Friday, 11 October 2013

The Dark Side of Life in Paris

This morning in the metro, a man spat in my face and called me a dirty whore.

He was standing at the door and my stop was coming up. I was looking to see if he was getting off or if I would have to walk round him, when he glanced back, and just for a second, our eyes met. The train drew to a halt and I stepped off the train behind him. I heard a hacking sound and the next thing I knew, a glob of spit landed on my neck. I turned round to see what had happened and there he was, standing a metre or two away and glaring at me.

"Sale pute!" he hissed, as if it were a justification.

I didn't really know what was going on, but I knew that the last thing I wanted was for him to follow me through the corridors of the metro and continue his attack, so I looked him in the eye, held up my hand towards him and said, "Eloignez vous de moi, sinon j'appelle la police."

"Ils vont pas venir," he laughed.

Then, to my relief, he headed off towards the exit.

It was by far the nastiest of that kind of encounter that I've ever had. After a nice lady who had witnessed everything gave me a tissue and some kind words, I wasn't physically hurt, and while the shock kicked in a few minutes later, I continued on my way to work without too much distress.

But the incident is playing on my mind over two hours later, safely back at home after a day of people commiserating and sympathising with me. This was worse than being slapped on the bottom, followed into the toilets of a cafe, or even followed around the streets of my home town for an hour by some guy that was convinced he might marry me, because unlike those incidents where guys took liberties in what was essentially a state of misguided optimism, this man was convinced I was dirty because I looked him in the eye. And while he was clearly not quite right in the head, I don't think he was drunk or off his face on drugs. I have a nasty feeling that for him, this kind of behaviour was normal.

It brought back a fear that I used to often have in Paris, one that I hadn't had for years, that any contact with strangers, even if it's just eye contact, is dangerous. I've got used to not making it, but I had stopped being scared of the consequences if I did. The other day I even let down my guard and helped a man at the station to fix his mobile phone, and walked away, my faith in humanity boosted by the happy feeling that it was possible for a woman to speak to a strange man without there being any nasty repercussions, only to have it destroyed 24 hours later by this.

And then I ask myself the question, is this kind of behaviour more prevalent in Paris than other places? I know this morning's episode is an extreme example, but in all the years I lived in Scotland, I was sexually harassed only once, and even then, it was very politely done. I lived for a year in Italy, a country where machismo is so prevalent that they gave the word to the rest of Europe, on a dodgy street populated by drug dealers, and never had a bad experience once. I was once chatted up by a slightly bizarre man in the Alexanderplatz in Berlin once, but when I made it clear that I wasn't going to go home and sleep with him, he left me alone in a very gentlemanly fashion. I've often told myself that meeting sexist weirdos in the street is just a big city thing,  and if so, why does it seem so much more prevalent here?

Or am I just being paranoid?

8 comments:

  1. That's pretty traumatic! I am sorry you went through that. Seriously.

    I'd say I had a lot of weird encounters with men in France, lots of unwanted comments and attention. It bothered me as a young teen. I looked older but I wasn't prepared for crude sexual comments (mind you, I think I'm still not).

    I never had to deal with that kind of crap in North America. And cat calls don't even bother me in Latin countries (where they tend to be prevalent). But this kind of behaviour? Disturbing.

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    1. I know! Lots of people said to me, "It's just someone who's not right in the head." Well yes, but not right in the head and behaving this way in a public place with impunity!

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  2. Woah, that's terrible! Hope you're okay. The worst I can remember is some guy "stalking" me with his car, honking and shouting and pulling up to block me from crossing the street. Being spat on sounds way worse though.

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    1. That sounds pretty nasty too, Gwan! The thing that gave me most relief after this incident was that the guy didn't try to follow me. I hate that!

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  3. Oh man, that's terrible!

    And do you think it could possibly be related to where you have lived in Paris? Offhand at least, I can't remember any experiences like that in Paris, but I've always lived in posher neighborhoods. I mean, I've had guys hit on me and stuff, but never scary things like that!

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    1. Luckily it didn't happen to me that near to where I live, or else it would have really freaked me out! But other things have happened to me on the Champs Elysées and the rue de Rivoli, as well as in the small town where I used to live in Picardie. Whatever, I hope it never happens to you or anyone else who's reading this!

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    2. No kidding! I wouldn't wish that experience on anyone!

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  4. Something similar happened to be when I was CDG. I was gliding along the moving walkways when all of a sudden a man that was coming towards me said, "Espèce de p***!" He said is with such violence that his entire body was shaking. In case anybody is wondering, this man was a white Frenchman that spoke without any accent. It wasn't what he said that shocked me the most, it was the hatred in his voice. And I hadn't even looked at him. I was in shock for the rest of the day.

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