A fascinating part of travel for me is talking to people about their culture, what issues their society is facing, and how they’ve solved various problems. In Italy last week I had the opportunity to ask people in Sorrento, Florence, and Rome their thoughts on the problems of drugs, drinking, and prostitution.
Drinking: “What problem?” There are effectively no legal limits on alcohol in most parts of Italy. Anyone of any age can buy anything any time. Most people begin drinking a little wine with meals at about 11 years old (though it is often watered down.) People are expected to discipline themselves with regard to alcohol and overall they do pretty well. If someone has a drinking problem it’s their problem, not government’s nor anyone else’s. There are no calls for raising the drinking age (well, establishing a drinking age) or for doing something about the ‘alcohol problem’.
Drugs: Everyone I talked to consistently says that their drug laws are draconian and ineffective. Interestingly though, about half of these same people did not think drugs should be legalized, even though they believed criminalizing them wasn’t working. There did seem to be a north-south difference with Florentines more open to legalization (though the limited number of people I talked with make this assumption statistically invalid).
Prostitution: A far more touchy subject for Italians than most Europeans. And this is the country with the most open ‘mistress’ environment where many wives know who their husband’s mistress is and some even go out to lunch with them. The vast majority started by telling me how wrong prostitution is. Then that it should be more open, legal, and regulated than it currently is. Interestingly, every one of the people who said that their drug laws were ineffective but that drugs should continue to be illegal, also said that prostitution is wrong but should be more legal and regulated.
The most interesting comment on prostitution though was “We have American tourist girls, why do we need prostitutes?” I heard this nearly exact statement from two different people, one in Sorrento, one in Florence. The one in Florence was backed up by two others smiling and nodding their heads in agreement. They were also pretty emphatic that it is American girls they can so easily charm in to bed and rarely girls from other countries. This comment was particularly interesting to me in light of a conversation I recently had with a colleague that teen girls in the U.S. effectively ‘service’ teen guys with sex. More on this later.