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The perils of solo travel, or, how to sexually harass someone without even trying
I was dining alone in a popular Antwerp restaurant. The waiter had seated me so that I faced another table less than ten feet away. A middle-aged woman and her college-aged daughter sat there. The daughter was directly in front of me facing to my left, so if I looked straight ahead I was looking at her profile.
I didn't give it any thought as I ordered. Sometime during my appetizer I noticed the daughter kept turning to look at me. At first it was just every few minutes, but by the time I got my main course she was giving me annoyed glances every thirty seconds or so.
Obviously she thought I was staring at her. I tried to look elsewhere. She kept looking over so often, though, that anytime I happened to look straight ahead, she'd "catch" me. I began to feel a bit guilty, like when I'm walking home at night and there's a woman walking in the street ahead of me. I hate when that happens because I know I'm making the woman uncomfortable. What do you do? Speed up and pass her? Slow down? Both look suspicious and are only going to make her more nervous.
But we weren't alone in a darkened street; we were in a busy restaurant and she was sitting right in front of me. What could I do, squash my face into my plate of venison?
She started whispering to her mother in French. They'd been talking normally before, but now their conversation changed into a angry, conspiratorial whisper.
At this point my guilt changed into annoyance. I mean, where else was I supposed to look? In fact, for the past half hour I'd been deliberately trying to avoid looking forward. That probably made me look even creepier because now both mother and daughter kept swiveling their heads to check on me.
The bill came and I paid. More whispering. Just as I stood up, both turned on me with snarly little faces, mother and daughter the same snarly little faces.
"Peeg," snarled mother.
"Peeg," snarled daughter.
I ignored them and walked off. I would have explained it was all a misunderstanding if they had looked open to that approach. My second reaction was to say, "Sorry to rain on your parade, kid, but my wife is twice your age and STILL better looking than you." That wouldn't have gone over too well either. Instead I said nothing, got my coat, and headed out into the night.
So guys, if you're traveling alone be sure to bring a book to dinner, otherwise you may be mistaken for a male chauvinist "peeg".
Photo courtesy Alex Castro and the London Anti-Street harassment Campaign.