After dinner in Florence, I decided it would be safest to walk home along the river. (Safe route-imagining is one of those things that male travelers might not think about as much as female travelers do, I imagine.) The night was almost warm, and it was around 11pm. I’d had just enough vino bianco (one glass) to feel like Florensh was jush greaaaaat, but not enough to stop me from eyeing every street before turning on to it.
Halfway between Ponte Amerigo Vespucci and Ponte I Never Remembered Its Name, I saw a man about 20 feet in front of me. Here is where I always feel a little bit bad when dealing with strange men on the street. My first thought is defense: What might he want, and if I need to run/kick/hit, where will I go and how will I get scrappy? It always seems unfair, because streets are filled with many non-creepy men. But I have to look at them as possible creeps. Initially, at least. But let us return to our friend.
Whatever this guy wanted, I was ready. Directions? I would be no help, but I’d be nice about it. And if he wanted trouble, I’d give it to him. OK, not really (I just wanted to sound hard-boiled) but I had a key in my hand, and would not hesitate to stick it in his eye if need be. I tried to make my swagger suitably butch, but I suspect I looked like John Wayne walking with a peg leg.
“Excuse me, meese,” the man said. Upon closer look, he was a little younger than me. Slightly stocky. Did not seem out to attack.
“BUONA SERA,” I said forcefully. (An A for effort.)
“Excuse me, meese,” he continued. “My name is Antonio, I am Italian.”
“Si,” I said.
“Excuse me, meese. You speak English?”
“Excuse me, meese. What is your name?”
“Dove nome e Annie,” I said. Where name and Annie.
“Excuse me, meese. Is nice name.”
At this point my Flirty Italian Man doppler was beginning to blip. Annie is not a nice name. It isn’t awful, but in the grand scheme of feminine nomenclature, it isn’t a champion. Better than Maude, I guess. Furthermore, what was with all of the polite excusing? My face must have given away a bit of polite impatience, because our friend continued.
“Uh, excuse-a me, meese,” the man continued. “Are you a nice night?”
“Si, mais je suis fatiguée,” I said. Wasn’t lying, obviously; I was tired. Just not tired in the right language.
“Oh, well, excuse me, meese, would you like to come a dance with me tonight, meese?”
It was a nice invitation, but I just wanted to go home.
“Grazie,” I said. “But my boyfriend is waiting for me back home.” I was referring to Travel Boyfriend, the immeasurably helpful imaginary beau who has plucked me out of awkward situations many times before. Still, I am loyal to Travel Boyfriend, and I was not about to jeopardize our relationship by doing the rumba with this unknown man.
This did not deter the Meesemeister. “Excuse me, meese,” he continued. “But boyfriend does not need to know.”
“Oh, but he would worry about me,” I said. “He’s waiting for me.”
“Excuse me, but I understand, meese,” he said. “Excuse me, have a nice night.”
So I indeed excused myself and went on my way, baffled and slightly charmed by the overly polite English he’d given me. Walked across the bridge, took some photos of fancy Ferragamo ties through the window, and returned to the hotel, where Travel Boyfriend was waiting to embrace me with his open, invisible arms.
(The guy in the photo is not our overly polite friend. Same night, though.)