petite anglaise

August 4, 2005


Filed under: city of light — petiteanglaiseparis @ 12:36 pm

I take a seat in the métro, and adjust my ear buds. I rather like the journey to work in August. Most Parisians have sloped off to the beach for a few weeks, so the carriages are empty but for a handful of tourists. And I do enjoy tourist-watching. I wonder, idly, what it is about being on holiday that saps people of whatever dress-sense they may once have possessed.

I smooth down my gauzy skirt. I love the way it moves when I walk, but as it is so floaty as to be barely there, I can never quite shake off a feeling of paranoia when I wear it. If you are a girl (or a transvestite for that matter), you will be aware of the perils of the skirt/shoulder bag combination. A perfectly demure knee length skirt can and will end up skimming the top of your thighs on one side when you have walked not 200 metres, as a thoughtful passer by (female) pointed out to me the other day.

A doddery old man gets on at Gare de l’Est. He looks about eighty years old, has a small, wiry build and wears fairly non-descript clothing, except for a sleeveless beige jacket with lots of pockets, which I have decided to call a safari jacket, for the purposes of this post.

Ignoring the swathes of empty seats all around me, he sits down in the seat next to mine. Except he doesn’t. He sits down half on his seat, and half on mine. On my floaty skirt, with the whole of the left side of his body touching mine. I was already leaning against the window out of choice, but now I am pinned to the wall, whether I like it or not, unable to move.

I wonder what to do.

First, I cast about for a sympathetic person to roll my eyes at. The lady opposite avoids eye contact and pretends not to notice my predicament.

Maybe, I say to myself charitably, he just sat down clumsily, and this unnecessary proximity is purely accidental. Any minute now, the man will move further onto his own seat, muttering an embarrassed apology.

The metro pulls out of the station. The man doesn’t move. Instead, he appears to lean in closer.

Maybe, I say to myself with increasing desperation, he hasn’t noticed that he is sitting almost in my lap. After all, he is staring into space with a very vacant expression and could well be senile. In which case, this is all perfectly innocent, and nothing I say will make a blind bit of difference anyway.

The man buries his elbow further into my right hip.

Two more métro stops go by as I dither, rehearsing suitable lines in my head.

Sarcastically: “Would you like to sit in my lap?” (Too dangerous. He might well take me up on the offer.)
Politely: “Would you mind sitting on your own seat?”

I opt for a different approach, which involves standing up abruptly at the next stop, pulling my skirt from under his leg sharply, and shooting a disdainful glare over my shoulder as I flounce over to sit on a nearby strapontin.

I breathe a sigh of my relief, but am still not really 100% convinced that Mr Safari Jacket was intentionally doing anything lecherous. I may well have been overreacting.

When I arrive at my destination, I realise that Mr SJ has vanished.

Odd. I don’t remember seeing him get off.

As the metro pulls away, I spy a girl through the window. She is sitting at the far end of the carriage against the wall and is cringing away from a little old man wearing a beige safari jacket.

I feel vindicated, but also rather depressed at having my suspicions confirmed. Clearly it is a waste of time giving anyone the benefit of the doubt these days.


  1. I thought for a minute there you were going to have an unfortunate ‘skirt tucked into panties’ incident after standing up. Phew.

    Comment by Sammy — August 4, 2005 @ 1:51 pm

  2. eeeewwww. YUK! Lecherous old man! I guess one *could* take it as a compliment, but it’s so….awful! It must be how he spends his days. Jamming pretty young things against windows……


    Comment by Kasey — August 4, 2005 @ 2:18 pm

  3. Uncanny! The EXACT SAME THING happened to me on a bus in Peckham, London. The bloke was shoving himself sideways against me, with such force that before long I moved and went to sit at the back of the bus. He kept turning around staring at me every few seconds.

    I guess they’re everywhere. Brrrr!

    Comment by Teebee — August 4, 2005 @ 2:21 pm

  4. One of my favourite moments in the world…
    not lechy creeps, but coming back from lunchbreak to daily tedium and finding a shiny new post on PA.
    Hurrah! Thanks, Petite!

    Comment by Lucy-Jane in Rennes — August 4, 2005 @ 2:35 pm

  5. I am a martial artist and have been the ‘bad guy’ at a number of self defense seminars. You should never give anyone that makes you feel uncomfortable the benefit of the doubt, ever. Better to hurt their feelings than to put yourself in a dangerous or uncomfortable situation.

