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.

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4 thoughts on “The Salt Chronicles

  1. Emily says:

    Okay I am incredibly sorry those things happened to you (because dear lord that sucks and after reading yours and other assistants posts about harassment I felt almost sick), but I do have to say I LOVE how you tell these stories (is that bad?). Your saltiness comes through for sure (understandably), but I do enjoy the kind of dark humor you provide as well.
    I hope France can continue to improve and figure it’s shit out about how it’s not okay to treat women and minorities in such a disrespectful way. It’s so crazy to think they’re so progressive in some ways and so antiquated in others. Anyhow, thanks for sharing your experiences so bravely.

    • Sarena says:

      Totally agree with you, those posts made me sick to my stomach. Come on, this is the 21st century, misogyny shouldn’t still be alive and well. It also sucks that my experiences were pretty tame in comparison to what a lot of the other assistants experienced…
      And no, that’s not bad at all! I was aiming for dark humor, so I’m glad I entertained someone.
      Yeah, France has miles–kilometers?–to go when it comes to discrimination towards women and racial, ethnic, and religious minorities. I really hope Macron’s election fosters positive growth in that direction. Thank you for reading!

  2. Rebecca says:

    Right with you on the Asian comments in France. While I’ve noted that some regions/cities are less intensely racist than others (e.g. Paris, Lyon, Rouen), being called out for one’s race can happen anywhere. I experienced a great deal in the south of France when I visited, since the FN tends to be quite concentrated there (which is strange since places like Marseille are filled with immigrants from north Africa, Italy, etc.). Your comebacks made me laugh, and it would be so great if they were used in real life to put those harassers in their own place that they deserved, I.e. Hell.

    • Sarena says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, even though it’s extremely unfortunate that we can agree on something like this. Hmm, you bring up a really interesting point, geography-wise. I lived in Laon, which voted Le Pen, and the majority of my experiences occurred there. It’s also funny that you mention Paris, Lyon, Rouen, and the south of France (Nice, specifically, for me) because all my other experiences happened in those cities. I’m glad I made you laugh, though, and I hope some of us will be able to use those comebacks one day!

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