but as you know, it can just become frustrating.

  13. I was invited to spend a romantic week with an Italian guy that I met here in NYC. He showed me around Rome, Florence, and Venice. I have to say that Italy is beautiful and the food is hands down the best food I have ever had in my life but my experience was hindered due to the fact that most of the time I felt uncomfortable because of the staring. We were out to eat one night in Rome and some lady was staring so hard that her husband had to turn her head away! The stares from men seemed to be more perverse while all the women stared and rolled their eyes. As much as I wanted to love Italy my experience was definitely affected because 80% of the time I felt uncomfortable. We will be traveling to the south of France in April so hopefully that’s a better experience.

  14. Girl! How I wish I had found your post prior to my recent trip to Italy!

    As you and others already mentioned, me and my squad of brown beauties got plenty of uninterrupted stares on public transport, unsolicited comments from Italian men, and unwarranted shadowing (read: we got followed around) while shopping. (Btw, if I was going to fly all the way to Italy to start a career in thievery, I definitely would pick someplace better than La Rinascente which is basically Macy’s!)

    In general, I found the entire Italian populace to be rude. Not that we never encountered friendly or welcoming Italians. We did. I was simply unprepared for the attitudes which I’d never encountered in other European cities. I’m totally convinced that the attitude thing is strictly Italy!

    On top of all that, Rome was so overcrowded and Venice was full of aggressive vendors selling selfie-sticks and other useless trinkets. Yes I had some AMAZING pizza and gelato and yes, Florence and the surrounding Tuscany region were breathtakingly beautiful. But the country just did not live up to the romanticized version that has been fed to me through the media for so many years in America.

    Would I ever return to Italy? Sure! Like I said, it’s beautiful and the food is great. Next time I’ll be mentally prepared for all of the Italian “extraness” and will hopefully be able to get through the next trip without wanting to Tae Bo kick people in the head!

    1. I am sorry you had that experience. It is certainly a conflicting one. Italy will forever and always be one of my favorite countries to visit, but I am always mentally prepared when I travel there.

      P.S. “Tae Bo kick” hahaha. Hilarious.

  15. Thank God I came up on your site. I am a caramel sister going to Switzerland, Pisa, Lucerne, Florence, Venice, Esa, and Monacco. I had concerns about how it is being black and travelling to Europe. I leave next week. I just came to the conclusion, that no where on this planet suffers from more racism then the USA. I think other place suffer more from class-ism, but the intensity is highest here in the states. With that being said I’m going enjoy this trip, act like the others outside of my group aren’t there, and enjoy this Italian food and wines cause it can’t be worse then here.

      1. I’m an Italian American male.I am calabrese and sicilian.my wife is black American and I’m still crazy about her .I live in south phila.tons of Italians.we walk everywhere in the city and nobody even looks.I hang occasionally in 100 percent black neighborhoods,I love them and they love me.Philadelphia is a great town.you are a rarity to them so that’s why they stare in Rome.Good luck sis,be well.ciao.

    1. Yes! I am so over the U.S. that I am 90% sure I am moving to Europe. I feel that the racism here in America heavily affects my dating and sex life… of course it affects other areas as well such as getting jobs and what not, but the relationship part really hurts me the most emotionally. Yes there is racism in Europe as well, and in some countries there are uncomfortable stares. But having dark skin as a woman in America often means being treated as if you are invisible, a joke, or a dirty secret… which is far worse than stares. I get 20x more play from men outside the U.S..
      Enjoy Italy, I’m going back to Europe for NYE, just haven’t picked a country yet.

      1. I am so sorry to hear about your struggles. As a fellow dark skinned woman I would encourage you to fall in love with yourself and not let the outside world make you feel so low. Confidence is key!

  16. Funny how I’m just now coming across your blog on my last day in Rome after having perused my way through Italy for a couple weeks now (also spent time in Florence, Siena, and Milan).

    I don’t even know where to start but I’ll try to keep it brief. As an African American male traveling throughout Europe for the first time I was originally most excited about getting to Italy over all the other countries on my list. Boy was I hit with a reality check upon my entry into Venice. Stares on stares on stares. It was just an uncomfortable tension that words cannot fully express. I also had a Puerto Rican friend with me who felt this same heaviness as well. I’ve had some stares in other countries but none compare to the eye piercing ones I’ve received here. It definitely does take some getting used to and from all the places I’ve been, Rome is definitely the least friendly. I actually really really liked Florence and came across a few more “progressive” minded Italians in my stay there. I felt most at ease there as the vibes felt much lighter to me.

