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word on the street

4 December, 2010

They got me this morning.

“le bas?”

I turned my head, stopped and acknowledged who I thought might be a student or someone else that I know.  Instead, it was a couple of men I don’t know, trying out a new pick up line on the foreigner.  I returned their inquiry as to whether or not they had any problems and then continued on my way before the conversation could get to the shaking of hands and the exchanging of names.

On the street, I’m generally not comfortable interacting with men I don’t know and who initiate the exchange.

I’ve become immune to the countless calls of “bon jour, Madame” that I endure every week, and I manage to ignore other lines whispered at me in what I think is supposed to be an enticing voice.

“America”

“You are welcome”

Again, these words have little to no effect on me.  Sometimes, I chuckle but try not to let it show.  Generally, I ignore them because it is not the culturally accepted practice for females to respond to strange males who attempt to engage us on the streets.  At any rate, I try not to let it affect me.

It may seem like I’m overreacting to what I perceive to be as come-ons, and who knows, maybe at times I am.  But when you’re living and working in a place known as a destination for female sex tourism and where western women are stereotyped as having loose morals, I don’t think it hurts to ignore any and all comments whispered or shouted to me in the streets by men I don’t know.

At orientation, we were briefed on how to respond to harassment (ignore, ignore, ignore and seek help if needed).  Over our Thanksgiving weekend together, some of the other ETAs and I were talking about the particulars of the harassment we all, females anyway, face on a daily basis.

From what others were saying, I know I’m lucky to be the target of only low levels of harassment.  I’m sure being in a small town where more people know who I am, having The Husband with me, as well as two male friends who are often with me all help to keep the harassment down.

Other women in other cities have been felt up while riding public transit, have had men rub up against them on the street or have had very lewd comments whispered or shouted to them.  This is not as easy to ignore.  And while I’m all for making an effort at fitting in here, being asked what we were wearing or whether or not we were outside after dark as a response to our complaints about harassment really rubs me the wrong way.  No one deserves to be harassed, but unfortunately, it’s often part of the cultural landscape here.

I was talking to one of my Moroccan friends about this topic, and he told me that he too gets harassed, not by local men, but by foreign women who think they can wave around a few Euro or promises of a visa in exchange for a good time.

I have my own opinions on why all of this happens, but I’d rather not get into that here.  It’s enough to say that after seeing some of my fellow ETAs in tears due to the harassment they endure on a daily basis, this has been on my mind a lot.  We are here for an academic year to teach English and to create opportunities for cultural exchange, not to completely change the world.  I’d like to think though that, through interactions like some casual conversations I have had with friends here, maybe certain stereotypes and behaviors will decrease.

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