Don’t You Dare Say Hi to Me!

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.
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A couple of men said hi to me as I walked down this street in Laayoune, all of whom I ignored.

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!
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6 thoughts on “Don’t You Dare Say Hi to Me!

  1. I have no helpful suggestions, but yesterday a man tricked me by appearing normal as he walked in to the open figure studio where I was drawing from a model, engaging my attention, and then saying something inappropriate to me. I am pretty sure he thought he was paying me a complement. But I am afraid from now on I will yell “Shut up and get out of here!” at any man I don’t recognize in the studio.

  2. I think it’s better to err on the side of being rude. Talking to strange men is not a good idea, especially when they are falsely acting like they know you. You can always apologize if you see them at church, if they say that you ignored them. Is it possible to loosely wear a pair of ear buds, even if you are not listening to any music? It’s a good excuse for not “hearing” their greetings, and you won’t have any music impairing your hearing. My last suggestion is to not make eye contact, but to give a vague nod or wave in his direction, but I have a feeling he will take it as an invitation to talk. The best cure is to have your husband walk with you, but I know that’s not always possible.?Good luck with this!
    Susan

  3. I have encountered the same issue in Morocco. However, having lived here for some time (2 years), I eventually just stopped paying attention and developed a kind of special serious look on my face, which I can throw and it seems to end a conversation before it can even start. Putting on this edge somehow makes some people think I am actually Moroccan, interest is lost quite fast in this case. I believe it is sort of a statement ‘ I know what you are doing here and it is not going to work.’ Although I still hate when too many men keep staring, it does bother me, but no solution for that as even Moroccan women themselves constantly face that.

  4. Have had similar experiences living in Spanish-speaking countries, getting catcalled in the streets. It was usually obvious that I didn’t know those people, so like you I just ignored them. When I lived in a more rural area, though, I also found that there were people I hadn’t officially met but who knew me because I was one of very few foreigners. So I can relate. I would vote for being rude to acquaintances, knowing full well that given my character I’d end up doing the opposite in practice 😛

  5. What about pretending you are mommy while running? Give a nice friendly hello to everyone but then keep rushing on your way? That’s my go-to strategy in the US, but I suppose it varies by country. In some countries, even acknowledging people seems to be a huge amount of encouragement.

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