My friends would probably describe me as having a pretty thin skin. And I must admit, sometimes things people say really get to me. I don’t necessarily find negative feedback easy to take, particularly when it’s just flat out criticism rather than the constructive kind. But hey, it’s something I’m working on.
And what better place to be “working on it” than Paris? As much as it may have the reputation of being the city of romance, it’s also, as I’ve mentioned before, the city of the uninvited comment. And that includes insults.
Let me set the scene for you. I left my bike at work the other night as I was working late (another bad Parisian habit!) and didn’t have the energy to ride home. The next morning I took a city bike, also know as a Velib, to work. These things are stock standard, very heavy pieces of equipment, one of which is really no better than the other. I was in a cheery mood, and wanting to make the most of my morning workout, so was pushing the old beast and getting up a decent pace.
Somewhere along a relatively nondescript piece of cycle path, I whizzed past two guys, also on Velibs. I honestly didn’t think anything of it. I was just having a ball, riding along, minding my own business. A minute or so later, one of the guys I had over-taken suddenly pulls up beside me and says “Vous n’êtes pas elegante”. That’s right. “You are not elegant”. Um. I’m sorry? What???
Yes, this guy had actually gone to the trouble of chasing me down to tell me that he didn’t find me elegant. I think what he really meant to say was “My fragile male ego has been insulted being over-taken by a woman on the same kind of bike.” When I suggested that this was actually the cause of his issue with me, he promptly swerved his bike into my path, forcing me to swerve in turn and brake hard to avoid him. Very ELEGANT behaviour. Clearly.
As I collected my thoughts and got my morning’s ride back underway, I felt hot tears of injustice burning in my eyes. I had done NOTHING to invite this guy’s insult except enjoy my morning ride. Oh, and obviously not match up to his standards of how a good little woman should comport herself.
As much as I didn’t want it to, this man’s comment got to me. I had dressed nicely that morning and had been feeling very comfortable and confident as I left the house. It was meant to be one of those good days. But there it was. I wasn’t elegant. He was obviously right, right? I mean if he’d bothered making all that effort to chase after me and arrive out of breath just so he could tell me…
There was a time in my life when I would probably have let this incident ruin my whole day. I would have taken his insult to heart, and felt belittled and inelegant. But you know what else would have happened if I have chosen this course of action? He would have won. And letting a person capable of such nasty behaviour in a situation like that win, well that was just something I wasn’t prepared to do.
So what did I do instead? I went into the bathrooms at work and called my boyfriend. I let myself pour our the whole unjust affair and have a good cry. Then I blotted away the tears and took a good long look at myself in the mirror. And I chose to take the I out of the insult.
Just like most things in life, the concept of elegance is subjective. What is elegant to one is not to another. Maybe I didn’t conform to this man’s version of elegance. But actually… this was HIS problem, not mine. Why should I feel bad if his narrow perception of the world didn’t find any elegance in a nicely dressed lady zipping around Paris by bike?
And so I found the inner elegance required to dismiss this stranger’s behaviour as being symptomatic of a problem with the way HE views the world. Actually, in fact, nothing to do with me. And in so doing, I found the right place to put his remark. In the emotional trash can, filed in the compartment reserved for good-for-nothing-comments-from-chauvinistic-men-whose-opinions-I-do-not-care-about… the section marked “Nsults”.