I knew before coming to France that the men would act different. I heard they have a right to “the look,” and that nothing could be done but to continue walking and not make eye contact. However, I was lead to believe that ignoring an innocent stare from a stranger was the most of my worries. I’ve come to realize the men’s draguer is really much worse.

Draguer is the act of trying to pick up a girl, though familiarly, it means cat-calling and sometimes verbal harassment. For clarity sake, I will try to organize the French men’s actions towards unacquainted women into stages.

First, there is the look. This can be done by men of any age and is fairly harmless. Although it can be annoying for men to literally turn their heads to check out a girl, their facial expressions remain neutral and no harm or harassment is done.

Words come into the picture for the second stage, but there is usually a decent distance between the man and the woman. For example, I have often been called to and whistled at from the cars stopped at a red light. This is more for fun and game, I assume, because they know as well as I that once the light turns green, they will leave and I will be left alone. Also, when walking down the street, they might shout from the other side. Though the phrases are most commonly “you are very pretty” or “how are you?” they are not being polite.

The third stage is much more aggressive. The man could either continue to call at you while you walk away, or he might even start to follow. He might throw in, “Why are you ignoring me?” and repeatedly ask the same questions. In this stage, the men often switch to English (how the heck do they know just by looking at me?!). If they are in their car, they slow down and drive along next to you.

On my second to last week of the study abroad program, I was stuck in a third stage situation. While waiting for a friend on their street, a car with four guys pulled up to a light. They rolled down their windows and were calling to me, which I ignored as usual. However, one decided to get out of the car and approach me, so I immediately tried to walk away without speaking (which would show off my clearly improper French). As he continued to follow me and ask questions, I still tried to say no more than “no” and “leave me alone” with a sharp wave of the hand. He returned to the car, they made a U-turn, and started down the street after me, shouting in English with their silly accents, “Hey gurrl, I wants to f*** you.” I was stunned, as no man in America would dare go that far. I shook them off, but I was humiliated, furious, scared, and absolutely disgusted all at once.

It seems perfect timing for me to be in France, experiencing first-hand the aggressive sexual nature of French men (always hands-off, I must note) while the media is processing the sexual harassment scandal of Dominique Strauss Kahn. Apparently, multiple politicians, including DSK, have a history of being improperly forward with women and getting away with it, which points to french culture and their nearly non-existent sexual harassment laws.

The draguer des hommes is one cultural difference I would never have fully understood simply by reading a travel manual. Sure, sometimes I just want to laugh at their ridiculousness. But other times, I have been seconds away from flipping them the middle finger and possibly creating a dangerous situation. I love being in France, but I can honestly say I will be happy to return to American men and the sensitivity towards sexual harassment. No matter how much attention a girl might like, it is never flattering to be cat-called and whistled at like an inferior object, especially while walking alone at night!