Their beauty and ease took me by surprise. I couldn’t help but stare at them. Giggling and talking at a table diagonal from mine, the three girlfriends seemed to be having a good time. My curiosity piqued; the three girls looked just like any American teenager would look, and I wondered if they acted the same way too. Maybe they lived and studied in Florence, maybe they were here for a study group after class, or maybe they just wanted a small break to relax in the afternoon. Regardless, I mustered up the courage and went to speak with them.
After introducing myself, I asked them what their names were and where they were from.
“My name is Valentina,” the prettiest one responded. Her hair shone with a light brown color matching her olive skin and green eyes. She didn’t look Italian, but she didn’t necessarily look American either. “My friends are Margerito and Alicia.”
They were wary of me at first, but soon they warmed up. Well, they either warmed up or decided I wasn’t going anywhere. Regardless, they began to talk to me more.
“Do you guys live in the city?” I asked them.
“No, we live about 20 minutes away,” Valentina explained. “We are in high school and had to buy a gift for a friend. We are going to her birthday party tonight and wanted to get her something.”
Their answer seemed simple enough and reinforced to me that teenagers were the same no matter where they live. They all have birthdays, friends, and parties. They all go to school, learn, and escape in the city. They all eat, drink, and visit with one another outside of class. However, it surprised me to learn they were actually three years younger than me. They seemed the same age, if not older, than me, and their maturity reinforced this belief
Fascinated by my new revelation these girls were not much different than me I grew confidence to speak with them some more.
“What do you guys plan on doing when you graduate from school?”
This time, Margerito answered. Margerito had a unique look. She wore her hair short and curly. Her light olive skin contrasted nicely with the dark, almost black, color of her hair and matching eyes. She seemed the friendliest of the three, and I was thankful for her response.
“I am going to San Francisco this summer,” she explained. “I am visiting my uncle and waiting tables at his restaurant. I am also taking English classes.”
When I asked her if she was excited she told me she was. She also revealed her uncle thinks she will move to San Francisco permanently and go to school there. However, she didn’t really want to do that. She would prefer not to move abroad.
“San Francisco is too modern for me. I don’t like it much. I like Italy and would prefer to stay here,” Margerito said.
“What is different about it?” I asked.
“Well, the United States is too modern. I like Italy. Italy is home; I feel connected to it. In Italy, there is an attachment to the tradition and history of the world. Well, other than Milan that is. Milan is modern like America,” she responded.
Her answered surprised me. I expected her to say she would be homesick, she would not like the food or she would not do well in school. Instead, the lack of connection to history saddened her and made her weary.
“These streets, which are older, make you feel a comfort to yourself because you can feel yourself with your country and feel yourself at home,” she said.
Turning to Valentina I asked her the same question. She seemed a little aloof but continued to reveal to me her plans.
“I want to travel and work before I decide what I am going to do. I want to know what it is to work and to live for myself. Then I will decide where I want to go and what I want to do,” Valentina said.
Again, she surprised me. She seemed deep in thought while speaking, yet I expected her to say something along the lines of find a husband, get married, travel to Milan and work in fashion. Instead she wanted to experience life, she wanted to work hard, and she wanted to figure out what she wanted before she made any major life choices.
The two girls didn’t leave much time for their other friend, Alicia, to speak. Alicia didn’t really know what she wanted to do, but she knew she wanted a job in criminology. Alicia lacked their confidence and resolve. She had the same olive skin, dark hair, and dark eyes as Margerito. However, her hair was straight and slicked back into a ponytail. She didn’t seem as confident in her answer, but she didn’t seem nervous either. She had a peace about her. She had decisiveness in her answer and a determined look in her eyes.
The three teenage girls all had a connection to their country and to themselves. They wanted to remain in Italy, but at the same time they wanted to better themselves and their education. They didn’t want to trade their history and culture for the modernity and opportunity of the United States. However, they wanted to take advantage of their opportunities. They all had another year of high school to figure it out. A year, I surmised, they were probably thankful for.
In the United States we all have a plan: high school, college degree, work force. Not many people vary from this. We believe this plan, this choice, will bring us the most happiness. Although neither Valentina, Margerito, nor Alicia had the same answer, their reasoning ran along the same lines. They wanted to be happy, they wanted to be fulfilled, and they wanted to make sure they made the right choice for them.
This reasoning alone further reinforced my beginning theory; these girls are not much different from me. They may be younger, they may live in a different country, and they may not have the same life plan I have, but we all want to make the most of our opportunities, we all want to make the most of life, and we all want happiness.