You’ve been in France too long when…, III

  • Your mom brings you madeleines from Starbucks, but they’re so revoltingly sweet, you don’t know if you’ve ever been more offended in your life
  • Madeline says, “SARENA you salty french bitch,” and it’s one of the most beautiful compliments you’ve ever received
  • You forgot how nice and smooth your hair feels when it’s not weighed down by hard water. Now you can happily go back to distressing your friends with your party trick
  • Reviewing study abroad notes for CV purposes renders you incapable of thinking in English (I typed this in English while thinking in French. It was not fun.)
  • Wegman’s makes you weigh your produce to print out a barcode sticker with the price, in true French style, and nothing’s ever felt more right in America
  • You haven’t known true hardship until you’re going through a 1000-word vocabulary list for the GRE and start reading all the words with a French accent, so you have to start over because some of them simply don’t make sense in French
  • You’re going on a walk through the neighborhood with your mom, and walking back to your car with your dad, and strangers walk past you and say “hi,” resulting in you side-eyeing them like, “Who the hell are you?” You’ve been gone from southern hospitality for too long, but at least your parents are less confused and respond for you
  • You go to vote in person for the first time, but you applied to vote absentee while in France so it causes all sorts of issues and then you can’t vote at all #yaybrokendemocracy
  • Madeline calls you a nerd when you say you have to go see the Simone de Beauvoir exhibition in DC, and you don’t even have a counterargument because you know she’s right
  • Your parents drag you along to Olive Garden, but their breadsticks are the saddest and most pitiful things after French bread
  • While watching/fangirling over Wonder Woman, you exclaim, “Hey, I’ve been there!” (Paris) and momentarily wonder why there are subtitles for the French dialogue
  • Reading Le Deuxième Sexe makes you realize it’s rather problematic that you recognize more words in a foreign language than in a GRE review book (attacking standardized tests is another problem for another day)
  • You point out to Nat, “Look, you can watch Moana in French!” You do not watch Moana in French, partly because she doesn’t know French and partly because you refused to watch it in France because they didn’t hire Polynesian voice actors/actresses
  • Autocorrect on your phone changes English words into French ones
  • You accidentally reply to a text in French…with a friend who doesn’t even speak French

The Salt Chronicles

Okay, I need to get this off my chest. France is so much more racist and misogynistic than the US—you know it’s bad when there’s not one, but two, threads on the TAPIF Facebook page featuring rants about sexual and racial harassment from men. And you know what the worst part is? It’s not just the women pouring out all their salt—some male-identifying assistants have also noticed the rampant sexism towards their friends, colleagues, and students. Don’t worry, the tale only gets better from here—like one of those horror stories that you can’t stop reading even though you know you should chuck it into a fire to stop the nightmares. Fortunately, it turns out that, if you’re Asian (East Asian, at least, I can’t speak for other minorities), you get to learn that misogyny and racism often go hand-in-hand! Here, let me casually list out all the experiences I had this year in France alone. Don’t worry, these are just the ones I remember and doesn’t even factor in studying abroad:

  • One old man referred to me as “a yellow girl.” What is this, the 1900s? Last time I checked, it was 2017. Yes, I know I’m bad at math, which must be such a surprise, but believe it or not, I do know how to read a calendar.
  • One old man actually said to my face, “Once I had Japanese conquest” and then tried to ask me out for a drink. Sit all the way down, child, because even if I weren’t gay, the chances of me going out with you were smaller than covfefe.
  • A group of high school boys actually uttered the words “ching chong” when I walked past them in the hallway. Ah, yes, let me ching the chong out of you. Don’t know what that means? Here, I’ll give you a hint—reorder the words “up” and “beat.”
  • Some random guy on the sidewalk wouldn’t shut up about how Asian girls always look younger than they actually are. Sorry, Sir Too-Easily Sunburned, I can’t help it if your ass will get old and wrinkly long before mine does.
  • On two separate occasions, guys shouted at me from their cars, though luckily I didn’t hear/understand what they said. Really, it’s too bad looks can’t kill/maim/injure.
  • One man repeatedly shouted “Une chinoise!” after me at the train station in Laon, prompting S to offer to walk me to the bus stop. Like, do men not realize how bad it is when other men have to offer to walk a woman somewhere for her protection???
  • One guy insisted on getting my number even after I lied and said I have a boyfriend. Please, Mr. Incredibly Stupid Or Desperate Or Both, take a hint. I promise it doesn’t require too much of your brain, even if yours is really small.
  • One man kept walking up to me and making kissing noises in the Gare du Nord until I stalked away instead of punching him in the face. Tbh I should’ve attacked him with a stale baguette.
  • Two men remarked, “Une petite chinoise” as they walked past me, thinking I couldn’t understand them. Seriously, what is it with white people thinking POC can’t understand or speak a country’s native language?
  • One old man stopped at a bus stop purely to ask me out for a drink. The only thing I would’ve been drinking that evening was his blood in a ritual sacrifice to Satan.
  • As I stood in a grocery store picking out a carrot and some potatoes, one middle-aged man walked behind me and said, “Tu es bien jolie.” Who gave him the right to use the informal “tu” instead of the formal, polite “vous?” No one. Not even the friend zone.

If you think these instances are bad, you should’ve seen some of the other comments from female-identifying assistants. Race notwithstanding, they’ve been punched, groped, followed—on foot and by cars—and made the victims of lewd comments and actions. Like, really? Keep that in your pants. No one wants to see it.

The most accurate comment I’ve read on the Facebook page? “Fuck men.” That essentially sums up why I’m gay. Kidding, this is why I distrust men so deeply. I’m not saying that racism and misogyny don’t exist in America. They absolutely do—look at who our “president” is. I’m just saying that, while I’ve experienced racism in the US, I’ve never experienced it and misogyny at the same time. The only thing terrible thing that’s happened to me in America was getting “cat called,” or having a guy lean out of a pickup truck at R-MC and yell, “If you believe it, you can achieve it!” sending Madeline, Nat, and me into a fit of laughter. And the racist moments have just been variations of “Where are you really from?” and “You speak English so well!” At least I could respond to those with cutting sarcasm: “My mother’s vagina” and “Thanks, I grew up here.” But what are you supposed to do when you’re 5’5” and will never top 100 pounds and your opponents are the patriarchy and hegemonic masculinity?

As one of the assistants pointed out, “It’s so sad that we have a ‘normal’ level of harassment for being female or not being a white cis male.” Because the consensus across the 200+ comments seemed to be that all these moments of harassment escalated solely in France. “Now hey there,” some fragile meninist might argue, “it’s because you were traveling alone in France!” Nope. I’ve traveled alone to Italy, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Ireland, and not once did I experience racism or misogyny in those countries. I’m sure that, at some point or another, all the people who commented have been outside on their own at least once in America or Canada—but none of that sexual harassment ever reached the frequency or intensity they did in France.

Bottom line? Even if you promised to get me into grad school and secure me a job, I wouldn’t be able to explain to you why France is more sexist and racist than the US. One might argue that it’s because they’re less diverse–but my college was incredibly white, and no one there ever harassed me for being Asian and female. And because of that, I wouldn’t be able to live in France unless I spent my entire salary on those weird white-washing, skin-whitening creams. Like, you know it’s bad when you spend nearly an hour bonding on Facebook with a Chinese-Canadian assistant you’ve never met before over how racist French men are.

PS. Not linked to misogyny, but some teacher thought I was my prof référent’s adopted child because apparently English assistants can’t be Asian. Ah yes, I have come from the land of Oriental rugs to teach your white people my flawless English.