How you doin: mapping the world through pick up lines

If you are a woman of any size, age or shape and you’ve walked down a street in any city in the world, you’ve experienced it: the whistles the cat calls, the winks, the terrible pick up lines. The language may vary, but the message doesn’t.

I’ve spent enough time in enough countries now to have developed a kind of mapping system for the different ways the men of the world hit on women.

I often travel alone, which I’ve realized some men take as an open invitation for unwanted conversations or often, straight up offers of sexual intercourse.

But while the gist of the message is the same wherever I go the methods vary widely between countries.

New York

I have heard some absolute doozies and it’s not pretty, in fact it’s often downright disgusting, but luckily I’ve never experienced anything worse than a bit of salty language spat in my general direction.

In the US, I find, men usually shout things from afar. The classic image of a construction worker whistling as women walk by isn’t that far off. It seems like these gestures are so grand and public, it’s not so much for the benefit of the subject of the comment, but more for whoever else might be in earshot.

One particularly memorable encounter came in the parking lot of the Marin County Civic Center, where my mom was working at the time. I was walking to my car when a pickup truck drove past and the driver rolled down his window. He leaned out and seemed to be about to ask me a question, so I turned to hear what he was going to say when he shouted: “Hey, nice tits!”


South of France

In France it’s just the opposite; instead of yelling across the street, men manage to get as close as possible without actually touching and then whisper things in the most invasive way. French men say words that in some other situation might be quite nice, but when breathed into one’s ear by a complete stranger, create a sense of utter violation.

It’s always unexpected; I’ll be minding my own business, carrying my groceries or walking to the train station, and out of nowhere I’ll feel a blast of hot, sticky breath and hear the words “manifique” or “belle” brush past my ear before I realize what’s happening and have a chance to jump back. The forced intimacy leaves me feeling in need of a hot shower and the idea that even other people sharing the sidewalk have no idea what’s transpired is beyond creepy.

Of course sometimes its not that subtle. The other night I was walking home from the bus stop after returning from a flight and an older drunk man looked right at me grabbed his crotch and said “vous voudrais baise avec moi”? (basically translates to “want to fuck?”) At least he addressed me with the formal vous


In Italy, it’s usually just blatant staring. Not pleasant, but less invasive than French men and less offensive than American. It’s more a case of bad manners, or maybe a symptom of a culture so infused with machismo, the men have no shame in leering with abandon.

On a recent trip to Istanbul, I saw the turkish men in action. Their technique is more refined – inviting you for a cup of tea “just as friends” and then before you know it you’ve got their phone number programed into your phone and a dinner invitation.


In Israel the various comments from men are confused as the politics. In Tel Aviv the sun bleached beach goers are incredibly pushy and persistent with their propositions.

On a recent afternoon walking along the beach, I had a guy on a bike pedaling along side me for half a mile asking me if I wanted to get lunch. Later I got up from the beach bar where the Englishman and I were drinking beers to go to the bathroom and in clear view of our table, a Jeff Spicoliesque character leaning against the seawall started by asked where I was from and then proceeded to ask me what I was doing later and why I wasn’t dining with him.

On the other side of the spectrum, strolling in West Jerusalem in the Old City one evening I was dressed conservatively in long sleeves and loose pants with just my ankles showing. I was lightly holding the Englishman’s arm when two religious men walked past us and one turned his head and clucked disapproving at me while shaking his head.

Tel Aviv Beach

Palestine is a mixed bag as well. I often walk around by myself in Ramallah picking up  groceries or taking photos and for the most part there is no bother whatsoever. But I’ve heard stories of an increase in Egyptian style groping and verbal abuse creeping in.

The worst I’ve experienced was more surreal than sinister; I was walking in the center of town when I heard the words “hello how are you” pronounced in an almost mockingly correct American accent. I turned to see a group of five young Palestinian boys  ranging from about 10 – 12 years old.  As I turned to face them, the ringleader of the group looked right at me and said “sexy, sexy, sexy” while holding his arms up and making squeezing motions with both hands.

Like most women, I’d prefer to walk down the street in peace, but since that is clearly not an option, I am taking notes instead.

10 thoughts on “How you doin: mapping the world through pick up lines

  1. ‘Tis a cross we bear as women. The fact that men the world over seem to think that expressing their desires in such a way are a good idea is bizarre to us. Maybe it’s some form of catharsis to shout at a woman they find attractive that indeed they do.

    While waiting to cross the road in a small town in Devon, a young man leaned out of his car and said ‘Show us your g**h’. I’m afraid I didn’t have time as the lights changed and he drove off. His loss.

    While walking down the street in Brixton, London, an elderly gentleman came right up to me and exclaimed that he wished to ‘bury’ his head in my ‘p***y’. Again, not much time for me to allow him, as he quickly walked away. Another loss for mankind.

    One gets used to that but it’s the come ons from the men one does know that are most startling. Once at a party a man with whom I was talking calmly asked, ‘So, have you ever slept with an artist?’ This wasn’t a French movie so I wasn’t inclined. The other was an acquaintance creeping up behind me at a public event and exclaiming ‘I love your body!’ No thanks.

    These experiences, and there are plenty more, always leave me wondering whether or not a girl/woman has ever turned to one of these fellows and actually said, ‘Alright then, lets do it.’ It truly would be an achievement for mankind.

  2. I love this Lucy! Such funny and astute insights. You are so right. I wonder what the success rate is for these types of come ons. I can’t imagine very high.

  3. My sister, an attractive woman and blond, was in her mid-twenties when she got a scholarship to teach in an inner city school in Paris. Her roommate was also a blond and, by definition, statuesque in her height and beauty. Both described the french street come-ons as “revolting” as they’d suck their teeth and stare as they walked by. Being young and strong women helped…and 30 years ago they just shook it off. The street leering, unfortunately, is still in practice it seems…

  4. It’s true, things don’t seem to have changed much… It seems to me that regardless of looks, height hair color weight etc. Women of all stripes have become accustomed to the come ons.

  5. It differs by culture, but always leaves me feeling both vulnerable and in need of a hot shower. My worst was in Egypt; dressed conservatively with all covered but my ankles (much like you) I walked away from my husband to use the restroom and once he was out of ear shot, a group of young men started clucking disapprovingly, pointing, and saying who knows what in Arabic. So uncomfortable!

  6. I love your last line! It can be so funny and pathetic but I guess like everyone I’ve had my share of the very creepy (Azerbaijan tops my list for that). I think your suggestion of taking notes is a great revenge, and in the case of the creepy, a good way of sharing support too.

    • Thanks! I totally agree. Every woman I know has a few stories like these and it’s better to share them and laugh than feel scared or limited by it. What happened in Azerbaijan!?

  7. I would not be shocked or surprised at all if the guy on the bike in Tel Aviv was the same sleazy guy that intially seduced me with his flirty charms but then repulsed me when I later saw that I wasn’t the only lady on the beach at the receiving end of his affection!! Did he have an electric bike and a ridiculously hot body?? I fall for men like him every time I’m in Israel, it’s becoming a bit of a problem!

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