    Comment by Bob — August 4, 2005 @ 3:54 pm

  6. I had a similar situation happen to me, about a year ago, on a streetcar in Toronto, Canada. I was sitting by the window, and a young, attractive gentleman sat next to me. As the trip progressed, he keep nudging closer and closer to me, until he too, was almost on my lap. I shoud have said something, (like yell at him to embarrass him, or perhaps complain to the driver) but did not want to draw attention to myself and my situation. I think some men know this about some women, and use it to their advantage. I am furious with myself for not saying anything at the time. Finally, in a fit of anger and frustration, I got up, too early for my stop, and just stood by the doors until it was time for me to get off. Well didn’t the little creep get off with me? I had to cross the road to connect to another streetcar, but the light was red, and traffic was heavy. He came right up to me, told me he was lonely, and asked me for my phone number. I sputtered angrily no, that I was married, and that what he did on the streetcar was disgusting. I ran across the street as soon as the light was green, and thank god, there were other people waiting in the shelter for the next streetcar to come. He stood around that area for about 5 more minutes and then walked away. My heart was pounding so hard and fast, I thought it would burst out of my chest. I really wish I had dealt with that situation differently; been more assertive and less ‘victim-like’. I’m usually pretty good at sticking up for myself, but in situations like this, I seem to crumble.

    Comment by patricia — August 4, 2005 @ 4:22 pm

  7. It’s probably my loud chinese mom’s influence, but when things like this happen, I never hesitate to stand up, turn around, and berate people. I would have skipped my stop, walked over, and stopped that nonsense. At least you would have had the gratitude of that other victimized girl.

    I don’t know why more women don’t raise the alarm when this shit happens.

    Comment by nardac — August 4, 2005 @ 4:44 pm

  8. This Mr SJ bears an uncanny resemblance to the cretin bothering me yesterday on the RER A. Hm.

    Comment by ludivine — August 4, 2005 @ 4:47 pm

  9. We all need to stop being naive. Men don’t do things unintentionally. They know precisely how to make a woman feel embarrassed or in the wrong when they are being scoundrels and sleazebags. They perpetuate women’s naivete and then prey on it. (Okay, not 100% of them, but a rule of thumb to apply in case of any doubt).

    Comment by Tess — August 4, 2005 @ 5:10 pm

  10. Why oh why is the google ad for bridal petticoats and crinolines?

    I will never understand google ads (from which I have now earned the princely sum of $11.00) but they do provide boundless amusement…

    Comment by petite — August 4, 2005 @ 5:23 pm

  11. Re Google – gauzy/floaty/skirt? I too, feared a leaving of the train with the skirt still on the seat underneath the horrible man. Whew!

    Comment by Claypot — August 4, 2005 @ 5:40 pm

  12. Well, how worried do you think I felt? The last thing I felt he deserved was to see my knickers…

    Nardac – sadly I only saw the other woman in difficulty through the window, as the train pulled away, otherwise I like to think I would have shown more solidarity than the woman opposite me!

    Comment by petite — August 4, 2005 @ 5:46 pm

  13. Being a largish kind of bloke I rarely get anything like that happening on the tube. However, when I was about 17 a deeply mad old lady sat opposite me and proceeded to tell me how many children she’d had. She then revealed the source of all those childern by lifting her skirt and screaming “they all came out of here!” and repeatedly pointing at her farmyard area. Scarred for life, I can tell you!

    Comment by Monkey Gland — August 4, 2005 @ 5:56 pm

  14. Maybe to be left alone one needs to dress with no style at all. It is a sad world that we live in…

    Comment by Anne — August 4, 2005 @ 6:08 pm

  15. “Clearly it is a waste of time giving anyone the benefit of the doubt these days” I love this line. So true.

    I love your writing PA.

    Comment by eddo — August 4, 2005 @ 6:34 pm

  16. Urgh. When I was (a very young looking) 16 and on a disastrous exchange trip that necessitated my travelling around Paris alone for two weeks, this disgusting old man with foul breath and an erection came up to me on the Metro, and asked me to go home with him. Then he followed me down the platform when I speedily backed off. Most distressing. I don’t think it had anything to do with style though – I’m embarassed to admit that I was wearing a winnie the pooh t-shirt and pair of bermuda shorts.

    Comment by rachie — August 4, 2005 @ 6:37 pm

  17. there is nothing wrong with expressing your feelings – especially when in the right. i do, and have done so in the past when using public transport – which is almost everyday.

    Comment by zed — August 4, 2005 @ 6:46 pm

  18. I too am afraid to say anything and just move to another seat or stand for the rest of the trip. I have heard too many stories of gun or knives bein pulled on people who speak up. Sigh, such is the violent society we live in ..

