Politeness has become so rare that people mistake it for flirtation.
I read this sentence and it strucks me that this has been my reality since I divorced and especially since I started this ongoing journey. But the sentence should be refrased.
Politeness is mistaken by men for flirtation.
I’m sitting on the balcony outside my dorm at the hostel in Bhagsu enjoying the scenery and stillness from the valley below. I watch women working in their homes. The men are running restaurants, shops and everything else that is outside the domestic domains. This is a world decided in two. The female and the male. I haven’t spoken to one single woman since I got here. I would love to but they are nowhere to find in the public. Therefore I do understand men’s reaction when I, as a single woman enter the male world.
I am a visitor in this country, I always try to dress in a way that fits this culture and I always try to be polite. Being polite is about simple everyday actions. Like saying hello when you enter a restaurant, a shop or a bus. That is what any man would do. This is what I do. But there is a big difference between how I am treated when being polite. Men can engage in a conversation about anything. But with me it’s always questions about my family. In other words, if I’m married. When they find out that I’m not the question that follows is always Are you looking for a husband, or Don’t you want to marry. As if being married makes me as a woman more or better or …
So yes, I do understand our cultural differences. What I don’t understand is men from modern and enlightened countries and their behaviour.
Starting a conversation with men is tricky since they often take that as me flirting. No matter if they are Asian, European, Australian, African or American. Locals or co-travelers. A simple Hello often ends up in a not so pleasant Goodbye.
I met a co-traveler in Yangon, Myanmar. We are on the same train, we are both backpackers, we say hello, we start a conversation. We accidentally go to the same restaurant that evening. We continue the conversation about traveling and life. Being polite and having a pleasant conversation is no more nor less than being polite and having a pleasant conversation. At least to me. It all ended with him being very upset with me for not showing him the same sort of interest in him as he was having for me.
I had a coffee at ma favourite cafe in my hometown, sitting outside enjoying the weather. A man comes sits next to me, we say hello and start a conversation. The conversation is pleasant and when I leave we say goodbye with a smile. A week later a go to the same cafe with a very good male friend. We enter the cafe, I see that same man sitting by a table, our eyes meet, he notices I have male company and from that moment he always turns away when he sees me.
Age is of consequence. This only happens with men my age or close to my age. Never with young men. Just now, a young co-traveler from the Netherlands and I had an amazing conversation on life and how traveling can transform you. It started with a simple Hello and went on to a pleasant goodbye.
Some of my friends have advised me that I should tell people I am married and that it would save me from this kind of male behaviour. True. I could. And it probably would.
But by doing that we accept this male behaviour. We accept it and with that we silently tell these men that it’s OK.
Women shouldn’t constantly have to shield themselves. Men should be taught that having a conversation with a woman is nothing more than a conversation. Otherwise he needs to do a reality check. That only takes one question. And if the answer is not in his favour that doesn’t make him less of a man. Bad reaction to an answer not in his favour makes him less of a man.