Typical Thursday: I wake up at 8am, commute one hour to work, teach four hours of class, which includes telling the students to stop prying the letters off of the keyboards, spend two hours lesson planning, give a private class, commute one hour home and from the metro stop I walk uphill to my apartment (Not kidding. My apartment is at the top of one of the three hills in the city of Madrid.) This Thursday in the middle of my uphill walk I decide to stop in a little shop to look for a chess board (it’s turning out to be a more difficult endeavor than I thought).
There’s a guy standing in the door of the shop who looks at me a little too long for comfort and doesn’t say anything in greeting. I hesitate outside for a second then go in. He follows me in and starts chatting me up. Mreh.
Him: Are you on your way home from the university?
Me: No, from school. I teach there.
Him: Oh, the one at the bottom of the hill?
Me: No, I just get off the metro at Embajadores.
Pause. I turn my back towards him and wander around looking around the store. It’s small and has mostly leather goods mixed with other random items.
Him: I’ve been waiting for you to stop here.
Here we go…
Me: No me digas (which translates as a combination of you don’t say/no way/yeah right. Or at least that’s what I’m going for…)
Him: You don’t believe me?
I turn around to look at him, give him a little smile and shake my head.
Him: It’s true. Every morning I see you. I come down to open the store and I see you pass by on the street. Everyday I think, someday we are going to meet… You know, you are beautiful.
I just smile and roll my eyes. But I’ll admit he kind of got me with that line about seeing me every morning. I do walk this way to work every morning. I’m sure he, and who knows how many other people on this street, notice me everyday. And it makes me realize how much I get stuck in my own little world, not stopping to notice them back.
We chat a bit more about where I’m from and where he’s from (Morocco), and chessboards and learning Spanish. When I leave we do the customary kiss on both cheeks. He’s a bit slow on the switch from one cheek to the other, making things awkward and again making me feel mildly creeped out.
I have mixed feelings about Latin men’s flirting tactics. After a year in Argentina, two months in Mexico, and some time here in Spain, I’ve heard my share of annoying and plain disrespectful oneliners. I’ve also gotten a lot of the usual eres bellísima!, and tienes los ojos más bonitos. Puh-leeeez. You don’t actually think I’m falling for all that BS, do you? My defense tactics usually involve lots of eye rolling, inching backwards, feigning conversations with other people.
Once back in the states I started talking about this with a friend from Colombia. And I asked him: Why do you guys say stuff like that? You just say the same shit to every girl in the bar. Do you actually think we’re going to believe you?
And my friend laughed but responded in earnest: We say it because it’s true.
That Thursday when I stopped in the store was the end of a long day, and I know you could see it in my face. I also hadn’t shampooed my hair in exactly one week (trying to go ‘poo’-free!). And someone thinks that I’m beautiful? Huh?
Just to be clear. I consider myself a confident person and a feminist. I also can’t pretend to know what men, women, babies… cats…are actually thinking or what their true motivations are. But sometimes, on a particularly greasy hair day, a stranger tells you you’re beautiful. And you smile, because both of you know that somewhere in that statement—a gimmick it may be—lies truth.