A novel concept

Why is it that when people go abroad, they think that they’ll fall in love?

Like my Italian professoressa, the image of traveling abroad somehow paints a picture of a skinny, attractive woman riding on the back of a Vespa around the Colosseum with a charming English-speaking man with an Italian accent.

Roman Holiday, anyone?


Or maybe an image of sharing a romantic meal of spaghetti, during which he’ll sacrificially push the meatball with his nose. That type of thing.


It’s a private but well-circulated story about how my native Roman professoressa fell in love with her American husband. He was in Italy to make films and he met her on a beach. He knew immediately, the story goes, that he was in love. Mind you, it was a miracle she eventually spoke to him because Italian women are very picky.

Long story short, they fell in love and he ended up prolonging what was probably a month-long trip to Italy into a year-long trip. Just for her. She recounts this story, while waving a cigarette, with a casual air of mystery.

And somehow, everyone seems to think this will happen to them when they go abroad. I’m pretty sure my sister secretly prays at night that I’ll fall in love with an Italian man and do something spontaneous. On the other hand, my mother has nightmares of this.

Believe it or not, this aspirating leads another TED talk that I saw recently about love.

Helen Fisher explains that trying new things increases dopamine in our brains, which makes us feel like we’re in love. She told a funny story about a man who knew this and decided to use it to his advantage and try to get a woman with whom he was in love to feel the same way. So he invited her for a ride on a rickshaw.

She was gasping and giggling the whole time and after hopping out of the rickshaw, she said something to the effect of, “WOW, that was so much fun and the rickshaw driver was so attractive, isn’t he?”

So I guess the idea is that people think that when they go abroad, to an unfamiliar place, nobody will know who they are. They can reinvent themselves, become a completely different person… A person who may fall in love. The idea of experiencing new things also extends to experiencing new people.

But I think the rickshaw story she tells is extremely important, in addition to hilarious. There are all of these preconceived notions we have about travelling abroad. “I’m going to eat at this restaurant, stay at this hotel, meet up with these people, and see this tourist sight.”

But when it comes down to it, isn’t the purpose of traveling abroad experiencing something novel? If you plan out your whole trip, or have ideas in your head about what will happen, it is inevitable that you’ll either be disappointed or not surprised.

We are all guilty of this. I know nothing about my host family/ Italian nonna except that she is retired and lives by herself, without even a pet.

But I’ve got this whole vision in my mind of her being a masterful cook who tells incredible stories and has age-old wisdom.

After telling my friend Allie about my host family, she gleefully said, “I bet she’s going to be one of those crazy badass gradmas who secretly fell in love with a prince or something.”

We both have seen You’ve Got Mail too many times, this is for sure.

In the end, I think it’s fine to dream about everything you’d like to accomplish or have fantasies of when traveling abroad, or about planning your life in general.

But don’t get carried away–there will always be a cute rickshaw driver who can throw you off course, for better or for worse.