Want more social experiments? Try these:
This article originally appeared on VICE France.
One Saturday night, while waiting for my train at Paris's République Station, a stranger asked me if we "should get to know each other a bit better."
"OK," I replied.
The guy froze, like a horny deer in headlights. "Really? You're actually up for it?" he said, laughing. "I'm not used to that!"
To be fair, I wasn't either.
You see, I had decided to conduct an experiment wherein I would say "yes" to and engage in conversation every stranger who hit on me for two weeks. I wanted to get into their heads, find out who these men are, if their tricks worked and, perhaps most importantly, if they are aware that the majority of women find what they are doing incredibly fucking annoying and more than a little bit creepy.
I did, of course, reserve the right to say "no" or to simply ignore anyone who I felt legitimately threatened by. It's important to always listen to that beep-beep echoing in your head and bolt from any situation that makes you feel uncomfortable (beyond the awkward discomfort of small-talk with strangers)—even if the person you are with is telling you that everything is normal. This guy at the metro station, however, didn't set off any of my alarm bells.
So, we started chatting. Things were a little weird; me standing stiff as a lamppost, him sitting on a little chair with his hands joined.
"I love Paris because you ladies always wear classy pink dresses like that," he told me. Through a bit of forced small talk I discovered he came from Picardie and enjoyed playing soccer. He seemed normal enough, but when I told him my age the conversation went into a tailspin.
"What? You're 29? I don't believe you," he said, disappointed. It was obvious he was losing interest fast, so I just started firing random questions off in a desperate attempt to revive the conversation. "Is being an athlete hard? Where are you from in Picardie? Do you like, um, stuff?" By then, he was only answering in mumbled single-syllable words. Punishing.
"I won't hold you back, Judith. Your man must be waiting for you," he said, finally ending the conversation. We stood next to each other in silence for the next two minutes as we waited for the metro. It was one of the longest two minutes of my life. When the train finally arrived, I got into my carriage, put my headphones on and watched as he chose a seat as far away from me as was humanely possible.
This "I'm just going to say yes to everything" adventure was off to a miserable start, but I had to keep going. Surely being 29 isn't a deal-breaker for every street urchin who might approach me.
That Sunday, while returning from a particularly sweaty jog, a guy came up to me as I was putting my keys in the front door.
"Into sport, darling?" he asked.
He was in his 40s and wearing a beige parka—the "dad look."
"That's great! I certainly hope you're wearing enough support? Because it seems like there's a lot to support there, if you know what I mean!" Here he began grabbing his man-tits and pouting his lips, for reasons that remain unclear. "If I were brave enough, I'd ask if I could touch them. Fuck it. I am brave enough! Can I? I have money if you want!"
This guy was the reason I inserted my "right to say no" clause into this experiment. He was a fucking asshole. Still, I tried to be polite but firm.
"No," I said. "I'm just trying to go home and you're making me feel very uncomfortable."
"Oooh, you should have said that you weren't feeling confident about your body," he replied.
I got inside and slammed the door shut. Every woman has encountered a creep like him before. Thankfully, I've noticed that the older I get, the less perverts I attract. Between the ages of 14 and 18, I was a creep magnet. People would ask me to go to their hotel with them or mime cunnilingus with their fingers while staring at me. To mortify me further, they would even do it while I was with my mom. There must be something about the fragility of teenagers that gets these guys off.
This asshole aside, the experiment needed to continue.
The next guy I met was named Yacine. He was an Arab, like the majority of the men who approached me over the course of those two weeks. I contemplated mentioning that tidbit because I don't want to feed into whatever ridiculous racial prejudices people might have, but it's the truth, and I used it as an icebreaker with Yacine.
"Oh yeah, a lot of them hit on you? That might be because they have better taste in women!" he told me, laughing.
I can confidently say that Yacine was by far the most charming man I met during my experiment. As I sat with him on a rusty metal bench above Belleville Park, the whole of Paris spread out in front of us, I completely forgot that I was conducting a sociological experiment.
