Meeting boys on Italian trains

I thought it would be fun to enter this little story into the GrantourismoHomeAway travel writing competition!

An American friend and I were on a train full of Italian military boys. Noses in guidebooks, we’d been planning our day trip in peace until they’d gotten on. We had started in Monza, where we lived as exchange students, and were probably off to visit an ancient ruin or medieval town or cathedral, but I don’t remember and our destination that day isn’t the point.

The boys were plotting –  in Italian of course – their strategy for meeting “the American girls” (never mind that one of us was Canadian).  We listened as they discussed which one of them should approach us (the one with the best English); what he would say (they tried out several variations); how his friend – and which friend – would then join him; and how we might respond. 

They didn’t realize we could understand every word they said. 

Save0018 Monza rock

And so we counter-plotted: should we smile and flirt? No, we weren’t that impressed. Should we reject them with a sarcastic zinger in Italian and a toss of the head? No, too mean. We were a little surprised that these not-even-twentysomething boys were actually talking about us pretty respectfully. So when the chosen one approached, we answered him in Italian, complimented him on his English, and waited for his reaction as it sunk in that we had understood everything. He tried to make the most of it, but the train had pulled in to our station. As we disembarked, we heard the group laughing as he went back to join his friends, high-fiving and back-slapping.  

I don’t wish I’d spent more time on that train, but that snippet of every day life reminds me of many things I love about Italians:  their passion and go-for-it attitude; the chivalry of Italian men and their appreciation of the opposite sex; and the way young Italians socialize in groups of 20 or 30 – their compagnia.

The train ride became jumbled with other Italy memories until years later, when it somehow rose to the surface. I couldn’t put my finger on why until I remembered a quote about travel by Henry Miller: “the destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things”.  It can be difficult to identify the precise moment perspectives were changed, because it happens slowly, and in pieces, and upon reflection. And sometimes, on trains.

Photo by Madeline

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Posted by on Apr 9, 2010 in My Stories | 12 Comments


  1. lara dunston
    April 10, 2010

    Madeline – I love your post! I especially love that you combine good quality travel writing and insightful observations within the genre of travel blogging. Well done! Ah… how many times we have enjoyed watching the young Italians in their compagnia on trains – makes for wonderful entertainment. Thank you so much for entering and we’re so glad to have discovered your blog. Good luck!

  2. Madeline
    April 10, 2010

    Thanks Lara! The post was a lot of fun to write 🙂

  3. Sergio
    April 16, 2010

    “meeting “the American girls” (never mind that one of us was Canadian)”
    For us Italians America is a Continent, that “contains” many countries: USA, Canada, Peru, Argentina etc etc.
    From an italian/european perspective you are both american girls, of course!

  4. Madeline
    April 19, 2010

    True true Sergio! 🙂
    In fact I used to correct people and tell them to call me La Canadese instead of L’Americana but they’d laugh and say no, “una canadese” is a type of tent or something (right?)

  5. jessiev
    April 21, 2010

    what a hoot – what BRAVE guys! i always thing it takes tremendous courage for guys to approach girls, esp in a different language!
    you wrote so well of this – i enjoyed reading it!
    good luck!

  6. Madeline
    April 21, 2010

    Thanks so much Jessie! yes those boys were brave, though you meet many more of them in Italy compared to elsewhere in the world… 🙂

  7. Melanie
    April 27, 2010

    Hilarious, Madeline. I’ve had a few similar experiences on my travels, especially in Italy where boys would address me as “la biondina” as they drove or walked by. (Funny, cause among my really blonde friends, my hair looks pretty brown…)
    Anyhow, a fun a little post. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  8. Melissa Muldoon
    April 30, 2010

    Ciao Madeline! I enjoyed your post! So sweet. Really cute too that you understood everything that the boys on the train were saying and planning! I remember the groups of Italian boys that would follow us American girls around on the streets of Firenze when I lived there as a student! One even followed me into the photo booth when I was getting my picture snapped for my tessera for the bus…I still have that picture! Those were the days!
    I read a little of your back story & what wonderful experiences you have had in Italia! I am also from the midwest and spent a lot of time in Chicagoland (Oak Park and Wheaton). I am also passionate about the Italian language! A presto!

  9. Madeline
    April 30, 2010

    Melanie – yeah I get called La Biondina too, which I guess I am except for the dark roots 🙂
    Melissa – thanks! Love your story about the photo booth, that is *quite* the keepsake. 🙂

  10. AmyEmilia
    May 3, 2010

    Lovely story – did you enter it in the competition?

  11. Madeline
    May 3, 2010

    Thanks AmyEmilia! I did enter it in the competition and didn’t win, but I can’t really complain because the winning entries are incredible.
    Worth reading, here are the 2 first prize winners: (scroll down to April 18th entry)

  12. Anca Popa
    May 10, 2010

    Hi Madeline,
    Just thought I should let you know that this month Grantourismo is running a new competition with the theme ‘Food and Travel’, so if you have a memorable food experience from your travels please feel free to share it with us. We’d love to hear from you again!


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