Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Boyz in the bar

A while ago I was speaking with an English male friend who lives in Paris and he said to me:

"The problem with the girls I pass on the street in Paris is that they don't look at me! In England I used to feel like a handsome fella because girls would actually make eye contact with me and I'd feel they were giving me the ogle of approval. In France I feel like a suited monster with a briefcase".

Let's leave aside the evident question arising from this statement, that is, why my friend needs a girl to make eye contact with him in order to feel pretty. And let's also acknowledge the fact that if girls don't look at him it might be because he blends with the crowd because if he did resemble a monster, girls probably would look at him, as the juxtaposition of a monster with a briefcase would be an unusual sight and attract many onlookers.

I'm merely using this quote as an example of numerous comments i've had from, mainly boys, both French and from other backgrounds, who say that the problem with the girls in Paris is that they are reserved, `closed off', and don't make eye contact.

If that's the case, there's no need to wonder why. I've already talked about this in my earlier post on boyz in the street. I've found that if you make eye contact with this sector of boydom -these boyz in the street whose life is dedicated to harassing lone women - more often than not this is interpreted as though you are up for sex and biscuits behind the bins, right that minute.

Hence you don't make eye contact with anyone and `innocent' boys like my friend suffer low self-esteem.

I arrived in Paris as what you may call an open person, my wide eyes bumbling over every building facade, studying every face, ready for chance encounters and conversations with other forms of life who could potentially contribute to my little, but growing, collection of knowledge. A little over three years later I now pass a lot of my time studying the ground to avoid eye contact. I think I've changed my behaviour to shield myself from the boyz in the street and I don't like this one iota.

In summer I enjoy shedding some layers. I like to feel free to wear a short skirt if I want. But now if I am going out walking on my own, day or night, I find that my wardrobe is dictated by the boyz in the street. I now find myself strolling about in sacks, hesitating to wear something that I think might draw further attention to me, even if it's what I normally feel most comfortable wearing. Instead I cover my breasts with a protective armour like I am going out to battle.

I try different techniques for dealing with them. Lately I have just been saying absolutely nothing, quashing my natural tendency to curtsey and be polite when someone addresses me. A boy I passed the other day leered at me and said "bonjour", letting escape some further opinions on my body and I didn't respond, forgetting the incident within a nano second.

But sure enough, further down the road, at the fruit market as I was squeezing a melon to determine its ripeness, I felt his hot tobacco breath against my ear and my pursuer said:

Vous etes très timide où vous ne parlez pas Francais?

For him the only possible reasons I might not want to speak to him are because I am shy or because I can't speak French!

Forced into a response by his insistent proximity I said: "non, c'est plutot que je ne veux pas trop parler avec vous".

After my fairly benign rejection he started to spit derogatory remarks at me, so what started out as his praise for the beauty of my face which apparently he believed could launch a 1000 ships or at least a supermarket brand of perfume, ended with him placing a curse upon my kennel. You hardly want to go behind the bins with someone as fickle as that!

One unconscious `technique' that did seem to work the other night was when I went to the Australian bar to watch the football. Havi was working, so in a last minute decision to watch the match I slipped into the bar on my own.

I arrived at the bar a little bit early, found a seat and started reading my book.

Even though I was holding the book up to my face like a pair of sunglasses to protect me from the radar of lone boyz, a boy broke off from the stools at the bar and started dancing about in my personal space, throwing questions at me.

I toyed around with the idea that perhaps it was just a matesy thing, we're both here to watch the match, we can talk strategy and tactics. But his opening: "Where are you from? Australia? Oh welcome Australia!", followed by his disappointed look when he found out i've been living here for more than three years (less chance that I think he is exotic) and his fly-ridden comments about my beauty were less than promising.

When the match started I was so transfixed I completely forgot he was there -although I vaguely remember a voice at my ear attempting to tenderly explain the foreplay.

At half time, when I removed my eyes from the screen, he excused himself promising to be back soon - and he never came back!

I looked down at my book which was opened up to the chapter entitled "Pussy Power" and reflected on how here I was, a girl alone in a bar not holding on to her boyfriend's hand and asking questions like: "oh what happens if the goalkeeper gets a red card, do they have to play without a goalkeeper?" (admittedly a question I asked H yesterday while holding his hand) but a girl genuinely interested in the match on her own terms. Perhaps because this boy had a chance to put me in context: to see beyond my meat, to see that I was an independent character who reads about the power of the pussy and has opinions on football, he realised he could not objectify me, got scared and ran away. Perhaps my show of independence was a strength not to be reckoned with.

Of course there may be any other number of reasons why he left - perhaps he thought it was pas la peine to wait until the end of the match and go through the rigmarole of harrassing me and that it would be much quicker to go to a peep show up the road.

This reminds me also of something that happened to me in Sydney quite a long time ago. A boy on the street came running after me and gave me some worn out and creased line, accompanied by an old piece of paper with his cell phone number.

Before I had the chance to say anything, he was running off. So I flipped open my phone and rang him straight away:


"Hi" (suspiciously, out of breath) "Who is this?"

"The girl on the street who you just gave your phone number too!"

Alarmed, shocked, stuttering: "Oh I didn't expect this..."

"But you gave me your phone number ya dingbat"

"You're not a crazy stalker are you?"

He couldn't believe that I'd actually called him so he started questioning my sanity, which says something about the success rate of boyz in the street and how well they actually cope when the woman starts to act upon them.

Of course after the initial shock that i'd actually phoned him wore off and he was safely hidden behind some bush he started to get all cock-sure again. So I made some some polite excuse about having a husband and an old dog to feed and rang off.