Several years ago now, I was in France visiting Violet. In France a lot of bathrooms have this strange set up where both men and women walk through the same door only to land in this tiny area that serves as a sort of bathroom-purgatory, if you will. This is the place where the sinks, mirrors and towels are. So, both men and women stand there together while waiting to pee or what-have-you. I found that generally to the left is the womens stall and to the right is the mens. So as it goes, we all stand there, men and women together, waiting for our binary gender appropriate door to open and to then be freed to let us in and be relieved.
So I am in France visiting Violet, looking more masculine than feminine (which is not to say that I think I looked more boy than just me but more than not the French thought I was a guy.) She and I are getting lunch at a cute little bistro and I have to pee. I walk into the French bathroom purgatory area and I wait. Both stalls are busy. I am in this bathroom purgatory with one man. As we wait, in walks a woman.
And then there were three.
A thing I noticed about France (this I learned the hard way again and again): Out in public, women don’t tend to smile at folks they don’t know really. And if a man smiles at a women or vice versa it isn’t unfair to assume they might be flirting a little.
So, I’m in France waiting to pee in the bathroom purgatory with both a man and a women. What I have yet to mention is that when the woman walked in I smiled at her which led her to give me a very awkward and blatant scoff as she turned her whole body away from me. So, either she caught that I am just a stoopeed american girl OR I am crammed in a little room and just accidentally said to some random woman, “Oh, oui!? You like my smile, no?! Well zen… hough hough hough! (that is my impression of a french laugh, it offends Violet to no end.) A second later she mumbled something casual sounding to me in french which led me to respond according to her tone, ” Ah, oui.” And I did what I could to not smile.
At this point, speaking almost no french, I had taught myself how to answer a french question or statement with “oui” or “non” simply by interpreting the inflection of the sentence. I was usually pretty good at guessing correctly.
Maybe it was the bathroom purgatory pressure or maybe I was just doomed to do nothing right, but as that woman looked me right in the eyes and said, “vous la pue de la la de dee da fou le gwagh pa nui hough de le sweegh doo!?!” I had NO idea if I should go with “Oui!” or “Aaaaah, non, non, non!” I went with “oui” again, which was clearly the. wrong. answer.
Next thing I knew a man came out of the mens stall, washed his hands and left. Now there was an empty stall for a man with the three of us staring at the door. And then both the man and woman in purgatory with me looked at me wondering what I was going to do… and so did I!
The purgatory man looked at me, opened the stall door, like a man might do when he’s holding a door for a lady and probably wouldn’t do for another dude that needs to pee, and used his other hand to make the motion of “after you.”
At this point I realized how utterly confused our situation was:
The man that was holding the door for me was there first, so even if I was a guy it was his turn. And clearly he knew this and he knew that I knew this and now I had realized that he knew that I was a girl BUT when this other woman entered our bathroom purgatory both the man and I silently agreed that she clearly thought I was a man and totally mistook my smile for a french, “Hey, how yOu doin? Eh?‘” On top of that, the man that was in the purgatory bathroom before me not only got that I was female and that I was being mistaken for male by an uptight french woman who I had unintentionally flirted with and then answered two of her questions incorrectly BUT he knew I needed some help. SO his reaction was to attempt to save me by giving up his spot in line and escort me into the mens room.
Totally confusing, no?
I gave him an “I don’t know about this” look and he smiled at me and I smiled back while reluctantly walking into the stall. And really, that might have been the record holder for “most innocent smile exchange between the sexes in all of French history.” I walked through his held open door, to which the woman thought nothing of and I peed. Finally.
I walked out of the stall and saw the man that had held the door still waiting, the woman that kind of hated me was now in the womens stall. I stopped, smiled, and held open the door to the mens room for him. We both laughed and as he walked through I said quietly, “Mercy” and through a very thick french accent he said, “You are very welcome, madam.”