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.
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!”
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.
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.