You already have the courage to travel internationally, and you may even be brave enough to travel alone. You deserve a pat on the back or a round of applause. We live in a world where the dangers for women are exaggerated and the dangers for men are underestimated. I once read a story in my favorite American magazine, BUST, about a woman who decided on a whim to bike across the United States. What she ended up discovering was the judgmental climate that exists for a woman traveling alone. The story was really poignant for me because whenever I’m traveling alone, people look dumbfounded and do their absolute best to try to make sure I know exactly how afraid I should be. That said, this post is about the prudence required when you travel in Paris—but with emphasis on the fact that you deserve to be a confident and happy traveler!
Basic politeness is one of the most valued traits in French society, and a rule that goes along with politeness is that the French feel that everyone deserves to be acknowledged. The problem occurs when a guy comes onto you and gives you attention you’d rather not get. Things can go from a simple “bonjour” to harassment quicker than you can say “merde.” There are two types of French men (and sometimes women) you may encounter: those who want to let you know they’re interested but don’t necessarily expect you to be, and those who don’t care either way and won’t leave you alone until you give them the time of day. This basic rule applies equally to the French street dweller.
If you want to fight off unwanted attention in this country, there are three simple and important rules to follow:
1. Do not look the person in the eye. Looking someone in the eye, especially for men, is encouragement.
2. DO NOT SMILE! Here, smiling is not just being friendly; rather, it’s a strong indication that you’re enjoying yourself.
3. If he is not going away, look up briefly and give a curt and firm “non” if he is looking to sell you something, or “bonjour” if he just wants a greeting from you.
The situation rarely escalates, especially if you stick to looking down and walking away quickly or are walking with other people. Those of you from New York or other big cities might have learned these rules long ago, but a simple reminder cannot hurt.