    One of the most important things I’ve gathered as I’ve been here is to honestly not take anything too personal or serious. You literally have to put yourself in the shoes of the population where you’re at. Here in Italy from my very brief experience, the population as a whole are more used to seeing blacks as poor immigrants who are street vendors or are frequently bothering natives for some form of money or barter. If I was Italian, never left my country, and the only blacks I saw were immigrants who always had there hands out than maybe I too would have the same outlook as the majority of them. I don’t say this to sugar coat but more so to just show how strong a collective consciousness can be. The more confident and open-minded blacks (and trust me it takes some level of both of these traits to travel internationally period, especially to a country as fiery as Italy) that come out here, whether to vacation or live at some point, will continue to over time subtly change the perception of the people (whether they consciously know this or not). Will we continue to feel stares? I believe that’ll never change. But I do feel there’s a great deal of power in just going about your business and not letting the rigidness of others effect you to the point of submission.

    So yea I Iied about this being brief lol. All in all I’d HIGHLY encourage all blacks to come experience this country for yourself. It easily has the best food and wine I’ve ever had and as mentioned in other previous comments the Tuscany sites and Roman attractions are well worth the view. Believe it or not I’m actually going to miss it here as my standard of food has definitely been upped. Apart of me will actually miss some of the stares a bit too as I had grown to not let it bother me and even started to take pleasure in sometimes winking back 😉

    1. Hey Brandon,

      Thanks so much for your comment. I love that you wink back at them. That’s hilarious. Yeah Italy has its issues but it is still one of the most amazing countries to visit, in my opinion. The food is definitely second to none.

      But overall yes, the more black folks are traveling the world, the more we can break stereotypes and sort of normalize our existence in mainstream society as opposed to being on the fringes of it.

      I hope you enjoy the rest of your vacation and continue to travel and help expand minds!

  17. Omg! I am in Rome now just for a four day break but have already experienced what you describe here several times! Where are some places I could find other black people to hang with?

  18. Hi.I was happy to read your summary about your life in Rome.I would like to travel the world,see everything that the world has to offer.I have been a student in the US for the past 4 years and even though the beginning was nothing I had imagined, the experience has been one in a million. I am looking to move to Europe next year and I think Italy would be a great place to start.I was wondering if we could talk more about your life in Italy.I would really like to hear more.

  19. Thank you for this post!!! I had to google black people in Rome because I didn’t know what the hell was going on. I wear hair extensions and I thought maybe they were banned or something. The stares were so uncomfortable that I dressed up today thinking maybe I looked too shabby or something. I was seriously paranoid until I read this. Now it makes sense. Ugh. We asked to be seated outside for breakfast and the lady looked so uncomfortable. It’s too bad that black women in this city have been relegated to sex work.

    1. Glad you found it. It is an uncomfortable situation, but certainly the majority of black women in Rome are not doing sex worker, that’s just the stereotype. Hope you managed to enjoy your trip!

      1. **Long post alert** I currently live in northern Italy (Friuli-Venezia Giulia region), and it is certainly an adjustment. I was so very enthusiastic about living abroad! A week or so after we moved in, I decided to walk through my neighborhood for exercise and to explore. People were coming out on their porches to watch as I walked by. There were stares. Granted, most of them were smiling and saying “Eh-llo!” (hello) because I guess they could tell I was an American. They would call to their family members and they would come out on their porches to say “Eh-llo!” too. Kinda killed my excited to execute my well-practiced “Ciao!” and “Salve”. The few Africans I saw stared as well, but they didn’t speak. Sidenote: I have noticed the Africans do not speak or reply when I greet them or wave.

        At work, my Italian coworkers are friendly and very willing to help you with whatever you want or need. They love to take you out and will try to get you drunk on grappa. Grappa is the devil. Stay clear! My only true qualm with my coworkers and some Northern Italians is the fact that they touch without asking. I have long, big, natural, kinky hair (think Chaka Khan in her younger years) which certainly garners me a lot of attention in Italy (it seems). There are a specific two of my Italian female coworkers who have/had a really bad habit of doing walk by touchings. When I noticed them sneaking touches I asked them to stop and they did. They blushed and said “bei capelli” (beautiful hair). Then asked me 1001 questions about my hair and I answered. I think a lot of non black/Africans are just super curious about our hair. However, they will also touch your clothes to feel your material. One of my Italian friends said that they feel Americans are just too paranoid about their personal space. There is no such thing as personal space in Italy LOL

