04 Sep 2010

Good tourist promotion… but can we please do without the stereotypes?!

Letters to Juliet: here we go again!

The story of Romeo and Juliet is pure fiction. Italian men screaming “bella” at foreign women from their cars, or chasing them in the streets is also pure fiction. It might have been true in the 50’s when American women were much more liberated than most Italian women and it showed in the way they looked, but nowadays, in 2010, no sane man would do that. If they find the courage to talk to you to begin with is already a miracle!

Not sure why I expected more than I expected from Under the Tuscan Sun from this movie… maybe because I had read somewhere that this was a decent romantic comedy set in Italy for a change. Well, it is not. It is the usual movie that contributes to stereotypes about life in Italy, love in Italy, Italian men, travel to Italy, etc.

That is good and bad at the same time. It’s good because these movies usually prove to be the best promotional campaign for the locations where they are filmed: no advertising has brought more people to Tuscany than Mrs. Mayes’s book’s silver-screen treatment.

It’s bad because there are in fact people out there who believe that if you come to Italy on holiday, and you follow a woman to her office, you will be welcomed by her and her colleagues and asked to join in instead of being kindly asked to leave. Others might believe that every old person can in fact speak English. Or that somebody might in fact be upset if, after politely inviting a perfect stranger to stay for lunch, that person refuses: it is much more likely that they will feel relieved.

And last but not least… if you are so lucky to find your Lorenzo again, and he asks you to marry him 50 years later in front of his family, don’t expect a cheerful toast and lots of big smiles at the dinner table, unless you are loaded or you have previously signed a prenuptial agreement in which you renounce all rights to the inheritance of the beautiful vineyard… older people getting married here come with a crowd of worried relatives! The only thought that saved me from falling asleep at that point was the idea that Vanessa Redgrave and Franco Nero have in fact been together for over 40 years… so some of those looks must have been authentic!

If you manage to get past all the stereotypes and misconceptions, well, at least the views and panoramas portrayed in the movie are fantastic. There are a few weird things: the Sienese mansion where they meet one of the “Lorenzos” is in fact near Verona (Villa Arvedi) and not in Tuscany, and the last place where they go is also the first place they visit (everybody knows that Tuscany has a shortage of nice locations, so that had to reuse the same one, just on the other side of the road…), but all in all the locations are fantastic.

If you are wondering where the scenes in Tuscany were shot, well, I am not sure where the picnic table under the oak tree is but I must find out! The place where they are staying is the beautiful Relais Borgo Scopeto, near Castelnuovo Berardenga. The other places should be the farmhouses of the Caparzo estate (which also includes the Relais) that extends over a large area near Montalcino. The beautiful estate of Cantina Argiano is also included.

Bottom line: enjoy the movie, but don’t believe that is everyday life here.


  1. Hi Gloria,
    Americans women love the romance that they think Italy exemplifies.
    Some of us still live in the ’50’s or at least in our minds.
    Everytime a movie is released about Italy, it’s all the chatter.
    I missed Letters to Juliet but on my way to see The American!!
    A presto

  2. Salve! Thank you so much for posting this. I was living in Italy last year, and my friends would drive me crazy with that insipid, “Maybe you’ll meet…” crap. Everyone thought we just sat around, ate spaghetti all day, and met beautiful men named Marcello and lived happily ever after. While, true, I was mostly high and stupidly happy living in Tuscany, but it was for other reasons: pure enjoyment of the beauty, learning the language, the food, the simple life I was living out of 2 suitcases for almost a year. Yes, Americans can learn a lot from the way Italians live, love, and appreciate life – but the stereotypes should be left in Hollywood with everything else that’s fake.

  3. Hi Elizabeth and Valerie, thank you for your comments. Nothing wrong in liking this type of movie: the important thing is to be aware that certain stereotypes are just that.

