Exactly one year ago, I got into my first street fight.
No, I did not weave my way into a passionate love triangle, or fall subject of a dramatic mugging. Instead, I simply got in way over my head with a bunch of drunken French fools.
Let’s backtrack. It was February of last year, and Muse and I were having dinner with a few friends at Le Dauphin in the 11th. Amongst them were: a fashion designer, his (slightly more masculine) best friend, another guy and a model he happened to be in love with. The guy and the model left early to go meet other friends, while the four of us stayed at the restaurant to finish up our wine and long raunchy conversation. As we were getting ready to leave, we received a call from the guy: “Come to Tabac on Rue des Francs Bourgeois in Marais! It’s so much fun here!” (FYI, a Tabac in France is usually a simple café that sells cigarettes, alcohol and coffee, i.e. a one-stop-shop for all your vices.)
Most of us were living in Marais at that time so we decided to check it out. We arrived at the Tabac to discover the guy and the model dancing behind the bar and chugging shots with some random chubby guy, who I assumed was the bartender. I noticed that the model was charging her phone behind the bar and decided to seize the opportunity to charge my own device. I come up to the guy I had assumed to be the bartender and politely asked him if he could plug in my phone. He nodded, took it, and disappeared behind the bar.
Half an hour later I was ready to retrieve my phone. The chubby “bartender” was still drinking with the model, pouring vodka shots in her mouth as she wrapped her long, spidery arms around him to support herself. (I was starting to suspect that he must be gay, as the other guy really doesn’t seem to care.) And so, I came up to him, smiled, and asked to retrieve my phone.
The following conversation transpired:
Him: “Um, what are you talking about?”
Me: “My phone? The one I gave to you to charge?”
Him: “I never took your phone”
Me: “What do you mean? I gave it to you to charge, remember?”
Him: “Why would I need your f*cking phone? I have my own phone”
Me (panic building up inside of me): “But I gave it to you, to charge! Can you please think about where you might have put it?”
Him: “I don’t need you f*ing phone. And, by the way, you’re not pretty. Like, at all. ”
I was confused. How did my looks have anything to do with my absentee phone? I later learned that said man was, in fact, not a bartender, but a model agent (hence the affection of our resident model). I suppose that, to him, this was the lowest of insults.
Not usually one to make a (public) scene, I went outside to cool off. I wanted to salvage the evening and suggested that we leave. “Its just a phone,” I said. Except that, at this point, it was no longer just about the phone. My other friends (model excluded) were starting to get angry, and the designer’s slight more masculine bestie was even volunteering to beat up the agent-bartender.. No way was I going to let him fight some blubbery guy on my behalf. “If anyone is going to hit him, it should be me,” I said, only half-jokingly. The designer’s eyes lit up. Exited to see how this was going to play out, he oh-so-generously volunteered to hold my bag. And so, I handed over my pochette and headed back inside the Tabac, where the bartender-agent was eagerly waiting for round two. I decided to give it one last try. “If you were to have taken my phone, where do you think you may have put it?” – I asked, attempting to use all my conditional tenses to guide his drunk ass in the right direction. He laughed, turned around, leaned down and pointed his finger towards his derriere. “Here.”
I was considering what to do next, when something caught my eye. His phone, an ugly silver Samsung-esque thing, was conveniently perched in his back pocket, just itching to be grabbed. My inner high school bully came out, and I snatched it and ran outside, where I started prancing around the sidewalk and doing a Hot Potato-style juggle with the phone.
Uh-oh. Now we were talking. Now that matters concerned his phone, it was no longer fun and games! Before I knew it, three crazy Frenchies, bartender-agent included, were lunging for the phone as though it was a bar of silver instead of a mere Android device. I decided not to push it and surrendered the Samsung. Loud French cursing ensued.
At this point, my friends were livid. Muse, being Latin, was verbally attacking the bartender-agent’s friend, who was busy explaining to her precisely why his buddy did not need my phone: “He lives in a 60-meter apartment. He doesn’t need her stupid phone.” I’m not sure what was said next, but, all of a sudden, the guy was pushing Muse and she was flying backwards on the pavement in her Balenciaga coat, landing on her backside.
At that moment, I saw red. Enough was enough. I came up to the agent-bartender, looked him in the eye, and pronounced the words that I have proudly re-quoted myself on ever since:
“I told you not to f*ck with me.”
BAM. I clocked him in the face. Not hard, but exactly like my kickboxing instructors had always taught me.
It was ON. In a matter of seconds, four French men were piled on top of me, ripping out my hair, Mrs. Trunchbull style, swinging me by my coattails, and tearing open my blouse. In my head, I was just praying the entire time that my new Stella McCartney coat would survive. (It did.) Granted, my friends came to my rescue, and this Tug of War – with me as the rope – continued for a few more minutes, until somebody somebody finally broke it up. If I close my eyes, I can still feel the sensation of my hair being ripped out of its socket.
Slowly, the chaos died down. Muse and I were left standing there, scratched and bruised, all the buttons missing from our blouses. The designer came up to me, fixed my hair, and made a little DVP wrap out of my top. He had not participated in the fight (one has to stay pretty for the Vogue Runway picture) but at least our bags were safe and sound. Defeated but proud, we headed home.
My phone was rescued and returned to me the next morning. It turns out that the bartender-agent had sobered up and started crying out of guilt for ruining the his sister’s classy birthday party at the Tabac. One of his delinquent friends had then reached into his pocket, pulled out two phones, and said: “Dude, why you getting all upset? I have two phones right here!” One of said phones was mine.
As for me, I learned that, in France, it’s not just every man for himself – it’s also every woman for herself. Apparently, there is nothing taboo here about hitting a woman, about ripping out her hair, or tearing her blouse to shreds. Also, nobody is likely to come to your defense (I have seen people get robbed in the broad daylight), so learn kickboxing and watch your back.
Liberté, égalite, hostilité. Amen.