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really honest postcards from lyon: part four

Be sure to check Lip weekly for new instalments of Really Honest Postcards from Lyon, April Smallwood’s six part series on life as a young Australian expatriate in France.

Image via April Smallwood

Image via April Smallwood

Dear Michelle,

I’ve been cooking a lot of Filipino dishes lately – adobo and sinegang mostly; kare-kare oxtail stew is next, because it calls for peanut butter. Like a cosmic high-five from the universe, I walked by an Asian supermarket recently and it was like coming home. Remember that time in NYC when we hit up Chinatown for bún bò? It was just like that. A culinary cure for homesickness. Maybe it’s proof we miss our mothers. Or maybe in this city, where I am the foreigner, the food of my people makes me feel less invisible. It’s a declaration to the French: ‘Hey, you with the baguette crammed in your pit! I have an identity too! And it’s all tangy broths and vinegary chicken, and next-day rice fried with garlic and salt.’ I doubt they’d care. Filo food is a hard sell. Very messy. All pork, no butter.

Incidentally, the neighbourhood that’s home to Lyon’s Chinatown is where I experienced repeated street harassment. And worse than I’ve ever known back home. The more you and I have been back-and-forthing about misogyny, the greater responsibility I feel to stick it to men who interrupt a woman’s evening walk, a trip to the supermarket, or really any public outing that’s necessary to live a functioning life. Without detailing every incident, I will tell you the worst of them. I was waiting out front of Part Dieu train station when a man, drunk and loose-eyed, approached. After talking at me for two minutes, he kindly assured me that if I were his wife, he would not beat me up as others do. Then he gestured his clenched fists into my face, at which point I told him to go home. A watered-down version of what I was thinking but too afraid to say.

A survey conducted this year found that of the 600 women who took part, 100 per cent had been victim to ‘gender harassment or sexual assault’ on public transport. One hundred per cent! In April, a French television commentator wrote online that being whistled at on the street was plutot sympa, i.e. ‘rather pleasant’. The comment is now a hashtag, #plutotsympa, used by women to recount dickheads behaving badly in public.

This whole ordeal has helped me shed a desire to be likeable. After countless disrespects, I got irate, which is unlike me. I’ve also perfected my “fuck off” face and, when threatened, walk around as if ready to strike. What’s most frustrating is that it’s impossible to stand up for myself when I can’t yet do so in French. To make myself clear, I’ve been flipping guys off and avoiding clusters of men at night. Things only really improved when I moved to a new arrondissement. I realise the lesson I’m preaching here is terrible. Tired of being harassed? Change suburb!

I’ve attached an anonymous young woman’s amazing reflection on what I’ve touched on. I really don’t know how to proceed. I’m certain my aggression towards gender offenders won’t change them. I am disappointed that you can’t buy a country loaf without some guy taking your walking sans escort to mean you’re in the market for one. What do you think? I suppose talking about it is a start. Teach our kids to be strong and respectful when we have them. I’m out of ideas.

I’m silly on cider now. Trying to remind myself that these letters need not be profound or insightful. So the Croix-Rousse markets sell really cheap, perfect raspberries for €2.50 a punnet. I thought about doing the Amélie Poulain one-on-every-finger bit, but didn’t. Instead, I sat each berry on my tongue and felt the singular beads dissolve. I also picked up a bag of white peaches that are so incredible they negate the need for dessert.

So, this could very well be our final month in France. We’re both waiting for word on two very exciting jobs in Paris, but August is dead here with people off on holidays, so updates are slow. While in limbo, we’ve been pitching articles to websites, watching a heap of Louie, and doing lower-back exercises. The thought of coming home early has grown on me. It would be rather nice to grab a Sunday coffee and share baked ricotta cheesecake with you.

Are you free? Y/N/M.

– April

You can read the rest of April’s Postcards here.

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