Sexual harassment recently became illegal in Morocco (finally!), but I’d actually like to write about a related problem. Often when I walk down the street, men will call out to me just with greetings. They’ll say “bonjour” or “ça va,” as if they know me. Generally I just ignore them and keep going, assuming that they are up to no good. This certainly is not sexual harassment, and I am not going to report to the police that a man I do not know had the nerve to ask me how I’m doing, but it is pretty irritating just to feel so many eyes watching me as I walk down the street. And it has been getting me into some awkward situations lately….
The method of the language center where I work involves switching teachers around each week, and we usually give classes with no more than four students who may come in as little as twice a month following an online portion of the course. This means that there are some people who I meet only once or twice, and overall I’ve worked with probably more than one hundred students. I also have a big church community, and many people know who I am since I got married there and am one of only two Americans, whereas I don’t remember some of the people who I haven’t talked with much. The combination of my work and my church communities means that there are a lot of people in Casablanca who I have met but probably could not pick out of a crowd.
A couple times in the past few months, a man has greeted me on the street, but in a way that makes me think I might know him. One man asked me if I was done teaching, making me think he was a student of mine. Really he had just seen me come out of the library at the French institute, where I had been reading during my break. Another referred to me as “my sister,” so I thought I might know him from church. I don’t like to be rude, so I stopped to talk to these people. In both cases, it became painfully clear that I did not know them when they asked me to meet them the next day “to share.” Share what? I don’t want to know.
The reverse of this situation is an even more embarrassing problem. I sometimes see someone I DO know and ignore them or don’t even look at them, assuming that it is just one of many men who do not like to respect boundaries. And then the next time I see the person at church or work, they ask me why I did not want to talk to them. I of course feel bad about acting impolite.
So which do you think is better? Having unwanted conversations, or being rude to my acquaintances? I am sure it is ever going to be illegal for men to start conversations with random women, so I better figure out what to do. Let me know what you think!