        Going out and about to do things like grocery shopping or going to the movies; people will turn, stop what they are doing and watch you. At first I was really insecure about this. As a full figured, curvy, woman, big hair, and a subtle flare with clothing; I thought maybe I was drawing too much attention to myself. I don’t dress provocatively but I do dress very feminine (maxi dresses, costume jewelry). When people would come up to me and ask where I was from, was I famous (lol), and things of that nature I realized it wasn’t all negative. At the places my husband and I frequent, the workers became more familiar with us and would let me know that they love my hair, how I dress and my confident, friendly stature. I have a cashier at Conads who refuses to let me go to anyone else to check out (lol). We have gone to places and gotten free meals and drinks. I told my husband that he is mooching on my fame (lol). So in my area maybe I do tend to unwittingly draw attention to myself, however, I have purposely dressed way down and wear a bun in my hair in other areas and the stares still happen.

        Basically, ITALIANS STARE. The people in Pisa and Florence were very friendly about it. When caught they would give you a compliment and a smile, then continue on with their day. You might get asked where you are from but they aren’t very invasive. Also note, most younger Italians know English very well and love to engage you in conversation.

        Something about that Rome though. In Rome the stares do feel more vicious and less out of curiosity; regardless of how modest you dress. I want to note that the Italian women do not run around dressing like nuns by far! They love their short tight skirts and heels. I have seen many an old lady dressed sexy doing their grocery shopping. So don’t think this is some chaste country.

        In Rome, near the Vatican, modesty is key for locals and tourist alike. But regardless of how much you blend in with the dress, they are going to stare. They aren’t as friendly in Rome unless they are a vendor. I have found the street vendors to be way aggressive (think vendors or the train entertainment in New York on steroids times two. I am originally from NY and couldn’t believe they could be outdone). You can be literally taking a picture of yourself with your selfie stick and they will stop you to try and sell you a selfie stick. True story. Eating outside at a nice restaurant? Boop! Here comes the selfie stick guy or the guy trying to sell the wooden fixtures that serve no purpose.

        Be very aware of the gypsies at the train station too! They wear lanyards around their necks to look official and will come to you and ask if you if they can help you find your train. Seems nice enough, right? NOPE! If you are super passive (my husband) and slightly gullible, they will smell your weakness. I was standing apart from my husband and was asked by a handsome Italian gypsy if I need help which I replied “No!”. He went on by his business. I am very observant of my surroundings. My husband is standing there looking around solo and I see a group of the young women watching him. They deployed a big booty, darker gypsy to approach him and a slender bleached blonde to approach the white guy who was American. Before I could get to my husband, the big booty hussy had already grabbed his ticket and taken him to the CLEARLY VISIBLE board to point out to him our train number and the track it was coming on. Then she stood there and demanded he pay her for helping. He started reaching for his wallet but I walked up and told her if she had better take herself on somewhere. She said something I am certain wasn’t nice, she and her friend threw daggers at me, and they went to execute this maneuver with some other guys. Naturally my husband got a piece of my mind for letting a big booty knock him off his game. Also, there were two guys who grabbed our very small luggage when we got on the train. I thought they were just two guys being nice. NOPE! As soon as he put our luggage in the overhead bin one of them put out his hand and said “twenty euro!”. I told him I was not paying for anything since he took it upon himself to grab it, and sat down. The other guy came over to be intimidating and told me husband he needed to pay at least ten euro for their labor. They seemed as though they were ready for trouble, I didn’t have fight gear on, and at this point we were the only passengers on the train; so I told my husband to give them ONE EURO a piece so they would leave. The guy muttered about not liking New Yorkers (I guess my accent hasn’t left me) and they left.

        To wrap it up; when in Rome, be very cautious of your surroundings and please understand they stare and aren’t super friendly. Hmm, I think I am going to post this review on my travel blog that I created and never added anything to LMAO. Sorry for the long rant!

        P.S., I have certainly noticed that the treatment towards perceived Africans opposed to perceived African Americans is quite different here. I have a coworker who certainly looks like she is fresh from the motherland and people tend to be curter with her. Also, despite having friends from all parts of Africa when I was living stateside; I can certainly say that I have truly been able to identify a native African from an African American by features, dress and temperament alone. I honestly never realized there is a distinct difference until I have been immersed here.

        1. Thank you Alecia for this very thorough comment! It is great that you were able to talk about the nuances of the reception of black people throughout the country. It is very different depending on where you go.

