It is hard not to notice that, on the streets of Florence, young foreign women far outnumber any other category of people. Women feel remarkably welcome in Tuscany and Umbria, and the stereotype of the young Italian male -- out to prove himself the most irresistible lover on the planet -- applies more to Rome and the South. Having said that, the more exotic you look to an Italian -- statuesque blondes, ebony-skinned beauties, or simply an American accent -- the more attention you can expect to get, especially at night. This will almost certainly be of the mild flirtatious type; take your cue from Italian women, who usually ignore the men around them entirely unless it's someone they're already walking with. Although most foreign women report feeling far safer wandering the deserted streets of an Italian city to their hotels at 2am than they do in their own neighborhoods back home, use some common sense. Rape is much rarer in Italy than in the United States, but it does happen.

A more subtle issue -- one you are unlikely to encounter on a short stay -- concerns Italian stereotypes of foreign women (especially northern European and American students) as uninhibited and passionate sex kittens. Not only does this tend to encourage would-be Romeos, it can have far more sinister overtones, as the troubling case of U.S. student Amanda Knox suggests. Convicted of murdering her English roommate in Perugia in 2007, Knox was sentenced to 26 years in prison after a highly emotive trial. The tabloids went into overdrive as "Foxy Knoxy" became demonized as the symbol of licentious American female behavior, guilty or not (she had an Italian boyfriend at the time). Things have calmed down somewhat since then, though, at press time, Knox was still appealing her conviction.

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