...The people and food were great. I felt comfortable in the small
towns and little cafe/bars even though we stuck out like sore thumbs
and know almost no Italian...
Exactly our experience when we visited Sant' Arsenio, up in the Campanian foothills an hour SE of Salerno. This was for geneological research, and the meeting I had set up in advance with a town gendarme had fallen through.
So with absolutely nothing to do, we visited the town cemetery and then walked in and out of caffe bars. Wherever we walked, the locals were watching us, at one point while we were ordering an espresso and cornetto, the whole place was flat out staring at us, like the E.F. Hutton commercial.
But as soon as we stated our reason for being there--finding distant relatives with given surnames--it was like a switch had been turned on. They couldn't do enough for us, made us feel at home. We couldn't stay very long, our ride back to Salerno was leaving, but it gave us a warm feeling overall after a rough start.