It didn't hurt that Yacine was hot as hell. Caramel skin with long black eyelashes—it looked like he was wearing mascara. His approach was more original than the rest, too. He just walked right up and asked if I'd like to smoke a joint.
"I'm in detox, but I'd like to smoke a cigarette," I lied.
There were plenty of people around us, children playing, tourists—so I felt safe. I felt good, even. So much so, I let myself have a toke of the joint. Yacine said he lived in a small suburb called Les Lilas, in Seine-Saint-Denis. He told me that he never really hits on girls in the street, only "on exceptional occasions, when a woman is as beautiful as you are." Probably a line, but hey.
"I am trying to settle down and be serious. I want a little family and a nice house just like my parents have. I guess it's natural, I am getting old. I'm 30 now." He admitted that he doesn't think he's going to meet the woman of his dreams in the street, but he finds it amusing. Sometimes it works, sometimes he gets a straight "no."
"I'm sure it can be annoying for girls to be approached like this. Some guys are really disrespectful. But I think I understand things better. You see, my ex would always complain about 'annoying guys' approaching her, but she would also complain when she didn't get approached, because it made her feel ugly. Seriously!"
It wasn't at all unpleasant to listen to Yacine talk about the complexity of the male-female relationship. He was constantly laughing and cheerful. I really appreciated his talkative side because it helped avoid awkward silences. He didn't ask me many questions about my work, but he was interested in small details: asking me whether or not my feet were hurting because of my high heels and what kind of sports I liked playing. I think that's why it was so nice to hang out with him: he actually had something to say. We talked for a good 40 minutes, kissed each other on the cheek as we left, and I even went as far as to give him my number.
With all the other guys I met, the conversational tone shifted as soon as I told them I was a journalist. Abdelkarim, a guy I met on a Tuesday night while sitting on a bench waiting for a friend, opened with "Please don't tell me you are waiting for your boyfriend. Please!" It actually made me laugh. He was 23 and lived in Saint-Denis. Unfortunately, we may never know more than that because as soon as I told him what I did for a living, he closed up.
"Oh really? You're a journalist? So you're a Freemason? Stop lying. You're a Freemason. Or your dad is?"
I tried to explain that most journalists are in fact not members of shadowy frateneral organizations, but he wasn't having any of it and I ended up just aborting the conversation.
The following day, I was approached by two students next to La Sorbonne University. I was sitting at the terrace when they came up and asked if I wanted to have a beer with them. The kids—both history and political science students—were extremely surprised that I accepted. Once again, the conversation's tone changed after I told them what I was doing. "You're doing an article for VICE? I only read international papers. They're much better. Le Monde is right wing, and let's not even talk about Libé," one of them said, the other nodding along.
When we finished the beer, one of them left to take a bus and I walked the other to the train station. We had nothing to say to each other so I just kind of laughed nervously. He kept on mumbling about the trivialities of 24-hour news channels, the "dictatorship of emotions," the "same images broadcasted all day long," etc, etc, to infinity. Despite the obvious lack of chemistry, as we were about to part he gave it a shot, god bless him.
"Do you want to come to my place? I live close by. We would be more..." he paused.
I stood there, silent, wondering how he'd muster up the courage to finish that sentence. If I were a nice person, I could easily have smiled to imply that I got it, or just declined without leaving him the time to finish his sentence. I could even have had the tact to act as if I didn't get it and simply escape by blurting out, "Oh my God, I'm late!" But I am not a nice person, and even took some pleasure in watching him trying to get his words together.
"More... more... well... it will be more quiet," he concluded.
As you can probably guess, I politely declined.
"So, why did you have a drink with us?" he mumbled while leaving. "Anyway, Judith is a slutty name."
He certainly had no problem getting that sentence out.
Find Judith on Twitter.
Photo via Flickr user Jesse Acosta