Now that I have gone to two palestre (gyms) in downtown Florence this year, I feel that I have enough information to come to a few conclusions. I have been going to one palestra near my house all year and have rejoined my old palestra for the month of August because mine was closed for ferie (holidays).
I have reunited with a few of my old acquaintances at my old palestra and they treat me as if not a day has passed since we last saw each other about two years ago. It is great to talk with them because they are scherzosi (playful) as many fiorentini are known to be.
The women at both palestre sized me up when I first started going. No one mi ha salutata (said hello to me) unless I said it first, even if I was in the spogliatoio (locker room) before they arrived. I think that for most of them this is completely normal because they didn't know me. I doubt it had anything to do with the fact that I'm a straniera (foreigner). Besides, most short-term stranieri wouldn't salutare (say hello) at all, so by just saying it, I'm sure they realize that I must either live here or at least know the customs and speak Italian.
It usually takes a fair amount of time and a lot of persistence on my part before the girls will begin to salutarmi (say hello to me) when they see me in the spogliatoio.
However with the men, my experience has been quite different. They generally notice all the new ragazze (girls) at the palestra and they usually give them the "once over." The guys don't appear overly friendly or smile too much, but they do stare more than I'm used to. In the States and France, men will look at women, but not continually stare at them.
One thing I've noticed is that everyone in the palestra is single, or at least act like it. Some of the guys seem to come to flex their "flirting" muscle. In Florence, these guys are usually friendly with every girl, so it's more for their egos than the girl's.
If I were to tally up the number of people I talk to in the two palestre who also know me by name, I'd say the number is rather low, about six, and that they are all men. I have talked to a few of the girls, but I don't know a single one by name at either palestra.
I fully understand that a lot of stranieri come to Florence: some stay for extended periods of time and others for much briefer stays. I can understand that the locals wouldn't want to welcome all of us with open arms without knowing into which group we fall. I assume that they think that if someone is there for only a few days, weeks, or months, what's the point in developing a relationship. I understand the logic and am not offended; it takes time to develop relationships with anyone here.
At any rate, I love going to the palestra, not only to work out, but to watch the stranieri and italiani mix, and sometimes not mix. It's always interesting for me to see people interact with each other, from shy glances to blatant stares and from a simple hello to a full-blown conversation. I know that I won't become friends with everyone I meet at the palestre, but I do enjoy the casual chiacchierata (chat) with many of them.
Share your comments for this blog post on the Living in Florence's Facebook page. Grazie!