Being a young woman in Europe has done a LOT for my confidence level when it comes to men.
I can attribute this to quite a few things:
- Language and Cultural Barrier – is actually a plus in a lot of situations. It makes both people more open and accepting of the other!
- Being a Foreigner – ooooooh, shiny! Being an American girl who speaks relatively good French is like being a novelty item. I can do no wrong for quite some time before people realize how loud, stubborn, and bizarre I am.
- I clearly LIKE France, and always have plenty to talk about.
Basically, I get a fair amount of attention in France. Much more than in the States, though I think this has a lot to do with how open I am to recognizing and accepting it – I’m able to let my guard down here in a way I find very hard back home. I like to think it’s a result of my dazzling charm and effervescent beauty (ha!), but I have recently had my suspicions confirmed as to the REAL root of it all.
Which is the simple fact that I smile. Let me explain.
Americans smile. Like, they smile a LOT. In private, in public, at people, at inanimate objects. We’re just a cheery bunch, and it’s nothing unusual to smile at a stranger on the street…and have them smile straight back (except in New York City). This is actually one of my ways of determining who’s American in French cities.
And I am an especially smiley American – people regularly asked me why I looked so happy in the morning during high-school in Texas, and in the slightly chillier Northeast, I think I actually really alarmed some of my dorm-mates freshmen year of college. Suffice to say, I flash the pearly whites at family, friends, strangers, buildings, trees…and think very little of it. Smiling is a nice way to arrange one’s face. Also, having been told I look angry/I-want-to-kill-you when my face is relaxed, I’ve adopted a sort of constant smile as an offensive maneuver.
However, in France (and from what I hear, the rest of Europe as well), smiling is not only unusual to do in public, but the equivalent of a forceful come-hither-I-am-SUPER-INTERESTED-IN-YOU look.
You see the confusion?
There are am, just smiling at a street lamp — and any boy/man who happens to be in the line of that street lamp thinks that I think that they are my soul-mate. This has led to a few comical situations, one of which was:
That Time a 35 year approached me while I was attempting to buy tomatoes. This occurred near the end of my stay in Rouen, when my French is actually proficient enough to understand what’s going on, and allowed me to respond appropriately. It went something like this.
Man approaches me while I am surveying produce. He informs me he saw me from across the way, through some binoculars. YES, creepy, but less so because there’s also a Brocante (or Antiques) section of the market, so the chances of him actually seeing me while trying out some old binoculars is plausible. We make a little small talk, which involves him asking me questions, and me answering them without revealing too much personal information. We finally get around to age, and when I discover he’s 35, I say, flat-out, without thinking about it, IN FRENCH:
“Wow, you’re old”.
He acts wounded, and informs me that love is ageless, boundless, and it’s what’s in the heart that matters….to which I respond “That’s nice. But you’re still too old. Very nice, but much too old”. After a few attempts to get my number/arrange a dinner date, he gets the idea, and we part rather pleasantly. In the end, I was pretty happy, because I got to practice French for a good fifteen minutes!
Other highlights being stopped while riding a bicycle through Lyon (I was smiling at the wind in my hair), being approached on the beach in Toulon (I was smiling at my book), and being asked out by a strawberry vendor (I was smiling at the fruit). If I plan in advance and think about it, I can adopt the slightly unattached, disinterested look most French women sport on the street, and get by alright, but I often forget.
So be aware, and beware. Smiling means more than you think!
Thankfully, what has made this experience pleasant instead of overwhelming or uncomfortable is the simple fact that French guys take “thanks, but no thanks!” pretty well. If I’m interested, well great! If I’m not, that’s fine too, and we can both move on cheerfully. There’s no assaulted manhood, or wounded pride, or anger in response (which is something both I and my friends have experienced on multiple occasions in the grand ole USA). This takes a lot of fear and discomfort away from meeting new guys – I’m not trying to figure out to manage letting someone down, just trying to get to know them.
Also, a HUGE plus on the French Guys side of the list is their openness and superb communication skills. SUPERB, almost over-the-top communication skills. I had always assumed that men were more aloof than women, naturally gave shorter answers, and never wanted to have deep meaningful conversations. Finding guys who weren’t like that in the USA was like finding something special and unusual. Finding a guy like that who wasn’t gay was like finding a unicorn.
It turns out men want to share their feelings and hopes and dreams just as much as anyone else. Huge shocker, except that it is really tragic that that was a shocker, for all men and women involved. I was rather overwhelmed by the directness and openness of French guys at first, but have come to really appreciate it. It’s nice to know someone missed me, or had a nice time, or is confused about what they want to do in the future. Takes away a lot of the guessing.
I love this. That there are most definitely other ways to be a man than the distorted Macho Man boys in America are pushed into. I’m actually bowled over by how much I assumed was innate to men, that turned out to just be taught to American men. Must keep this in mind when I return.
And finally, they truly do dress better. Take pride in ironing their pants. Spend significant time with a comb and a mirror. No basketball shorts to be found.
Just some observations and another thing I’ll miss about this place…