    I sometimes worry that people may be coming to Italy looking for something that doesn’t exist and be disappointed. Or worse, that when they meet the guy who behave like that, they think it’s normal rather than run away as fast as they can from the creepy guy! LOL

    There are many other aspects that are real and just as charming that should be portrayed! That’s all I meant to say.

    Hugs to you both!

  4. YAY GLORIA. Thank you for telling it like it is, girlfriend. I am in your camp 100% (big surprise). Baci.

  5. Thank you Diana! I am glad you agree!

  6. For those of us living here– it is hard to swallow with the stereotypes-
    but all the films like this bring people flocking to Italy-
    Next up- Eat.Pray.Love

    I am ready to help anyone EAT here!!! and if you can cook- love with come!

  7. And then they will pray you to teach them your secrets, so you are all set for the next blockbuster! LOL

  8. Great post, so agree with you. The media has a lot to answer for.

  9. @Gloria: I can just see you walking out of the movie theatre fuming and coming up with this post while loudly proclaiming to Marcel what a load of crap this film was. Well now you have wrecked it for me not to mention beat me to posting about it 😉
    I can say that sadly I received a lot of whistles when I was a younger student here in Italy, before I very calculatedly learned to “walk the walk”, which for the uninitiated is a very Florentine way of looking busy, bitchy and unapproachable.

    @Vanessa great comment, I laughed quite out loud when you said we don’t sit around and eat pasta all day!

  10. Marty Stein

    Although I did not see this movie, when I first viewed “Under the Tuscan Sun” of course I knew it was pure fantasy…and was not surprised to find out how little it really had in common with the writing of Ms. Maye or various other foreigners writing about life in Toscana and their appreciation for it. At the time I didn’t even realize that many of the scenes were actually from Montepulciano-until I revisited it after my second extended stay in that town. Yet, I will gladly watch it again just for the cinematography. Heck, I even sat through “New Moon” just for the eight minutes shot in Montepulicano and that glorious scene of the yellow Porsche flashing through the countryside..though I groaned about the car. Like they couldn’t find a Ferrari or at least an Alfa?

    Anyway, as I discover on every trip back, Italy is as much or as little as people want to make of it, and fantasy movies at least awaken a bit of appreciation for something unique about Italy, even if many of the people seeing them erroneously confuse the story with reality and fail to even attempt to find out that the truth of the country and its people far exceeds the shallow fantasy.

  11. Thank you all for the comments. Alexandra: you should have resisted the temptation to read my rants! You know I’m a grumpy woman! LOL And you are a smoking hot chick that’s why you got all the whistling. It has never happened to me! LOL Are you sure it was from Italians, though…? Well, crazy people are everywhere, but I’d say this type of appreciation is the exception rather than the norm.

    Marty, as I said above, this is just my opinion on this movie and the like. After all I did watch it, so I totally understand those who like the genre.

    It’s a more general problem which you so well summarize by saying “Italy is as much or as little as people want to make of it”. Well, it is and it is not. Italy is something with real people, and its own customs and traditions, with things that happen and things that don’t, with things that people do and things they do not do.

    Sometimes, under the pressure of the demand (often fostered by movies like these), what is/was in a certain way is changed to meet the demand and things are changed into something they were never before.

    I am a huge supporter of local travel which for me means visiting a place and seeing it for what it really is even if it’s not what I expected.

    My thoughts (hopefully…) better expressed, here:




    and here:

    I know that it’s not an easy feeling to explain, but imagine you have a guest who visits your home and then tells other people about his visit and his story is significantly different from what really happened so that your home and your family are portrayed in such a way that your next guests might expect something totally different from what you are. They will most likely be happy when they get to know you, but what if all your future guests start asking for that fuschia sofa that your first guest said he sat on in your living room? Will you buy one just to make them happy?

