Well, That Was Unexpected

Real life is stranger than fiction...depending on which authors you read, of course.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Just a smiling, eye-contactual, bare-legged tramp

Now, there were many things I noticed upon first moving to Paris, things about which I could wax poetic as many before have done. Instead, I'm going to focus on a different observation: dude, these men are too aggressive.

Not being the type of beauty who was ever stopped in the street, or stopped anywhere, actually, due to my looks, I was floored in the first week when two men stopped dead on the sidewalk and said "excuse me" (and I thought they were asking for directions) and then said "can we have coffee. now?" I think this is the type of experience I am supposed to treasure, ah oui, romantic Paris. I, however, am not only an American, but an American who has seen way too many Law and Order SVU episodes. So I respond more like "stranger danger!" because I am highly suspicious of anyone who would stop, well, not just me but anyone, in the street and be like "let's get together." And this has now happened to me, oh at least 10 times in the past month, the last time being outside the laundromat tonight when a man who reminded me muchly of a younger version of the guy who plays professor Lupin in Harry Potter, spoke to me rapidly in French and all I understood was "beautiful, see you, neighborhood, come to my house, glass of wine". Earlier this month, I was starting to think that maybe I had hit my sweet spot. France: a whole population of men genetically designed to be enamored of moi... I had been sadly socialized as an American who was destined to be revolted by the men who would love me.

Being who I am, though, I couldn't really take it at face value. I had asked my classmates, who are younger and very lovely, whether this was happening to them as well and they responded "no" or "very rarely". Hmmm. So one of my classmates who has already lived in Paris for a year, says "do you smile at them?" and I said "I smile at everyone." and she says "you can't smile at them, they think you want to sleep with them...do you also make eye contact with them?" and I respond, again "Of course, I make eye contact with everyone." and she says "oh no, you have to stop that immediately." so, what I'm gathering is a perplexing paradox that in a country where everyone kisses all up in each other's space when they greet STRANGERS, the fact that I acknowledge people kindly on the street somehow is elevated to the level of a full pass for a full court press. This whole exchange, by the way, reminded me very vividly of when I went to Moscow and St. Petersburg with Jane and she told me that I needed to stop smiling because it gave me away as a foreigner. "When you smile too much in Russia they think you have a mental disability," she said. SO I tried, I did, but I couldn't help it, and basically gave us away as a foreign foursome to be cheated and maligned even more than everyone in Russia is cheated and maligned by virtue of its very being. 

Another inkling I had in the first week or two was that my legs were being looked at a lot. Now, friends, I have very white legs. But the French are fairly pale, I couldn't imagine my legs being so shocking as to deserve notice. But it was starting to remind me of the time when I was in Amritsar, wearing a midlength skirt (to try and be respectful) and tourists were taking pictures of my legs because those six inches of whiteness were so scandalous that even the Golden Temple itself was not as exciting and phenomenal as my bare, white calves (um, but all their stomachs are hanging out, explain that to me). I also noticed as I looked down, walking through the throngs of people, that...no...one...else..in Paris (even in skirts and shorts) had...bare...legs. But this is France, in one of the subway stations there is a full, vagina and all, picture up as an advertisement for a famous photographer's museum retrospective. well, a friend tells me at brunch the other day "oh, only whores don't wear tights. even in summer." someone else said that only in summer would there be bare legs. whatever. 

All this to say, it turns out that my bare-legged beskirtedness combined with my doltish inability to stop grinning and acknowledging people, has made me appear to be a complete, 24-hour-access tramp. 

Regarding the smiling, I'm at a loss. I may be beyond help. But I bought leggings. 


Anonymous Jeanine said...

Julie, you are as always too funny. This totally reminded me of French or Foe- it's the book the Wellesley in Aix program had everyone read before going to France back in the day. It may be a bit outdated now (and I never did find a situation in which to apply the lessons about 'the crucial rallye'), but Chapter 1, Code 1 is 'Don't Smile!' You may be confused to learn that Code 2 is 'Flirt!' It looks like there might be free downloads online if you're interested. Hope you're having a wonderful time despite the confusion; wish I were there too!

2:19 PM  
Anonymous Jonathan Alexander said...

I swear, you need your own show. I love this story. It cracked me up. I can only imagine the horror you felt as they told you this stuff. I love it!!

9:50 AM  

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