          The key observation for sure is the treatment of people perceived as African vs. African American. I have been on the receiving end of both kinds of treatment, but I am always defaulted to African and it is less pleasant. I hope you continue to enjoy your life in Italy!

  20. This is a great post. My boyfriend and I are going to Rome in two weeks for a weekend break as I’ve always wanted to visit Rome for its history including the Africans (the Moors) who came to Rome in the 7th century and made it what it is today.
    My boyfriend has said that he wants to visit an all black neighbourhood. Would you be able to advise me of any that are in or very close to Rome?

    1. Hello Natalye,

      Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoy Rome and definitely check out this article for some of my favorite things to do there. https://thecatchmeifyoucan.com/2015/10/five-things-to-do-in-rome.html

      As far as an all black neighborhood, that doesn’t exist in Rome. And if it does, in my near three years there I never discovered it. Unfortunately, many Africans that live in Rome are quite marginalized and living on the fringe of society and are quite scattered. Those that are integrated are few and far between and live all over the city.

      I hope you enjoy your visit in Rome!

  21. I visited amnstersdam, Brussels, and Paris in 2007 and had an incredible experience. We rented a car and navigated and it was awesome. Clearly African American, the French were very pleasant and willing to speak English to me (the same waiter pretended not to know English with the white American table next to mine). I must say, I did not encounter any adverse treatment or even stares that I can remember. Now that I look back and after reading this blog I wonder if my comfort and confidence abroad had something to do with traveling with my very big and black linebacker of a boyfriend at that time. I could have been very well so absorbed into him that I just didn’t notice. I am now planning a ladies trip to Barcelona and various cities in Italy and I am suddenly not so comfortable or confident. I am actually now considering just hitching a cruise ship out of Barcelona and cruising to those cities in Italy. Does anyone any experience cruising abroad? Pro and cons?

    1. italy is great ,been there with my black wife and i m italian from new york ,we had no probs at all they loved her,but what people who travel to other countries fail to realize is that no matter where you go its a different cultre,they may not be racist just different in terms of humor and understanding,go and enjoy

  22. I came across your post while doing a bit of research as I contemplate starting my own blog and/or podcast. Although I’m aware of how old this post is, I wanted to say Thank you for sharing your voice. It’s good to see the diverse experiences of black Americans represented. The added perspective of being the child of immigrants adds another layer of complexity to your writing.

    I’ve come across a lot of travel blogs full of glowing posts about the experience of visiting Paris/London/insert European capital -all good and valid perspectives. BUT, I never see much shared about the complicated realities of living and working as a black American professional in Europe. Realizing that very little media represents my own experiences has led me to this, perhaps it’s just a form of therapy, lol!

    There’s the good -I love the experience of being abroad for so many reasons. Don’t think I can give up much of the food culture, great public transit, the cool cities I’ve lived in, the list goes on!

    The bad -European fetishization of blacks and black Americans, the complete absence of professionals of color (and this definitely includes France and Paris where I earned my MBA and lived for over a year and a half), lack of personal services that comes with living in countries where virtually all blacks are poor and marginal, the list goes on.

    and The Grey -the many areas that transcend or are not exclusively about only race or gender.

    Anyway, just wanted to give a shout out!

    1. Thank you so much for lending your voice to the conversation. It is always great to hear about the experience of others living in different countries. And to your point, there is always the good, the bad and the grey. Wishing you all the best!

  23. Thank you for your blunt and honest recount of your experience living in Rome. I am actually seriously considering moving to Rome. I visited the city over 20 years ago and just loved the history of it. I am an African American who spent a year studying abroad in France. I wear my hair natural so I always had people asking me questions about my hair and wanting to touch my hair. I’ve also been asked several times if I sing gospel music which I found both ridiculous and amusing. To me, the racism and stereotypical experiences that I had in France and throughout Western Europe were much easier to tolerate than the racist experiences I’ve had in the States, thus my desire to move to Europe. I’ve also traveled throughout many countries in Western Europe so I can relate to some of your experiences. To me, racism in Europe is moreso based on ignorance while in America it is moreso based on hate. Do you find this to be true as well?

  24. Thank you for your post on Rome, my husband and I are due to travel there in a few months and as much as we are excited about the museums, food, wine and soaking up all of the Italian culture, we are slightly apprehensive about being in Rome as a mixed couple – I am mixed (Black Caribbean and White) while my husband is white.

