I interrupt our Paris broadcast for a rather sobering update.
Sometimes I hate being female. In this very paternalistic world, we are born the weaker sex. Calm down feminists (trust me, I am one too) – biologically and physically, we are the weaker and smaller sex. It’s a fact. The problem with this is that we are more often than not victimized by virtue of being female. And having been conditioned to just acknowledge and accept that we are the weaker sex, I think we are sometimes too passive or complacent when we do become victims of physical, verbal, or emotional abuse. In Vietnamese, we say that women are like fluttering rose petals at mercy of the wind.
I like to think of myself as a fairly seasoned female traveler – aware of the pickpockets and tourist scams. I take several precautions to prevent theft, robbery, abduction, and worse. In certain countries, I like to carry with me a can of pepper spray or my multipurpose pocket knife (excellent for backpacking btw). It’s irrational, but there is a sense of security in that, and in the proper situations, I do not hesitate to employ these tools. Sometimes – and just those rare sometimes – you let your guard down. And these are the moments when disaster strikes.
Case study. Earlier today as Viv and I were transferring at the Châtelet Metro, my head was suddenly pulled back as someone violently yanked my hair. I turn around to face a rather obnoxious male prankster who had the audacity to sneer at me and continue on his way as though nothing had happened. Something inside me exploded, and despite being aware that I was in France, I loudly fumed four-letter-American-obscenities and made a raucous. I finished my tirade and turn to walk away, until a large wad of spit found its way to my head. The disrespectful gesture triggered an instinctive reaction and I turned and planted a slap on my aggressor’s face. I faintly remember my head being pulled, and then the story ends.
I awake and find myself on the floor of the dirty Metro station, and rapid French is being spoken as Viv frantically asks if I am ok. I get up slowly and though shaken, I was otherwise unharmed. I walked away from the scene wondering if I had done the right thing. Had I overreacted? Was I not aggressive enough? Was I suppose to turn the other cheek? Did I faint due to fear or was I knocked out? Should I have informed the Metro police? I’m not usually shy about using force – I’m the girl who elbows perverts on the dance floor. And yet over dinner at a local bistro, these questions lingered in my mind as dense as the cloud of smoke from the table beside us. What was the appropriate thing to do?
In retrospect, the only lesson I can draw from this experience is that no matter what foreign country you’re traveling in – regardless if you know the language or not – never let your guard down. Do not assume that because you are in a well-to-do nation that things like this don’t happen. Whether you are caught in the middle of the Red Square or haggling for souvenirs at Chợ Bến Thành or merely watching the toy boat race at the Tuillieres Garden, stay alert of your surroundings. Constant vigilance. A can of mace probably doesn’t hurt either.