Flirting or Sexual Harassment? The Case that’s Moving Women Everywhere.

Flirting or Sexual Harassment?

Over the weekend, #MeToo became a top trend nationwide. But, the truth is that sexual harassment is not limited to the US. As I write this post, the hashtag has also been trending all day in France and for five hours in Germany.

A few minutes ago, I changed my status on Facebook, following the invitation of actor Alyssa Milano. In a tweet on Sunday, she encouraged any women who have been sexually harassed to write two words on social media: Me too.

In the Facebook group “Français d’Amérique du Nord” (French in North America), member Karen wondered on Monday if sexual harassment is limited only to the US. Hundreds of comments later, many other French women shared their experiences, along with myself.

When I was 18, a man in on a crowded Paris metro rubbed himself against me. The same thing happened a few years later in Rome. When I was 20, an Englishman offered to share his sleeper cabin with me on the night train between Paris and Frankfurt. One night during college, I ran into an exhibitionist. Another time, I left a movie because the guy sitting next to me started to masturbate. In Germany, a colleague grabbed my breasts during a Christmas party. He was drunk, and I was in my late 20s. At the last company where I worked as an employee, my boss couldn’t keep his hands to himself.

My most disturbing experiences were on public transportation and with the exhibitionist. But, even if I’m not traumatized by those events, clearly all these encounters were sexual harassment.

No differences between the US, Germany, and France

On my blog, I try to explain the how and why of cultural differences between France, Germany, and the United States. However, I can’t see any differences between these three nations when it comes to sexual harassment. It’s a gender issue, not a national problem. The recent Weinstein case just got the ball rolling.

According to a 2015 survey, one in five French women has been sexually harassed. In Germany, a similar survey in 2003 indicated that 58% of women were victims of sexual harassment.

A male friend who’s French and also living in the US, reacted with surprise to my Facebook post. True, my encounters involved strangers, and I can’t imagine any of my male friends doing anything like that.

My husband was also surprised. As a French man, he likes good food, wine, and beautiful women. In France, he felt safer talking to the opposite gender than in the US or in Germany.

But, while living in the States, my husband won’t ride in an elevator while alone with a woman. He’ll also leave the door to the conference room open when meeting with a female colleague. None of this concerned him while we were living in Europe.

Flirting with the Germans

In Germany, my husband and many of our male friends found approaching German women frustrating. Overall, German women don’t like attention when it’s so obvious. The weekly Der Spiegel has an entertaining article about flirting in Germany.

Here an excerpt:

“The word “flirt” has two meanings: one for Germans, and one for the rest of the world. Most of the 3 billion men on the globe today figure their best shot is to make their make obvious. … German women, though, have become conditioned to a much more subtle style of coquetry, … which means that when we swashbuckling foreigners show up and actually flash our pearly whites and—gasp—say “hi” to a German woman, it comes across as overly forward.“

For my part, I found German men uninteresting. I never figured out when one of them was flirting because casual conversations are so boring, even with a good-looking man! It’s no wonder that I ended up marrying a French man that I met in Germany.

Flirting with the French

Since I’ve been out of the flirting and dating business for a while now, I’ll share instead this article from French Today about flirting in France: “French people flirt. It’s in our genes, and it’s socially accepted in France.” With this in mind, you can probably better imagine why my husband is so cautious when approaching his American colleagues.

What about flirting with colleagues or business partners?

My German side screams “Leave it alone!” because, of course, you want to be taken seriously when you do business with Germans. So, don’t even think of trying to flirt and stick to the task at hand.

But, I’m also French, and I’ve experienced firsthand in Germany how my French charm was an asset. Of course, my French accent was also a plus in Germany. You can read more about accents in a related post here.

Ultimately, in France, sharing a compliment is seen as flirting, not sexual harassment (as long as it’s not about certain body parts!). The word “seduction” in France connotes charming other people of either sex, not just persuading someone to go to bed with you. Therefore, if you work with the French, consider flirting as a game, just as they do. In the words of French Today, “The game is the main point; it’s relatively innocent and usually no-one gets hurt, just a little blushed.“

I hope you liked this article. If so, you’ll probably enjoy reading “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Adultery in France”.

Photo credit by Fotolia


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