    I’ve also read some of the replies and noticed the many European cities people have visited, Barcelona, Paris, Florence, Brussels etc but I haven’t seen London in the commmets. As a British brownie you must visit the beautiful, multicultural, cosmopolitan!! Don’t get me wrong, I don’t live in a bubble and think that us Brits are not immune to racism or discrimination however London and other major British cities are so diverse it’s like you blend in to the crowd….. I suppose London is what I would imagine New York to be. The only thing is our weather is hit and miss!!!!!!

    It’s so interesting to read other people’s experiences when traveling. I’ve visited Paris and Barca and felt very comfortable… even to the point where locals have spoken to me in their language – which is flattering.

    Like I said previously I am so excited to visit Rome but a tiny part of me is weary.

    1. There is no reason to be weary about traveling to Rome. We all walk through life and have our own unique experiences, but do not let my experiences or anyone else’s deter you from traveling. My experience was really colored by the fact that I am extremely dark-skinned with visibly African features. Other people I know that are black with lighter skin have not complained at all. Rome is an amazing city with tons of history and great food so please please please visit and see it for yourself. Even if anything happens, which it probably won’t, don’t let it ruin your trip! Enjoy!

      Reading about people’s different experiences is definitely interesting and I enjoy sharing, but I do not do it to discourage travel to Rome or anywhere else in the world.

  25. Thank you for this post! Although I read it prior to going to Rome in June 2017, I thought I would keep an open mind whilst there. I did not experience any racism in Rome itself but did at a place called Treviso and mainly from older women. I am a black South African female who was travelling solo and indeed, experienced that “bella” you refer to and looks of admiration from the gentlemen and a bit of disdain from the older women. An Italian gentleman walked me to the hotel after we were in the bus together, and from the stares we received, I dreaded the possibility of being in a mixed race relationship in the future.

    I grew up in apartheid South Africa but had never on a personal level, been accutely aware that my skin colour was the source of hate in other people, than during the week I spent in Italy. It may have been a female thing as well, but there is no Italian gentleman I can fault from my stay in Rome and Venice but they surely have a long way to go where race relations are concerned. And I tend to agree with you that the darker skinned one is, the more they are likely to experience the treatment.

    It’s not something one can put a finger on but as a black person you will come back with a feeling that you are not wanted and you’ll also not freely desire to go back again.

  26. i am 100 pct italian american and have gone to italy with my ex s over the years, 3 who were black and we had a blast ,the people were great ,treated her like a queen ,maybe you just had a bad run of luck ,but for us it was the best and we travelled throughout the whole country

    1. Hi Joe! Thank you so much for your comments. I agree that everyone’s experience is different. Also visiting a place and living there are two very different things. I still travel to Italy once per year because I love the country but I would never live there again.

  27. I have been to Naples before and I had a ball when I went. Most people say it’s more trashy there but I still enjoyed it. In August my neice and I are going to Europe for 2 weeks we will be in Paris, Rome, Florence and Venice. I’m looking forward. We are both Afro-American, I speak some French and learning some Italian phrases. I will update you on how our trip goes. I don’t anticipate any negativity. Just praying for a safe and enjoyable trip. Thanks for sharing you guys experiences.

    1. Hi Shanta!

      Thanks for sharing. I have been to Naples a couple of times and enjoyed it as well. Enjoy your trip to Europe this summer. I am sure it will be fantastic.

  28. I am on my last day and first visit to Rome, traveling with my young adult daughter. We have encountered many stares mainly from women toward the both of us and definitely from men towards my daughter, who is tall, slim and has braided hair extensions. Overall, we have felt most comfortable while visiting the main tourist areas. Not really finding much to do at night besides going to a different restaurant. Being from Philadelphia, walking or driving and usually having to park down the tiny side streets at night has been a little unsettling to me. Part of our trip included staying in Solerno in the Amalfi Coast. We NEVER saw another black person; No one that we encountered other than some restaurant staff spoke any English and the stares made us so uncomfortable that we stayed only one night and went back to Rome for the remainder of our vacation. My son had traveled to both places last year; however, he was with Caucasian friends, so I believe that made a difference for him, as he throughly enjoy his experience. This is my first visit to any European country. I would like to visit London in the future, but have had enough of Italy. Can’t see myself returning.

    1. I am sorry to hear about your experience. Italy still remains one of my favorite countries to visit. There is lots to do at night in Rome. I personally just enjoy walking around the city. So much to see and it is all so beautiful. I’ve been to Almalfi as well and enjoyed it. As I travel around the world, I do not often see other black travelers, but that shouldn’t deter you from exploring new places. I hope that you have a better experience on your next trip!

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