Though the iconic “American Girl in Italy” was shot over 60 years ago, its portrayal of Italian men is still alarmingly accurate. After a little research, I was ecstatic to read that it wasn’t at all staged; 29 year old Ruth Orkin couldn’t have captured a better photo if she tried! She had simply been “horsing around” with friend and fellow twenty-something female traveler Ninalee Craig. I feel like the three of us could have been best friends <3. The young studs in that photo are now likely well into their eighties, and while their health may have deteriorated, their feisty, flirtatious spirits have not.
While most nonnos on both my trips have been beyond respectful, some have been frisky and borderline inappropriate. Others have leaped over that border and proudly settled on the other side. Though I’ve gotten a kick out of a lot of them and been playful back with some, I’m not quick to be flattered; it’s not me, it’s them. 😐
“Many people with dementia still have sexual urges – and want to act on them. But with poor impulse control and self-censorship, and lacking the ability to read a social situation as they once did, these feelings can lead someone to behave in ways considered socially wrong.
Advances can range from suggestive comments to propositioning, and from flirtatious touches to groping.” Paula Spencer Scott
I’m neutral. I’m the young (is 27 still “young”?) American volunteer who they’ll likely never see again. No matter how inappropriate or unwarranted, their advances won’t hurt my feelings; I can address them properly and we’ll all move on. This is much easier said than done for a family member, friend, or caregiver, and understandably so!
“Know that for an adult child, this can be one of the more distressing problems to deal with – especially when you’re the target of the unwanted advances. The mix of shock, distaste, guilt, and confusion you may feel is absolutely normal. It’s the ultimate muddling of your social roles.” Paula Spencer Scott
It’s essential to keep in mind that the nonno or nonna (the ladies are guilty of it too!) isn’t thinking incest or expressing deep-rooted feelings; they truly believe you’re someone else. It has nothing to do with how you are or aren’t acting toward them, either – though I’m playful and outgoing, I certainly don’t solicit sexual advances from 90 year old men.
Since they’re sincerely confused and mistaken, try not to shame or embarrass them. When greeting your loved one, perhaps you can subtly specify what your relationship is. A translated personal example: “Good morning, Mr. Casoni! Your favorite American caregiver is here!” 😉 (AKA the only American caregiver, ma non fa niente) You can gently (but firmly) set a boundary, or even distract them by introducing a fresh activity or offering a snack to satisfy a different type of physical craving. I know I’d accept Nutella in place of making out. 😛