The French have a word for it: l’esprit d’escalier. Literally, staircase wit. The perfect retort that only occurs to you after it’s too late.
At BDSM munch: You’re so shy.
Me: I’m normal. Everyone else is weird.
At work: Are you attached?
Me: What’s your salary?
At BDSM club: How come you never play?
Me: Because you, personally, are not good enough.
Sometimes more is merited. Including stage directions.
Man in the street: Knee How!
I turn around, allowing linguistic anguish to spread over my face. For a full 30 seconds if possible.
Me: That is not what we say in my country.
Man: What do you say then?
Me: We don’t say hello to strangers. The only men who try to do that are very … low-class.
I know that not everyone suffers from tone-deaf Orientalist greetings. The bigger problem is men randomly telling us to smile in the street. Apparently it happens to supermodels too.
People on the street need to stop telling me to smile…I am not depressed I am very happy but who walks around with a constant smile?? #wtf
— Andrej Pejic (@Andrej_Pejic) May 20, 2014
The diagnosis is monotonously alike in all cases: they just want positive interactions with a pretty woman. Unfortunately, they’re stuck with a low-efficiency approach due to insecurity and ignorance.
But think of the lovely things you can do with all that insecure male ego if you unleash your inner sadist!
Man in the street: Aww, pretty lady, it’s not that bad! Smile! Let’s see those pearly whites!
I stop and slowly look up and down the length of his body, with growing horror on my face.
Me: Good God, man, pull yourself together! Stand up straight! Tuck in your shirt! And don’t try to talk to strangers like that! I know things are bad, but you don’t have to advertise that you’re a loser, right? Chin up!
Once a teacher, always a teacher. I had no idea the experience would come in so useful.
But for my next BDSM pub night, it’s tempting to go back even further in time.
The guys at my table can’t seem to stop doing that (American) wannabe alpha thing. The women have basically given up on trying to talk and are glumly nursing their drinks.
I write a note and leave the table.
The note says: Ladies, shall we let them get on with the dominance competition? There are some nice guys over there who might want to actually talk to us. Gentlemen, good luck for next time.
God, I would love to do that. But I won’t. Not just because it’s a soggy potato chip. I’ve got to remember that it’s not just insecurity talking, it’s ignorance too.
Once a teacher, always a teacher. Here’s what I should say.
Very, very gently.
Man: Knee How!
Me: I’m afraid there are quite a lot of languages in Asia, and people can be quite offended if you assume. Also, you know you just made me feel interchangeable with every single Asian woman in the world, right?
I really don’t want to leave this country with such a bad impression of American men.
And if I ever move to a neighbourhood where people tell me to smile:
Man: Smile, baby!
Me: You know that makes me feel like the opposite of smiling, right? This is exactly the way I imagine rapists act on their days off.
And you’ve soured me on the next 50 men I meet. If it happens to me ten more times before I get home, I might have to lock myself into the bathroom and cry. Was that your intention?
It is the sad truth that for some of these men, the honest answer to that question would be yes. I would stick to well-lighted, well-trafficked areas for delivering these public service messages. You’ll still have lots of opportunities.
And I know I wouldn’t have the strength to say this ten times running. I truly respect the women who deal with this all the time and don’t end up shaking in the bathroom.
For the rest of us … maybe we can pass them notes instead?
BDSM pub night. Willy-waving ensues.
This note says: Ladies, this dominance competition is making it hard to get a word in edgewise. Shall we just pass notes until they get over it?
Men: What are you doing?
Me: Are you sure you want to know? Okay, then, read this note. What do you suggest we should do next time? Because I know you didn’t mean to make things so boring for us.
I really recommend this approach. Not the note-passing necessarily, but the sincere question: “What do you think I should do about your behaviour?”
Though I suspect it needs to go through several iterations to reach effectiveness. Till then, you can always pass notes!
Do you have any retorts to share?