Last night on my way home after dinner (around midnight) I got a good taste of harassment from a crazy, vulgar Frenchmen.
I sat across from a man on the metro, whose penetrating eyes on my body made his misguidance evident, and within minutes he began to talk "at" me rather than to me, as I was but an object. He said some very inappropriate, crude, insulting, derogatory things to me (insinuating I was the kind of woman that would come home with him, to put it nicely), all of which elicited reactions from the other men on the train. I was grateful for the defense, as I really didn't know how to react. My first feeling was that of sympathy, as this man was clearly not right in the head. But then as he gestured to my exposed shins (I was wearing a just-below-the-knee dress, not at all scandalous) and stated, "C'est une salope," I was filled with the urge to punch him hard in the face, and spit on the ground in front of him. Instead, I alternated between laughing with the other bystanders at his impudence, and giving him stone-cold eyes for his abhorrent behavior.
The disturbing part of this situation was not the insult or debasement I received, nor was it even the disrespect for women in general that this man showed. Rather, it was the moral dilemma I faced afterwards, in trying to decide what would have been the most virtuous way to react. Was it virtuous of me to not really react to the man? Sure, it was safer and empathetic, as he was clearly not right in the head. But it also didn't feel just. I didn't do anything to teach or help the man, or even to simply defend myself against such degradation. I believe anger has its place, and I even think there are times it is important to react to the feeling of anger. But I also know the danger of such reactions, if improper.
Anyone who reads this, I would be really interested in hearing other perspectives on this situation. Please post a comment or contact me in some way :)
So I am going to do a little re-cap of the past several weeks...
Three weeks ago I took a 4-day trip to Amsterdam! This city was absolutely amazing; I fell in love. The endless supply of canals make for a breathtaking view, no matter where you are in the city. As a Minnesotan, I of course advocate and love biking (Minneapolis is the number one biking city in the country, after-all; suck it Portland!) and thus loved Amsterdam. Their cycling rates are 10 times higher than those of the United States.
*Side note: I wrote a research paper in a class at UMN about cycling in Europe, and coincidentally focused on Amsterdam. Here is an excerpt from that paper:
"In Amsterdam, some of the reforms the Dutch government made in the 1970s hugely impacted the bike routes in the city. The bike lanes were made larger, nearly two times longer, bringing the total kilometers of bike lanes in Amsterdam to 400km. There are many streets to be found in both Amsterdam and Copenhagen—“bicycle streets”—where cyclists get the right of way and cars are forced to be cautious (Pucher and Buehler 2008, Figure 2). There has also been a major increase in a number of streets which are for bikers only—cars are prohibited from driving on them at all (Pucher and Buehler 2008: 514). Networks of paths have also been created in these cities to steer cyclists away from the busy streets. With this kind of integration, cycling is even more efficient for commuters, and eliminates the issues with congestion."
My good friend Ida and I (who joined me for my adventures in Holland) rented bikes for two days, and were able to see most of the city in that time. I highly recommend this city to anyone travelling through Europe; I found Dutch people to be extremely friendly and helpful, and the acceptance of English-speaking was very welcoming as well. Contrary to popular belief, the city is not defined merely by the Red Light District or the hash-bar Coffee Shops :)
Upon returning to Paris, I had the pleasure of welcoming my newlywed cousin Jesikah and her husband Jon into my home to stay for four days. We had a great time together, and I was glad to be able to show them around Paris. They have been traveling around the world for a 6-month honeymoon (how cool is that?), and wrapped up their travels here with me. We spent a day at Versailles, which I had not done yet. The palace was incredible. It was really interesting to learn about the state of things leading up to the French Revolution, and see first-hand how extravagant the lives were for the royalty, while the rest of the country lived in deep poverty. It was especially interesting to make the comparison to today, and to see how the same issues are still happening. People are richer than ever, and meanwhile people are also suffering more than ever. But I digress....
Jon and Jesikah have mastered site-seeing by this point in their journey, so we were able to see all the most important places very efficiently, leaving plenty of time for mindful conversations, lazy picnics, gooooood wine, and some live music. One day we got bikes and toured the city, and it was not nearly as convenient as cycling through Amsterdam was.
I loved having them here, and it definitely got me excited to see all the other people I love back home!
Early Spring I met a French-woman that asked me to give English lessons to her three children, and last week was my final week teaching, as they are now in Israel for summer holidays. Yet another tough goodbye, because of course I got close to the family over the past few months working for them. Last Thursday I brought the kids to my restaurant so they could practice ordering in English, and then this Monday we had our farewell picnic.
Yesterday (Tuesday) I went to another farewell picnic for my friend Donna (another au pair, from Canada) just outside Paris at Bois de Boulogne, and last night went to the Paris Opera house for a Ballet with my friends from Kiwizine! It was magnificent, and definitely made me miss my days as a ballerina.
Now I have exactly two weeks left here in Paris, and I am really disoriented about the fact that my life here is coming to a close. And on that note, I gotta go spend the little time I have left exploring this vast and intricate city :)