Upon my first visit to the Motherland, I was warned of a very particular Eurocentric tendency for the men of said lands to be, well, f’ing perverts. Sure, I had had my fair share of rather indecent experiences back in the States – there was that homeless man jerking off in front of me while I walked home at 2 a.m., then there was the driver in the town car holding his dick in perfect view of my mother and I’s table facing the street. Oh, and the other homeless man who sat in front of me on an empty train and exposed his enormous, flaccid member while moaning into the terrifying abyss. So, yeah, when it comes to disgusting displays of wayward male sexuality, this isn’t my first time at the rodeo.
You would think such experiences would fortify me for the journey ahead. But for some reason, in Europe it feels different.
Americans, when it comes to sexual harassment, really go for it. Genitals are exposed, chases ensue, considerations are made for restraining orders. But in Europe, their variety of sexual harassment falls somewhere between completely grotesque and fairly innocuous – and it’s a disturbing gray area for an American woman. The best way I can describe it is as though you find yourself in the bull’s-eye of a very creepy, very intense stalker for a very short amount of time, and, if pressed, you couldn’t tell a police officer just what exactly happened.
Case in point:
Michelle and I are waiting in line at the Paul’s kiosk in the Tuileries. We’re standing there, minding our own business, when HELLO! What’s this? An older man has appeared, standing at a distance more appropriate for a close cousin or a nervous boy on a first date. He zeros in on the both of us like a drone, only without all the intelligent, stealth technology.
His proximity to my behind makes me uncomfortable. I move.
And then he moves.
I move again, forward into the line, bumping into people.
At this point, his frogger-like precision to hop on my ass is unjustifiable, but every time I look back at him, he stands there, hands behind his back and eyes gazing at the menu. A true pervert professional.
There is nowhere else for me to go but out of the line. Following me out and around would be far too obvious. I stand, at a distance, watching him from behind. Unfortunately, I have left Michelle to fend for herself. He retreats, finding satisfaction in saddling up to her.
“You like chocolates?”
This is the kind of tactic your mother warns you about when you are in second grade. Lesson 1: Do not get into vans with strange men. Lesson 2: Do not wear clothing with your name on it. Lesson 3: If they tell you they’re looking for a puppy, they’re lying. Lesson 4: If they call you by your name and tell you they’re looking for a puppy and say that your mother said you should hop in their van to go look for it and here, have a candy… you’re definitely going to get molested.
Michelle crosses her arms and stutters an “ummm, no, not really.”
She looks back at me and mouths a “get fucking back here.” I shake my head no.
The old man continues to close-talk her for an extended period of time. I do my best to offer moral support, standing next to her on the other side of the ropes – which really is only me using her body as a barricade between me and the aging sex offender.
“Are you model or agency?”
Not even sure what that means, dude.
“I’m a designer,” Michelle says. A pride of accomplishment dictates that Michelle answer this question honestly, but the part of me that would prefer he not be able to look up her after this interaction nearly drives me to slam my heel on her toe and wrap my hands around her mouth before the words come out.
“Ohhh, good good good.”
When she gets closer to the cashier, I retreat once more, seeing this as his window of opportunity to creep on yours truly. I stand at a distance behind, measuring 4 meters, while I watch Michelle pay for her coffee and wait for him to cop a feel of her ass.
It never happens.
And even if it did, I have no idea what I’d tell the French police.