On the streets of Paris, one survives on wine, baguettes, and irresistible bohemian French men.
What no one ever told me was that these dashing men exist amongst an array of trashy crude catcallers who tend to prey on twenty-something, English-speaking women. To my dismay, I learned this in the worst possible way.
It was just after 10 o'clock on a hot summer Sunday night, when I hopped onto the metro from the city's quaint Montmartre neighbourhood, heading to watch the Eiffel Tower light up.
Having grown up in a big city, I've never been fearful of venturing out on my own, in places known or unknown. Confidently, I might add.
This, this was different. I was in France. Bonjour and merci were the extent of my lingual capabilities in this city.
I stepped onto the train and took a seat. Immediately, I noticed two men sitting a few rows in front of me - one of whom bent his head underneath the silver handrail that was impeding his view of my eyes.
I did what most women in this situation do: looked away. But I could now see both men in my peripheral, heads bent under that handrail, staring. I counted four station stops go by, and still they hadn't shifted their gaze.
Admittedly, I was a little uncomfortable, feeling pretty sure they knew at least two things: I was alone, and I was a tourist. The last thing I wanted to do was confirm the latter.
I decided against saying anything at all; but I still wanted them to know I was aware of what was happening. I turned my head to face theirs, locking eyes with one, assuming he'd feel shameful and finally stop staring. In my experience, that's always worked. I searched for an apologetic look on his face in that moment, but instead his eyes remained locked.
This is when I started to worry, and I knew I had to make a move. Just before the doors were about to close at the next stop, I jumped up from my seat, dashed out of the car, and hopped onto the car just ahead, on the very same train.
I sat down, feeling relieved and finally at ease. My heart had been racing. I remember mentally congratulating myself for dodging what could have been an awful situation.
But just then, the train made its next stop. The two men appeared from the doors, grinning from ear to ear. They were leaning over those silver handrails, holding their waists, panting. I could tell exactly what they were thinking in that moment: "We've got you."
The doors behind them closed shut, and all of a sudden I was back where I had started. But this time, the stakes were higher - it was clear now they were following me. I was a pawn in some sort of sick game.
That, my friends, is Paris' most unfortunate truth. The romanticism we expect from the loveliest city in the world is so often washed out by the very real dangers young women traveling are vulnerable to. I didn't care about foie gras, or the finest French malbec anymore. I just wanted them to leave me alone.
On this car, the men were further away from me than the first time. I made eye contact with one, and then rolled my eyes, attempting one last time to show that I was in control of the situation.
To no avail. I counted six more stops before I just couldn't bear it anymore. I could feel their eyes fixated on me, and it was disgusting.
I scoured the train, noticing a well-groomed man in a button down shirt with a laptop bag occupying the seat beside him. He wore a gold band on his left hand. I proceeded to make two crucial assumptions: he must have a professional job, which means he should be able to understand English; and he's married, so he must be somewhat trustworthy.
I moved his bag and took the seat beside him, explaining my situation in a soft whisper, using my eyes to motion towards the two men who followed me in.
Now that I think about it, I never even asked the man for his name. He told me not to worry, and that he'd accompany me to where I needed to go. I began to think maybe this guy was trouble too.
Before I could dwell on that, the two men took a seat in front of us.
This was a bold move. It was the closest I'd been to them. They seemed older than I'd initially thought. The one on the right had some grey facial hair. I remember thinking I could probably outrun him, if it got to that. The younger one looked to be in his late twenties, wearing a UK football jersey and a ball cap.
I nodded my head in their direction, keeping my eyes fixed on the man beside me, before a war of words began on the train. I sat there - while the three yelled at each other back and forth for about six or seven minutes; I understood little of what was being said. At the end of it, the man beside me turned over and told me I'm free to go, and that the two will no longer be trailing behind me.
My station arrived, and once again, just before the doors closed, I ran through them as fast as I could without looking back. I was on the other side now, and as the doors shut in front of me, I locked eyes with the younger man in the jersey who was firmly seated where I'd left him. I pointed, and yelled, "You should never treat a woman that way!"
The doors closed, the train went on, and that was the last I saw of them.
I was safe again. My knees buckled, I crumbled to the ground in the middle of the platform, and I could feel hot tears running down my face. I had never been so frightened.
I have thought about that night many times, wondering if there was something I could have done differently, whether it'd been carrying pepper spray in my purse or knowing a few French curse words.
Ultimately I've come to understand why Parisian women are known to be abrasive and impolite sometimes: because they can't afford not to be, if these are the situations they have to contend with.
Suffice it to say, Paris isn't always a paradise.