Before today I hadn’t been ogled at, stared at excessively, stalked or asked out for a cup of coffee. Not in Paris at least. Today, all this changed at approximately 3.53pm when I was sitting on the train on my way back from work. The change came into full action when I noticed an old man wearing a dark green St. Patrick’s Day t-shirt sitting opposite me. You know when you can just feel someone’s eyes burning into your forehead, even when you’re not actually looking at them? Well that’s what was happening. I looked up once and I couldn’t help but notice his overly large, oily nose and eyebrows which curled aggressively at the corners. I wanted to believe for my own sake that he was suffering from a mental illness, but I really had no sympathy for him. I smiled awkwardly and got back to what I was doing. Sadly for me, I didn’t have anything to preoccupy me. No ipod, phone or book I could pretend to read. I considered taking out my map of Paris but that would just scream “tourist” and I didn’t want to be victimised. I was truly and utterly screwed. So I decided to play with my train ticket and read the terms and conditions from front to back about five times until I probably looked like I had a problem. It was obvious I was trying to avoid eye contact. The man was carrying an extremely large white bin liner filled with an unknown specimen and for a second I was hoping and praying that he wasn’t in fact carrying the body of a person he’d just killed a few minutes ago. That second lasted a long, long time.
Finally the train pulled up to my station but as I stood up I saw that he was also leaving his seat. I watched him head for the train door so in my utter brilliance I decided to take the door on the other side to avoid him. But as I sneakily paced it to the escalator I caught a glimpse of green and as I turned my eyes slightly I saw the white bin liner behind me, clenched in a fist. I couldn’t bear to look behind me and I was only too anxious to walk as far away as possible from him. After all, he must have been at least 65 so he wasn’t going to outrun me. But then, to my horror, I glimpsed the dark green t-shirt to my left as he went to stand beside me on the escalator. As we walked into the terminal I could feel his heavy breathing mounting on me and he whispered in my ear “vous avez une belle sourire” (translation: you have a beautiful smile). Number one way to creep a stranger out: look like a pervert and comment on their smile. So I smiled at him awkwardly with the smile he’d so deeply fallen in love with, said thank you and then power walked to the tube line. I avoided the escalator (given my history) and took the stairs on the left of it, taking two steps at a time as I tried to distance myself further and further from him. There were about 8 other tube lines and directions that he could have been going so there was a slim chance he’d be following me. But just to be on the safe side I hid behind one of the vending machines on the platform before the tube came. I needn’t have bothered…10 seconds later he peeped his head around it and asked if I’d like to go for coffee with him. Unbelievable. I felt like I was starring as the victim in an awful, awful movie. I said “I’m English”. Which didn’t really answer his question I know, but I find that the “I’m English” card suffices in many situations. He still responded with “The English are charming. You are charming”. VOM. He asked again if I’d like to go for coffee with him but I said “I don’t like coffee”. “Tea? The English love tea”. “I don’t like tea”. “Coke?” “I don’t like Coke”. “I’m very nice you know. Why don’t you want to go for a drink with me? I’m charming too” he said. Last time I checked, the charming checklist didn’t involve stalking young women. He asked if I was getting off at St. Michel (his stop) to which I replied in the negative. He then asked if I was staying in Paris to which I similarly responded with a firm “No”. I shrugged and turned my head but caught his reflection staring at me in the tube door, watching over me like a hawk. I only knew that if I moved away he’d follow me. His hand was inching closer and closer to mine on the metal rail but I knew if I let go that I’d lose my balance. An unsympathetic Frenchman looked on, enjoying the charade with his crooked smile.
Moral of the story? When a creepy old man asks you out for coffee, don’t say yes. Unless you want to get eaten for breakfast.
Watch this space.