Women traveling alone in Europe likely will get stared at, groped and talked to by foreign men. But guess what? So will women traveling with others. I know this from nutty, annoying experience. So don't let that be the thing that prevents you, if you're female, from traveling solo.
At reidsguides.com there's a funny post called "Ciao, Bella, Americana Girl," where Reid explains what to expect from "Italian Romeo wannabes to overly gallant Frenchmen to icky Greek shopkeeps." Was he with me in Europe when I was in my 20's and 30's? Because, check, check and check on those Italians, Frenchmen and Greeks.
In Italy I traveled with my friend Adele. In France I was on my own. In Greece I was with a boyfriend. And in each place, I ran into men behaving badly.
In Italy, men of all ages touched, groped, pushed themselves on us in crowded places. (If only we had a Euro--or lira then--for every "ciao bella," or "hello beautiful" that came our way. I guess "hello beautiful" is slightly better than "hey, lady." )
Packed buses are particularly notorious in Italy. If only I hadn't been so young and naive at the time. I felt I had to be polite and not make a fuss when men were pressing up against me.
I wonder how I'd react now? Step down hard on a foot to make someone back up? ("Oh, I'm SO sorry. Was that your foot?"). Turn sideways and give a big heave-ho with a hip bone? Then look him in the face and smile?
The style was different in France. During the month I spent studying French at the Alliance Francaise, I'd be walking along somewhere, whether on the way to school, or on the way home, or going to a patisserie, and all of a sudden a French man would be walking alongside me. Chatting me up.
Where'd he come from? And him? And him? And him? It happened that often. At first it was fun and flattering. I'd get to practice my new language skills. And it must prove I'm a catch, right? Uh...no.
I honestly don't know what the French national "walk-along-with-women-you-don't know" behavior is about. It seemed to vary from wanting a chat with an American to wanting to flirt to cleverly mooching a cup of coffee. Whatever, it happened a LOT.
But it never felt dangerous. It always happened in daylight because I didn't walk around alone at night much. Maybe French men just have a lot of gall. (Or Gall-ic?)
The two of us were wandering through a lovely Greek town with white-washed houses and blue domed roofs. The boyfriend was big into photographing locals and wanted a picture of me with an old Greek guy with whiskers, manning a cart in front of a picturesque facade.
So there we were, Mr. Poupoudoupolous, or whoever, and me, his arm around my back, us smiling for the shot. Until his hand wasn't around my back anymore. It had headed South. Excuse me!!!!
I told the boyfriend as soon as we walked away. He thought it was hilarious. Hm. Let a Greek guy get fresh with HIM and see how he likes it. (Notice I didn't say Greek woman. I figure he wouldn't have had complaints about that.)
Since this kind of behavior can happen when you're with friends or even boyfriends it is not a good excuse for avoiding solo travel.
But you might want to sharpen your elbows before leaving home.
Photos: 1. By Ellen Perlman. Santorini. 2. By The Boyfriend. Me posing with men unable to touch. Ah, the safety of posing with a a poster.
These photos are taken from prints. Hence the degraded quality. But what a treasure to have!