no but really: NO means NO
To me, the Italian language is one of the most melodious sounding languages in the world; it does for the ear what gelato does for the mouth. Perhaps, apart from its musical qualities, what makes it so pleasant is the fact that everything is “bellissima” and everything “va bene.” In other words, Italian is a language of “yeses.” While this makes for a magical language, it makes for some not-so-magical encounters when “no” would be a useful weapon to fashion against creeps.
In many social settings in Italy, the word “no” doesn’t seem to carry its weight. Apart from language barriers and grammatical faux-pas, there are also subtle cultural translations of this word.
An Italian mentor told me that men will receive a thousand “no’s” before finally getting a “yes” from a PNL (potential new lover, my acronym, not his). Another American family friend living in Italy told me that in the Italian dating world, women perpetually reject men as a game of sorts even if they intend to say “yes.” On one hand, it’s nice to see the ladies taking control and calling the shots, but on the other hand, it doesn’t seem like a fun game to play if both the pursuer and the pursued eventually want to get together. Also, it acts as inflation of the word “no,” completely devaluing it so that when “no” really means “no,” it doesn’t serve its intended purpose.
At discotecas, this song-and-dance, shitty pun intended, continues. Someone might approach you to dance and even if you aren’t interested and say no or push him away, he will keep trying. He doesn’t seem forlorn or embarrassed. In America, the guy would be embarrassed and might even sulk a bit. Here, it’s all part of the game. He just keeps asking. Vile.
And perhaps for Italian women, playing this game is the norm. But the fact that a woman’s “no” here translates roughly into “no, but try again in 10 seconds when I will say no again, after which you can/should keep asking until I say yes” makes things a bit challenging for international students and travelers alike.
In America and in most other places, no means no. Not negotiable; I’m not interested. And for those of us who like to say it like it is, no means, in the words of Lily Allen, “no not in a million years, you’re nasty, please leave me alone.” So, while I would never want to change the beauty of the Italian language, I think that reintroducing the concept of “no” would be beneficial for Italian women. Femminismo. It’s about time.