This post is brought to you by Candice Johnson, an Australian living in Paris, a city that she loves relentlessly but that doesn’t seem to lover her back. (Sounds familiar?) You can read more about the everyday struggles of her expat life in on her blog, Paris is Just Not That Into You.
Paris in the summertime is like an athlete before the Olympics – at the peak of its potential. The minute the sun comes out, the city transforms: cafes spill out onto the streets; parks swell with people vying for every square inch of sun-soaked grass; Parisians seem happier, more talkative.. more open to love!
There is only one downside to Paris at this glorious time: les gens qui draguent dans la rue – the guys who try to pick you up on the street. As soon as the weather starts to get nice, these people crawl out of whatever hole they hibernate in during the year and start menacing the city’s female population. (Seriously, where does this species go during the winter? Does it migrate south?)
Their game plan is always the same:
- Locate a poor innocent soul minding her own business and approach her with the following phrase: “Bonjour je vous ai vu de l’autre côté de la rue et je me suis dit que vous étiez très belle, et qu’il fallait que je vous parle”
- If the victim happens to be foreign, offer a flawless English translation of the script: “Hello, I saw you across the street and thought you were very beautiful. I said to myself that I had to come up and talk to you.” (Side note: in comparison to the painstakingly low level of professional English I have come across in France, les gens qui font la drague dans la rue are practically bilingual!)
- Lay on the charm until a phone number is secured.
The other day, a girlfriend posed a valid question: “Who actually talks to the guys who font la drague dans la rue?” she wondered, with the same bewilderment with which one wonders who eats the yellow Starbursts. (Seriously, who?)
Although I could not bring myself to admit it to my friend, I was naive and uninitiated once. And it was during that time that I myself contributed to boosting the success rate of les gens qui draguent dans la rue.
It was my first summer in Paris and I was on my way to meet friends at a rooftop bar. I had just emerged from the metro and was trying to make sense of my Apple Maps, when a guy approached me.
Out came the trademark phrase: “Hello, I saw you across the street and thought you were very beautiful. I said to myself that I had to come up and talk to you.”
He was tall and cute and wearing an emblematic French marinière. Of course he had noticed me from across the street and had to come up to talk to me – this was Paris, the city of love! I was running late so I told him that we would have to walk and talk. He accompanied me 200 meters to the neighboring Le Perchoir, engaging in charming conversation before promptly requesting my number. Les gens qui draguent dans la rue: 1; Candice: 0.
And so, we started dating. On our first rendez-vous he took me to a wine bar in the Marais, on our second we bought a bottle of wine and drank it on the banks of the Seine. On our third date, he declared that he wanted to play guitar for me. I assumed that he meant on another occasion, when he actually had a guitar, but instead he asked to borrow one from a street busker and then proceeded to serenade me. Yes, serenade me.
Bref, it was all a Robert Doisneau retrospective come to life. That is, until the time came for me to invite him to my place, which is when it proceeded to go more in the Steven Klein direction..
He came over, we ordered some sushi and watched a French film. One thing led to another and we soon found ourselves in the bedroom, which is where things quickly began to deteriorate. Actually, it was fine at the beginning – a little rough maybe, but I didn’t expect Parisian bedroom escapades to be vanilla, so I was happy to go along.
That is, until he started slapping me.
Let me immediately stress that it was not violent and that in no moment did I feel violated. And yet, it also did not conform to my preconceived vision of Parisian romance.
Things quickly got worse when he proceeded to ask me if I would like to engage in the act that Bridget Jones once noted as being “illegal in several countries.” I politely declined, which did nothing to deter him. Au contraire, he was just working up to the grand finale.
Giving me his best bedroom stare, he ordered me: “Get the lube, bitch!”
I had never actually kicked a man out of my apartment before, especially not mid-way through sex, but I suppose there’s a first for everything. “I think you need to leave,” I proclaimed.
Maybe it was just the blue balls, or the prospect of going back to the banlieue*, but he seemed genuinely shocked and regretful. The next day I started to feel as if I may have overreacted – after all, every date up until that point had been so lovely! Maybe this was normal French bedroom behaviour and I just needed to lay out my ground rules!
*Editor’s Note: Maybe we need a follow-up article about never giving your number to a guy from the banlieue, i.e. the Parisian suburbs?
I decided to give it another go. This time, I did my best to be forthcoming, explaining that it wasn’t his actions in themselves that had freaked me out, but the fact that they had come out of nowhere, without warning. There needs to be a lead up; there needs to be some sort of preliminary mutual understanding before “playing rough.” He apologized for making me feel uncomfortable and promised that, in the future, he would always ask me before trying anything similar.
We ordered sushi, watched a movie, and headed back to the bedroom. I remember feeling so mature and culturally sensitive for having openly discussed the topic. And he had seemed so understanding! Maybe this really was a Parisian love story…
And then the questions started.
“Can I slap you?” he asked.
“No!” Was he serious? I knew I had said that there needed to be a mutual agreement, but I hadn’t meant anything this literal!
“Can I call you bitch?” Clearly the guy thought that it was just a matter of asking my permission, and that afterwards it would be on like Donkey Kong.
When he asked me if I wanted to do the thing that’s illegal in several countries, I knew that all hope was lost and that he had to leave – this time, for good.
The next day I called up a Parisienne friend. I needed to know whether this guy was an outlier, or if this was the precedent to my entire Parisian love life. Was I just an Australian prude who needed to adapt to a more adventurous European bedroom culture?
She patiently listened to my story before finally exclaiming: “Oh Candice, don’t you know you should never give to your number out to les gens qui draguent dans la rue?!”
Now that I do know, I feel it is my duty to raise awareness about the dangers of les gens qui draguent dans la rue. No matter how attractive they may be, no matter how romantic it may seem to have a French man in a marinière tell you that you are beautiful, it doesn’t matter. Never give your number out to les gens qui draguent dans la rue.