    Comment by Julia — August 4, 2005 @ 7:48 pm

  19. Yes , unfortunately we do live in a violent society……A good knee to the groin probably would have solved your problem!!!

    Comment by Jeffrey — August 4, 2005 @ 9:18 pm

  20. oh Monkey Gland–farmyard area! Awesome. I was swimming in a secluded spot at a beach where I grew up ( a place I had been hundreds of times)when I saw a man sitting on the sand watching me. Deciding it was time to mosey on to busier parts, I got out of the water and walked away, only to notice that his privates had somehow tumbled out of his pants and he was staring at me. I hurriedly walked away and proceeded to tell everyone I passed going in that direction about the exposed man. Several people kept walking in that direction, hopefully going to beat him up. There is NOTHING wrong with making a fuss if you become uncomfortable, even if it turns out to be unwarranted. Better safe than sorry in my book. If I had been a little older, I probably would have shouted at the dude on the beach, but I still warned others so it wasn’t a total loss.

    Comment by Leslie — August 4, 2005 @ 9:34 pm

  21. I’m sorry this happened to you, Petite.

    Myself, I enjoy plucking the miscreant’s hand from it’s unfortunate position and holding it aloft, with a bewildered cry of: ‘And WHOSE little hand is THIS?’

    Works every time.

    Comment by anan — August 4, 2005 @ 10:16 pm

  22. Comment dit-on “dirty old man” en français? Oh, la la, quel monde.

    Comment by Lisa — August 4, 2005 @ 11:36 pm

  23. Ugh. Once in Los Angeles, a little old Armenian Man jestured for me to board a bus in front of him. I thought, “How sweet!” And then he pinched my ass.

    Comment by Nicole — August 5, 2005 @ 8:12 am

  24. In the mosh pit at the front of a crowded festival, a female friend felt an uninvited hand creep between her legs from behind. Suddenly, rather than try to push the offending hand away, she grabbed it and pulled with all her might, then turned round. This had the effect of unbalancing the creep responsible and bringing him to his knees, with the reason for his predicament all too apparent. He was given a savage verbal beating by my friend to add to a doubtless very sore shoulder, and the vocal and possibly physical abuse of all those around him. She released him finally and he slunk off. Perhaps she should have dragged him to security, but I think she’d proved her point.
    Conversely, at the same festival I once got a painful back-kick on the shins from a girl who obviously thought I was trying something, when I was actually trying to stop myself from being pushed up against her by the crowd from behind. I understand – given the behaviour discussed here – why she might have been suspicious, but I was nonetheless pretty indignant when I was attempting to *prevent* myself getting too close!

    Comment by jim in Rennes — August 5, 2005 @ 9:51 am

  25. In this day and age, it’s horrible that we need to remember that some public transport weirdoes are potentially mentally disturbed and/or packing weapons. So while standing up for yourself is admirable, it can also be unwise.

    Fortunately I’ve only had to deal with people who sit right next to me and have evil body odour issues. How can you deal with THAT tactfully?!

    Comment by Gab — August 5, 2005 @ 11:09 am

  26. Unfortunately, banning people from sitting too close to you must be a tough one to legislate, he’s got the law by the balls and some terrified young lady by the hip.

    Comment by Mr. Andrew — August 5, 2005 @ 11:47 am

  27. I enjoyed your description of the whole unfortunate little incident. I won’t bother to recount the tale of having my bum fondled on a bus in Rome or being chased through the woods near the Acropolis by a Greek with an erection like the leaning tower of Pisa….

    Comment by jj — August 5, 2005 @ 12:06 pm

  28. I suppose it could have been much worse… Dirty old men are the suck.

    Comment by Michael M. — August 5, 2005 @ 12:17 pm

  29. To answer Lisa’s question, “Vieux dégueulasse” seems to be an good translation for “dirty old man”.

    Comment by Olivier — August 5, 2005 @ 2:37 pm

  30. Yuck!

    Reminds me of the time I was on a very crowded tram in Hong Kong. There were (as usual) no spare seats, and I was standing, crushed between several chinese males. After I had fought my way to the front of the tram (you have to get on at the back and off at the front) I realised that there was a curious white sticky substance on the back of my skirt. In my innocence I at first thought it might be ice-cream. It was only when I tried to wipe it off that I finally realised that it was something much worse, eminating from someone’s trouser-department!

