If you’ve never used a Turkish toilet before, consider yourself lucky. For those of you unfamiliar with this human-waste gem, feast your eyes upon the following photo:
That’s almost a pissin’ image of the squatter I used as an au pair girl in Paris many moons ago.
After high school at the age of eighteen, I quit the waitressing job, packed a bag, and flew to Amsterdam where I took a crowded, overnight train to Paris to save a few bucks. A wise decision considering I had eighty dollars in my wallet and no credit card. Only a tiny piece of paper with the name and phone number of my host family who was supposedly meeting me at the train station, a family with whom I’d never communicated other than through an agency go-between months earlier (before email and cell phones existed).
Luckily, they showed up, but saying they were warm and welcoming would be a lie.
My quarters for the next year consisted of a tiny room on the servants’ floor of an old apartment building. My little sink ran cold water only; I had no heat for four months; and I had no electricity for three. Plus, you’ve already seen the communal toilet shared by us commoners.
Did I care?
No. I didn’t understand what an introvert was back then, but I knew I preferred my own quarters to spending my evenings in the family’s home. I used their bathroom to bathe, spent the days in their Parisian comfort, and limited my fluids after five pm.
So what did I mind?
The rude coming-of-age awakening that walloped me like a used condom. My apologies for the crude simile, but you’ll understand in a moment.
Up until then, I assumed girls could do anything boys could do, and that included exploring a foreign city on my own. Although I met some other au pair girls in a morning French class I took while my charges attended school, I never hung out with them afterward. Shyness was part of it, but I now understand the bigger picture. I liked being alone.
My only day of freedom was Sunday. On my first outing, I collected my travel guide and with youthful zest, embarked on my Parisian adventures.
It took about a week to trample my spirits.
Why? Well, let me list some reasons:
- “Hey, you, American girl, come to my room. I take photo, no?”
- A bevy of Algerian men hanging outside my school as I and the rest of the girls walked out. To use the word leering would be understating their expressions. Lewd is more apt.
- Several sightings of French men whacking their happy moles, either in their cars that I made the mistake of glancing into, or, yes, in broad daylight as they watched girls walk by on quiet streets.
- My introduction to frotteurism on the Paris Métro. Come on, men, really?
- Being cornered in an empty Métro station by a mumbling man and having to kick him in the shin to escape, then running like a wild woman to the next Métro station and trembling for hours in my dark, little room.
So yes, I grew up quickly. I learned to limit my Sunday exploration to between ten am and four pm. I learned which Métro stops to avoid. I learned I could still explore the city I loved, albeit looking over my shoulder the whole time.
Would I do it again? Absolutely. Youth saves us, don’t you think? Our naivety makes us take chances we otherwise wouldn’t.
And if I’d have missed out on that year, I’d have missed out on a lifetime.
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