Guys, want to know instantaneous ostracism? Wear shorts in Italy.

This is a bonus, second post this week, because 1) next week’s “Best of Tuscany” and “What Happened?” lists will be posted very late due to three days of lavish wine drinking and sleeping ceremonies I’ve scheduled to mark the end of my one month of high-impact travel in Tuscany and 2) every time I lose another shade of dignity, I feel inexplicably compelled to make the event public for the benefit of those who are secretly working on biographies about me. So here goes…

First off, it doesn’t matter what I do while I’m in Italy, everyone can tell from miles away that I’m not from around here. I’m blond, I’ve got my stunning, Nordic good looks, my sunglasses cover less than 80% of my face, I don’t smoke and my hair gets less attention in a year than these guys give their hair each morning. I’m the antithesis of the average Italian male. Everyone knows it, so I don’t even try.

As such, I already rank pretty low on the social status scale. Up until recently, the ranking broke down like this:

• Dog with mange
• Junkie
• Me
• Old man with the farts
• Gas station attendant
• Guy wearing Benetton
• Domestic animal
• Guy wearing Armani

But all that changed a few days ago. I started wearing shorts. I had to. I just couldn’t take another day in my jeans, walking nine hours, up and down hilly, cobblestone streets with a 25% grade and the beautiful, perfect, but relentless sun beating down on me. I know… I’m a weak, pitiable excuse for a man.

I already knew full well that shorts were somewhat frowned upon for men in Italy, but I didn’t expect such a profound and sudden change in how I’d be regarded. I mean honestly, at first glance, Italian men’s fashion seems pretty adventurous. These guys wear some really wacky ca-ca that gives the casual observer the impression that Italian fashion trends are simply an ongoing series of mean-spirited practical jokes. Guys wear all kinds of funky pants decorated with tassels, chain mail, frescos, sequins, rhinestone designs in the likeness of the Pope (John Paul, not Benedict, obviously)…

But brother, you put on a pair of shorts and suddenly the joke’s over. You took it too far, jackhole. It could be 150 degrees (Fahrenheit or Centigrade, it doesn’t matter) and the men here will not cave in to the comfort afforded by shorts. The only time you’re socially allowed to wear shorts in Italy is when you’re on your way to play volleyball or when your pants were just set ablaze from the knees down, and even then you only have a matter of minutes of leniency before it gets uncomfortably weird and people stop returning your calls.

Put on shorts on any other occasion and your social ranking instantly drops about a dozen positions. Now my ranking is something like:

• Mad cow disease
• Dog shit
• Unwashed hobo
• Me
• Recently washed hobo (assuming he’s wearing pants, which he most certainly is, because no self-respecting Italian hobo would be caught dead in shorts)
• The French
• Anyone that orders a cappuccino after 10am
• Pigeon
• People that eat dinner alone in Florence while 20 people wait in the rain for a table
• The government
• Songwriters that write about anything other than ‘amore’
• People that pronounce it “eye¬-talian”
• Guys that bring laptops into cafes
• Dog with mange
• Junkie
And so on.

So, I’m scum. But the beauty is I’m scum with the power to direct/redirect several hundred thousand tourists to/away from hotels, restaurants and even whole towns, so people in tourism have to be nice to me or it’s curtains. It’s been kinda fun actually… Waltzing into a four-star hotel or a restaurant with a Michelin star and watching their looks of contempt and loathing contort into forced smiles and pained hospitality when I give them my card. Then, just for effect, I linger and sully the atmo of their foyers for 10 of the longest minutes of their professional lives. Better than sex.

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