Catherine Townsend: Sleeping around

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When my friends and I booked a weekend in a fabulous flat in Italy, I had visions of a slightly dirtier version of Roman Holiday. But my quest for amore hit a few snags when I met Antonio, a gorgeous Italian who caught my eye while I was dancing on a banquette at 3am.

We stumbled outside and he mumbled something about building missiles for Nato. Actually, "I love to watch your hair blow in the breeze," was the most coherent English phrase he spoke all night. But he was hot and I'd had three limoncello shots, so I didn't resist when, after walking us home, he stepped inside my lobby and kissed me.

The language barrier didn't seem to matter once we were speaking in tongues, but I don't have the vocabulary to talk dirty in Italian, and in this case thought the fantasy would be better than the reality. When I politely said I was going upstairs alone he seemed a bit offended.

Working out later that his sweet nothingstranslated to: "There's a party in my pants and you're invited!" gave new meaning to the term "romance languages". I find it strange that none of my foreign phrase books explains dating etiquette. Forget asking directions to a museum - I need to know how to ask for a condom.

The confusion with Antonio reminded me of the time I tried to break up with my French ex-boyfriend: English-French dictionary poised in hand, I tried to translate "We've grown apart."

Instead of leaving in tears, he tried to seduce me. Exhausted, I told him it was my time of the month. He left and came back brandishing a stack of envelopes - which is how I figured out that the word "tampon" in French has something to do with a date stamp.

Anyway, at seven the next morning, Antonio texted to ask me out again and I thanked him for a lovely evening, but explained that I needed an early night before my flight home. In the next hour, I had four more texts, and six missed calls. "You can delete my number, because you were rude to refuse my invitation," he wrote. "If I were younger, I may have room for empty kindness, but I find your hypocrisy rather sad."

I guess I shouldn't be surprised by Antonio's aggressive behaviour. After all, the Italian Supreme Court ruled as recently as 2001 that a man fondling a woman's buttocks is not sexual harassment as long as the act was "not premeditated".

Rome is fabled to be one of the most romantic cities in the world, but I'm starting to think that living at home well into adulthood stunts the men's growth in more ways than one. I'll take the drunken pub lunges and shyness of British boys any day: at least they seem sincere.

As I boarded my flight, I texted Antonio a brief response that I hope is pretty clear in any language: "Finito".

c.townsend@independent.co.uk

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