Today was…an adventure, to say the least. I spent lunch struggling to eat spaghetti with a fork and knife—eating noodles without chopsticks seems so unnecessarily complicated?—stared at my email for about five minutes because a professor asked if I’d write him a letter of support for his tenure application, and then made the mistake of leaving the school just as a massive flood of high schoolers got out of class.
As I was taking in the view from a bench right outside Claudel, I got an iMessage from the other American assistant here, informing me he was temporarily lodging at Claudel for the weekend, so we made hasty plans to meet up.
S and I then wandered into town and into the first bar we saw, where I had my first beer—which was surprisingly drinkable?—and my first, and skeeviest, bar experience. All of my warning bells went off when the bartender asked for a kiss from me, but not from S, so I played the stupid foreigner card to avoid having to faire la bise with the skeeviest man I’ve ever met in my life. Not to mention, the bartender made the awful heteronormative assumption of asking whether S and I were dating or whatever. Oh, and he took one look at me and started talking to me in English (if I were the kind of person who cursed, I’d do it right here). It’s fine, go ahead and assume that I can’t speak French because I’m Asian. It’s not like I haven’t written an entire Wikipedia page in French or anything. Or, you know, studied abroad in France for a whole year. Or majored in it.
While S and I were just trying to have a nice conversation, the bartender came over and annoyingly started talking to us in half-comprehensible English, but didn’t understand any of the English we said to him. He asked us a bunch of questions, like where we were from in America, and then asked me that accursed “Where were you born?” question. So I firmly said, “America,” and he wanted to know where my parents were from—“America” and my grandparents—“America.” I’m actually a first-generation child, but for the first time in my life, I felt perfectly comfortable lying to someone. Like, what did he think, that I was going to tell the truth to someone who called me “a yellow girl?” Hell no. (I concur with Madeline, who’s angrily yelling via Discord, “He can eat my entire dick!”)
After I surrendered the remaining half of my pint of beer to S, we tried to bolt out of there, except he made S sign a ten-dollar bill and then pretty much forced me into giving him la bise, so I deeply unhappily did it. And then, after we left, I promptly scrubbed my cheeks with my flannel shirt to get rid of the awful, hair-raising feeling of his stubble against my skin. (Nearly two hours later, I’m still scratching my cheeks, trying to get rid of the feeling.)
S and I both agreed that it was a completely uncomfortable experience, and that we’d never be setting foot in there again. Although S handled the situation with a lot more grace than I did, he said he’d been manically rubbing together the coins in his pocket, which I envy, because I absolutely would have been doing the same thing if girl pants had reasonably-sized pockets.
So yeah, that was the most uncomfortable moment of my life, as a woman and as an Asian. Way worse than when I was waiting alone outside the train station in Nice and a guy tried to flirt with me by guessing my ethnicity. PSA: If you ever visit Laon, don’t ever go inside the bar Vortex. Don’t do it.
Anyways, I then took S to the view of the plains by the cathedral, and we talked a bit before heading back to Claudel. When I got back to my room, I checked my email and made a pleasant discovery—there’s another English assistant here, an British guy, working at a lycée not too far from where I live. So that makes four of us in Laon—me, the afore-mentioned other American, the English guy, and the Spanish girl!