The greased-up cast of MTV's reality smash hit Jersey Shore might call themselves Guidos and Guidettes when they are stateside, but here in the culturally classy city of Florence, they are referred to as "tamarri," "cretini," or "super-cafone"—terms generally used to describe sleazeballs and lowlife thugs known for vulgar behavior. Weeks before the cast of Jersey Shore arrived to film their fourth season in the homeland, real Italians had mixed feeling about the stereotypical image they are bringing with them. "No American tamarri here," says a sign affixed to the façade of the chic Munaciello Pizzeria in central Florence. "We prefer real Italian pizza."
MTV has rented a tony third-floor apartment for $10,000 on the Via Dei Vecchietti in the classiest neighborhood of central Florence, a stone's throw from the Duomo and just around the corner from the city's fashion epicenter, where the extravagant windows of Gucci, Armani and Dolce & Gabbana are as impressive as the city's museums and churches. Police have cordoned off the street and muscled bodyguards keep the crowds at bay and out of the camera sights. Strobe lights can be seen hanging from the wood-beamed ceilings when the apartment shutters are open, and frequently one of the cast members peeks down to see the crowds gathered on the street below. "They have ruined our street," says Francesco Maresca, a criminal lawyer whose studio is a few doors down. "They are cretins, and they have no business being here."
On the street below the apartment, American tourists and study-abroad students mix with locals, exchanging reported sightings with other fans who make a game of stalking the octet around the city. A permanent team of paparazzi listens in and offers their own tips to the better-looking girls. " Snooki is getting her legs waxed at the Oasis beauty salon," one excited fan yells, sending a photographer into a sprint to find the address. Suddenly, bodyguards move into position and camera crews appear from thin air. Vinny, Pauly D and Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino strut round the corner and flex and pose in front of their giant wooden door. "Oh God, there they are. I'm changing my Facebook status," shouts Genevieve Provost, a 19-year-old Canadian tourist who, hours earlier, had been cast as a Jersey Shore "prop" sitting at a table with her bare, tattooed shoulder exposed to the Guidos. "This is definitely one of the highlights of this trip to Italy."
The crowd is mostly North American, but a handful of real Italians join in the fervor. Simone Vanni, 17, and Remus Buzdugan, 24, drove their scooter from a Florentine suburb through a torrential rainstorm last Friday to get a glimpse of their toned, tanned American "cousins" who are nothing like them. Real Italians generally aren't weighted down by giant shiny crucifixes, nor do they tan year-round. And most young Italians don't drink to excess. Still, the cast members carry an undeniable appeal for their fans. Camped outside the apartment, Buzdugan recites scenes from his favorite episodes, usually those in which Snooki beds a conquest. "They have the perfect life," Vanni told The Daily Beast. "They are living a dream I associate with living in America. I would love to live like that."
Their bodyguards are rude and pushy and have angered many residents, who don't feel they should "move out of the way" for a group of greaseballs.
But not everyone is as enthused about the stereotypical image the Italo-Americans from Jersey Shore are bringing to the homeland. Matteo Renzi, the mayor of Florence, has issued a series of restrictions with the hopes of putting a damper on the usual debauchery that has been the staple of previous seasons. The show is not allowed to shoot scenes that represent Florence as a party town, which includes no shooting in bars or nightclubs where people are drinking. They are also banned from shooting inside museums, no doubt to discourage interaction with the city's numerous nude statues or to make a mockery of this Renaissance gem. But even with the rules, the cast of cretins has managed to live up to their bad reputation in the short time they've been in Italy.
When they are not carousing at the city's posh clubs like Flow and Fusion, they are paparazzi magnets, which is highly disruptive to the normally reserved Florentines. Their bodyguards are rude and pushy, and have angered many residents, who don't feel they should "move out of the way" for a group of greaseballs. During their first week in town, guidette Deena Nicole climbed over the stone ledge of one of the city's famous bridges, nearly plunging into the Arno. The incident was booed by locals, and it prompted business owners to formally complain to Renzi, who has been criticized for allowing them to film in the city in the first place.
The show has racked up nearly $500 in traffic fines in just one week with twin dark-blue Fiat Multipla cars. And when Entertainment Tonight ran a shot of "The Situation" snogging a University of Florida study-abroad J-school student, the Gainsville school issued a stern warning: "Any student who does agree to participate in the filming of the show, or who signs a waiver or legal agreement of any sort with MTV, will be dismissed from the program immediately."
This week the cast will start working at a Neapolitan pizzeria called O'Vesuvio, near their apartment. Before they are finished filming Season 4 in June, they will take their show on the road with trips to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa and to Rome, where they will be given similar warnings about how not to anger the country of their ancestors.
The die-hard fans of Jersey Shore seem unaffected by the fuss. "I don't think they represent the [Italo-American] culture," says Graziella Paone, a 29-year-old Italian American from Boston who decided to follow the octet while on a trip to Italy. "I think they are just a bunch of people looking to have a good time. It's one of those shows that's like a car crash—you can't look away once you drive by."
Barbie Latza Nadeau, author of the Beast Book Angel Face, about Amanda Knox, has reported from Italy for Newsweek Magazine since 1997 and for The Daily Beast since 2009. She is a frequent contributor to CNN Traveller, Departures, Discovery and Grazia. She appears regularly on CNN, BBC and NPR.