I had been planning to write about the cold snap here in Dunkerque, and then our subsequent blanket of snow this morning, as well as the fact that my online portfolio is finally online, but then I decided to run my errands before sitting down to write.
All I had to do was run down to the local MGEN (medical insurance) office to drop off some paperwork to be reimbursed. No big deal, that went easy and exactly as it should have. In that trip there’s a quick little anecdote about me almost falling on my butt about thirty times because old stone walks + snow = slippery. It’s the return trip that I want to talk about; that and French men.
Here I am in my peacoat, giant scarf, slightly damp from the slushy-not-quite-raining rain, plugged into my ipod. I’ve made my way to the back of the double long bus and found and empty seat near the door. I’ve only just sat down when I see movement out of the corner of my eye and hear Quel heure est-il? Ok. so I didn’t so much hear it, as I said huh? and the elderly gentleman repeated himself and pointed at his wrist. Being polite I respond in the affirmative and start digging for my phone, even though I knew it was somewhere around 11 am. I tell him it’s 11:10 and proceeded to put my earphones back in assuming the conversation was over. But this is France and this is French man, and this is me whom French men have decided that some combination of my looks and accent are fascinating. [sidenote: I’ve had more compliments, cat calls, propositions and come-ons in the last three months than I’ve probably had in the last three years.] Having noted my accent, or my language mistakes (definitely said C’est onze heures dix and not Il est onze heures dix), he probed further De quelle origine êtes-vous?. I told him I’m from the United States. His eyes lit up; the French either love or hate the US and it’s citizens – there is no in between. Usually it’s the elderly or the young that love the US and adults or middle-aged folk that are adverse or numb to it. Half of me thought, ok, random stranger who is excited to meet a foreigner, the other half is thinking that he should move a little off of my half of the aisle. So far, the conversation had been pretty normal, but then he hit me with Vous-êtes vraiment très belle. Oh. Ok. Old man thinks I’m pretty. Not the first time I’ve gotten that one, so I muttered a thanks and turned back to stare out the window. Seconds later he stood up, and moved inches away from me to wait by the door for his stop. Great. I’ve put my earbuds back in, again, and hope he’s finished with the chit chat. No. Now he’s telling me that San Francisco is beautiful and asking me if I’ve been. I tell him I have family there. My new friend went silent again for a few moments before he decided to try telling me how pretty I am again. As he was standing and I was sitting I had to tilt my head up to see him. It’s just easier to understand French people when you can see their mouth moving. He took this opportunity to stroke my cheek and tell me I have stunning eyes. Oh dear. I’m definitely trapped where I’m sitting as he’s standing in the way of me getting up and changing seats, and no one seemed to care that the old man is hitting on a girl that looks like jail bait on some days. Then he leaned down, his intention definitely to kiss me. I averted my head and hoped he got the idea as I sputter out a polite non merci – what is it about the French that make me be polite when in English I’d be giving them a verbal lashing? Still trapped, and now flustered and mildly disturbed I turned up my iPod and stared at my knees hoping he’d just leave. No luck though, because he then started talking about New York and how it’s wonderful and you have to love it because it’s so different from San Francisco even though they’re in the same country. I decided to not look up and just ignore him until one of us gets off the bus. He reached his stop first and nodded his head in my direction and left me with a Bonne Journée. I replied likewise. Why? Why?! How is it that I’m so polite in French when clearly I’m creeped out and want nothing to do with this old man?
It’s not like I don’t know how to be rude in French, I do, but it all seems to go out the window when I’m talking to the elderly, or angry store clerks. Help me that I never run into an elderly angry store clerk.