I just wanted to take pictures, y’all. Really.
I am in Paris for a 10-day work trip. (Check out what happened the last time I was left unsupervised in Paris.) Not complaining at all, but it remains I am not here to visit, I am here to put in 12+ hour days. When I leave my hotel in the morning, it is dark out. When I leave the office, it is darker. I gave myself an objective to try walk 30-60 mins every day, and find something worth taking as a picture. I’ve never really explored Paris at night, this trip would be my opportunity to see the usual landmarks in a different “light”.
Monday night, I met up with a former colleague of mine from my auditing days who has recently moved to Paris. I hadn’t seen him in two years. A delightful evening, bien arrosée, because we accountants = alcoholics and French wine is bae. By the time we said goodbye, it was 11pm. The resto was located in a safe part of town, approx 35 mins from my hotel – perfect opportunity to squeeze in my daily walk and pic quest. My walk brought me to the Louvre, which I needed to cross to get to the Seine bank, where I would need to walk for 15 mins, before crossing over the river.
As I stood on the street corner waiting for the light to change, a man approached me asking me if I was lost, because I looked confused. I answered him (in French) that I was debating if the open gate on our side of the Louvre would allow me to cross the entire courtyard, or whether the gate would be closed on the other end (on the river-side); I did not feel like walking about for nothing. He reassured me that the Louvre gates remained open all night, and that in fact he was walking in that direction himself, to reach the south bank. Perfect.
I really wanted to be in my bubble and enjoy the peaceful Parisian night – it is rare to find a moment where the city is quiet, almost sleeping. Chatty stranger watched me take pics of the Louvre, despite my hints that I did not want to delay him from joining his friends. This is the only pic I managed to squeeze in before Sir Annoyancealot ruined my mood.
Having crossed through the Louvre courtyard, I noticed the normally busy Seine bank was deserted. Great. I said goodbye to Sir Annoyancealot, who insisted on giving me a goodnight hug.
I did not want this hug. It was an impertinence, which he knew – he is French: they have the best manners in the world when they chose. That he was asking/insisting on a hug meant he was up to no good. I was faced with a dilemma: tell him to fuck-off and risk an escalation, or appease him. Boxing experience notwithstanding, I’ve been trained to handle a situation smoothly, just in case. Especially on a deserted street. Guy didn’t seem dangerous, more of a low-key creep trying his luck, looking to boost his male ego. Choosing safety over bravado, I let him hug me, but with arms flexed so that he couldn’t pull me close, and he would feel my strength. He attempted la bise, which he technically achieved, despite me successfully keeping him at arm’s distance.
You’d think he would be satisfied with that, no? No.
Sir Annoyancealot offered to walk with me a little more, even though I told him I wanted to be alone to enjoy the view. He continued talking to me, oblivious (or perhaps enjoying) that my conversation had gone from politely chatty to monosyllabic. I lied about where I was headed, and he insisted on re-saying goodbye, this time holding me firmly by either arm (payback for me having stiff-armed him: he had noticed my strength, and now it was my turn to notice his) with another bise. When his first kiss on the cheek landed on the corner of my mouth, I shoved him away such that he had to take 1-2 steps backwards.
He smiled at me, “Non, mais t’es tellement mignonne, j’ai envie de te croquer, tu sais.” Dropping all semblance of manners, I gave him my boxer look, “Tiens, mec, t’es vraiment mieux de ne pas t’essayer avec moi.” (“But you are so adorable, I just wanna eat you!” followed by “That’s nice, buddy, you better not try to.”) I walked away, and he didn’t follow me.
When I told that story to my colleagues yesterday, one dude shook his head and remarked that no French woman would have let herself be in such a scenario. That comment enraged me. It reminded me of the comment my Arab friend made, after I got lewdly propositioned in Beirut. It implies it is my fault, or perhaps that the women of my nationality aren’t as savvy as the locals. Wrong. I’ve been micro-aggressed in Canada too. This is what it means to be a woman; these are the kind of trade-offs I have to make every damn day, all the time: evaluating if I am willing to put up with possible unpleasant encounters in order to not deprive myself of a beautiful solitary nighttime walk. Evaluating if politeness will be a gateway to a dangerous situation. Evaluating the risk of escalation vs the need for appeasement. Evaluating just how far to react, if the guy is an actual dangerous person or just a creep. Having to be grateful that I have 8 years of fighting experience, because otherwise that would have been a much scarier experience.
I just wanted to take pictures, y’all. Really.
Last night, I left work “early” at 8:30pm so as to give myself plenty of time to walk the 1hr walk from l’Arc de Triomphe to my hotel near Notre-Dame. It wasn’t peaceful, bc 9pm is prime social time for Parisians, and les Champs-Elysées are always crowded, but it was nighttime and I did get my pics.
Behold, Paris at night.