    Comment by Cat — August 5, 2005 @ 2:49 pm

  31. Every time I imagine being in that situation , I think I know what I would do. But when it happens, no words can come out of my mouth! Why?

    Comment by Carole — August 5, 2005 @ 2:51 pm

  32. OK, then I think I need a french translation for “F*** off”.

    I got so angry by your post, but could only think of how to berate him in English, unfortunately.

    I really would like an effective, stock insult to have at the ready. “You dirty pig-dog” from MPATHG just won’t cut it, I’m afraid. ;O)

    Would it be considered rude to call him “tu”? As in “Je crois que ton pénis est plus petit que ton cerveau, salop!”

    Or, does that just sound like “Your mother smells of elderberries!”???

    Ahhh, the subtleties of language…

    Comment by Ronica — August 5, 2005 @ 3:21 pm

  33. Oh ick – that sort of thing is grim. I hope it didn’t spoil the rest of your day…

    Comment by birdy — August 5, 2005 @ 10:23 pm

  34. At my step-son’s wedding in France this happened to me with the man standing behind me during a long photo session. Unfortunately I had to suffer in silence as he was the priest who had married them – respected by all. Bastard!!!!

    Comment by Pat — August 6, 2005 @ 12:21 am

  35. Jim from Rennes comment reminded me of something funny– I was at Paris Hilton’s party, ordering my pink martinis at the bar, when I felt a most forward grope… I mean, homebase without the leg creep… I flashed around, ready to scream, my eyes wide open in shock… only to see my gay boyfriend winking and nodding in the direction of some anonymous hottie.

    What to do? I was torn between the feeling of violation, and being horribly turned on. So I just shrugged, and turned my attention back to the bar, where, there was a similarly gorgeous boy fixing my drinks.

    Two seconds later, the same thing happened. But, this time I grabbed the hand and turned around to face my offender. It was none other than my gay boyfriend. He said he wanted me to hit on the hottie.

    Right. Sometimes, they’re so not gay.

    Comment by nardac — August 6, 2005 @ 5:26 am

  36. WHY suffer in silence, Pat? They should have been disabused–imagine what he’s gotten away with since, and it could be with minors! If not embarrass him in front of the guests and potentially spoil the couple’s moment, at the least a word with someone who can do something after the day is over.

    Comment by Tess — August 6, 2005 @ 11:36 am

  37. Now I feel really guilty, but at the time – in a foreign country, amongst mainly strangers I did what I thought was best at the time. Later I did tell someone but he seemed pretty unassailable. However I noticed he was not present at the christening.

    Comment by Pat — August 6, 2005 @ 4:01 pm

  38. Reminds me all to clearly of my first Paris metro experience…mine involved the creep exposing himself, so I think you got away lightly!

    It’s now a week since I said goodbye to my man…does it get any easier?! After this time, we’ve said we won’t be saying goodbye again, it’s too hard. I don’t know how you do it…

    Comment by Nicnu — August 6, 2005 @ 6:49 pm

  39. Damned As I wear only a scarf, maybe it is good I never go in the subway….

    Comment by Negrito — August 6, 2005 @ 7:21 pm

  40. My sister and I were on the train, late on evening, when the guard asked us if we would mind moving into a different carriage. We were the only people in that carriage apparently and he was concerned that 2 young ladies were alone at the end of the train. He found us seats in a compartment (that shows how long ago it was) further up the train. The only other occupant was was a young man who then spent the rest of the journey reading pornography!

    Comment by Rae — August 7, 2005 @ 2:00 am

  41. wow i found this site by chance whilst googling life in france – so glad i did cos its fascinating! looking forward to further posts and catching up with what’s gone already.
    and down with creepy old men!

    Comment by la patineuse — August 8, 2005 @ 3:09 pm

  42. Saw you (in many places) on the francophile, english-speaking websites. You should see the looks we all give each other on the London underground nowadays – the most innocuous Jansport rucksack is bursting with explosives. I’d almost rather a weird person (for peace of mind). Do you have those psycho-wrangles for the elbow space on airplanes? Nudge here, inch there, wait til they adjust their cushion then grab?

    Comment by roger — August 8, 2005 @ 7:24 pm

  43. It is sad that human nature is so predictable, and that the negative things we feel so often prove to be correct. But I suspect that yielding to those negative feelings is one more defeat to those like Mr. Safari Jacket who would be well-served by a slap across the face.

    Comment by W. S. Cross — August 8, 2005 @ 8:05 pm

  44. Ewwwwwwww.

    Comment by cass — August 9, 2005 @ 11:12 pm

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