A while back a complete stranger, a man from the Balkans or perhaps the middle east, came up to me wanting to start a conversation. He quickly changed from German to English, asking me if I spoke English. I told him English was fine. He then asked me if he could talk to me a bit. I was initially uncomfortable, now even more so. I asked him rather sternly why he wanted to talk to me, to which he answered – to get to know me. I told him that I did not want that. This exchange of words is not new to me, I can recall several other occasions on which men have attempted to speak to me. Each time I am filled with equal amount of emotion. Primarily I feel uncomfortable, and mildly frightened. I feel like my personal space has been invaded and based on what? How attractive they found me? Like that should give them the right to approach me? At the same time I feel sad. Sad because situations like this ruins my own ideals. I often tell people how sad I feel that humans speak so rarely with strangers for when I do that I often enjoy it very much. I often talk to the woman next to me on a train, drunkenly they tell me stories of their husbands from Mali and the African BBQ they are having tomorrow, or how they are going to visit their sons. I talk to the older men who tells me how they have work as dentist all their life, or how their sons are involved in yoga in some exotic place like Brazil.
Why does the men, like the man I met today, bother me so? It is true that I am exceptionally bothered by men approaching me in more or less all situation, in general I just think that they should go ahead and mind their own business. Yet this kind of situation is even worse, because it feels forced upon me. A man runs up to me from behind, after observing me for I don’t know how long, and forcing me to engage in a conversation with him. It is not the case that we just happened to buy tickets next to each other on the train or the bonding over a complicated ticket machine from the local transportation company or the confusion that might occur while deciding upon which detergent to buy. In situations like this there is nothing that connects the two of us.
Am I then to feel rude and unfriendly if I refuse and leave the man standing? I do not think so, yet this is how I believe that people expect me to feel – guilty, rude, like the ultimate teasing bitch. The look on the mans face as I told him I was not interested in getting to know him told me more than words ever could.
A while back I had a similar experience on a train but this time there was no possibility to say no or to leave. An African man squeezed in next to me into the window seat, even though there was plenty of free seats as the car was almost empty. He engage me in a conversation about the woman he used to travel with, how he is trying out for a football team in someone of Germany’s smaller cities, and so on. I did not really want to talk to him, but he would not let me continue reading my book or listen to my music as he insisted on continuing the conversation every time I took up my book. He tells me that I am very beautiful, I roll my eyes and say “yeah” in the most sarcastic tone I can muster. Not because I do not believe he means it, but because I do not want him to say it. Compliments given on visual appearance without context is simply forcing your opinion, or judgement, of someone onto them without them having asked for it. It is not a compliment as some might believe, it is an insult. It reduces you as a person to visual appearance, and your visual appearance to their approval.
He continues by telling me he wants to go to Sweden and that if I took him there, he would come with me. I tell him I will not take him. He change and says that he would take me to where-ever-he-was-from and I tell him I will never go with him. I try my best to explain to him that the way he is approaching me is not a proper way to do things in the west. I guess this might not be true for all individuals, but in general I believe that few women appreciate this. In our conversation I am constantly irritated as he pays no attention to what I actually say, not listening to my objections and rejections, but tries to use them for his own motives. Yet I enjoy this meeting with another culture, not so much because it is pleasant, because it really isn’t, but because it teaches me a little of someone else’s world view and more still of my own.
The experience ends when he leaves the train. He does not seem to understand that I will not get off the train when he is leaving, and he asks a few more times if I will leave the train when he does and go with him, or if I will go on. It strikes me now that he expresses a world view in which he is completely ignorant to my purpose of being on the train, that for him it is unthinkable that I have my own destination. I tell him repeatedly that I will not leave with him. He leaves. I purposely do not look out the window.
I wonder if these are experiences a man ever has.