  12. Toney

    too bad so many europeans think hollywood portrays americans accurately as well. the media has its own agenda; and even the politicians don’t have a clue…

  13. Well I guess we all are portrayed in stereotypical ways. I guess this type of films want to make reality look much simpler and nicer than it is! :o)

  14. New to your blog but I so enjoyed reading this post! I’ve been reading through a lot of your posts but the fact that I thought the same thing as I watched the movie back when it came out, made me smile.
    As an American woman myself, I think I speak for some of us ladies when I say, this is the romantic ideal we have of the sexy Italian man! But alas, I know it’s not so. In any case, great post!


  15. Thank you Bella! Well, for what it’s worth… I have married a Canadian. 🙂

  16. Drew Vista

    Good point, Toney! I am American, but an anthropologist as well. Bias is a terrible thing but is usually hard to completely ignore. When I watch a movie of Americans being portrayed, I don’t think much about it; usually. A major exception was with the movie Fargo; only because on the way they portrayed the linguistics of the common midwestern person. On the upside of my comment, I love a good romantic movie. I feel with the few good Italian setting movies we get here, I have a closer connection to romance and love than ever before. Is it just a fairy tale like reality wants us to believe? Or is it reality like our fairy tales expect us to understand? Obviously there is a happy medium. But some thing happen in a cookie-cutter fashion, but does that make it a fairy tale?

    Cultures are what I study and although I do not consider Italy as one of my most understood cultures, I don’t simply assume that these movies portray real life, or every day life there. That much I think is easily explained. On the other hand, the underlying idea of each story is “hope”. I think a lot of the people today are losing that hope and seeing that “reality” everyone talks about.

  17. Hope is fine. However, you would be surprised to see how much the region (which mostly lives on tourism) has changed in order to meet the expectations of the North American tourist market, influenced by movies like Under the Tuscan Sun. Not everywhere, not dramatically. But it has. That is what should be avoided. False expectations come with huge disappointment.

  18. I was so disappointed with this movie. Vanessa Redgrave should know better and if I see one more scene with Italians sitting under a bloody tree having lunch I will scream! Australians are always asking me if we do this all the time and I tell them that in Italy people work in offices and shops just like in Australia and don’t have time to be doing this every day – as if you would want to do it every day anyway with the same people. Why do they keep making movies like this???

  19. Hi Debra, thanks for stopping by! Well I guess they appeal to a certain romantic image of life in Italy. Too bad it’s like this only for people on holiday! :o))

  20. Jae Victor

    I always take these films with a grain of salt. Mostly I watch them for the locations.

    I’ve never been one for Tuscany. To be honest, I never saw the glamour and excitement that gets thrown on-screen. It’s just lots of plain countryside. I grew up in the countryside. There’s no big thrill, there.

    Florence is just another small town that closes up around 7:00-7:30 p.m. The best time I had there was the indoor food market. There was a lovely gentleman in a small wine shop that seemed to know all.

    My favorite location is Rome. I ignored the museums and spend my days on the streets. I marveled at working women walking with ease in pointed heels on the cobblestone. I couldn’t help but smile at the young ones running in and out of the clubs and the theatre after dark.

    The day-to-day busy life was what drew me. I love comparing similarities. The best times of the day are before and after the tourists have retreated to their hotels and cruise ships. I love the quiet in the middle of the night and early morning before the sun comes up. It’s a different place, then.

    • I guess Tuscany is for those who like the slow countryside. I grew up in the countryside, and when I travel I mostly look for similar or quieter places. I can’t stand the thrill of the big city. Florence is not a small town, but yes, it does close down around 7:30 if you have no idea where to go after then. Best thing? Ask the locals.

  21. Sheila

    Well..there are reasons for stereotypes! I went to Italy in 1966 with my best friend from highschool. Our highschool was in Germany..we were used to European living..with American benefits (US ARMY brats). We didn’t wear mini skirts and we weren’t “liberated” yet. We were ogled and pinched and one time, yes! Even chased. We were blond and blue eyed..but we weren’t acting or dressing like “foreigners”. So..I know it isn’t true any longer..I have been to Venice with my daughter in recent history..but it WAS! And I LOVE Italy! Germany and Austria are so cold..both weather and people!



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