Last night I went out for drinks with my roommate Benjamin and his friend Benjamin (apparently every French male around the age of 28 is named Benjamin) who just moved back from Rome and is “squatting” in our apartment for a week. We ended up at this tiny little bar off of rue Oberkampf that turned out to be a literary party celebrating a book launch. And apparently the DJ was super famous—the guys were all in a tizzy over him, though I couldn’t for the life of me tell you who he was.
Just after I arrived, the publisher of the book randomly came over, kissed my hand and started chatting me up. Turns out he also used to live in the East Village in New York but moved back to Paris after 9/11. He was interesting but physically not my type (late 30s-early 40s, short, blond hair/blue eyes). After 15 mins a woman came over to talk to him about a manuscript he just submitted so I snuck off to rejoin my friends. Later, the publisher popped over to quietly ask me if Benjamin was my boyfriend—I said no, he said good—but I eventually lost him in the crowd. Looking back on it, I should have given him my number; he would be a cool person to know, especially considering that I’ve been working on some writing projects lately. Oh well…
Around midnight Benjamin’s girlfriend, her best friend and another guy joined us. I excused myself to go to the bathroom and bumped into a cute guy on his way out. We did the whole smiley, double take thing and when I came back he was talking to RomeBen. I walked over to join them but quickly realized the cute guy was drunk, sleazy and slightly stupid. At some point he said something to me in French and though I didn’t understand the slang, I got that the context was sexual. RomeBen looked at him sharply and said, “Come on, don’t say stuff like that. I think you need apologize to her”. So the guy apologized and the three of us continued chatting. And then the interesting part of the night began:Sleazy guy: “So where are you from?”
Sigh. This is the thing that annoys the hell out of me about the French (some French people, I don’t mean to generalize). If you’re not white you’re not really considered French (or American in this case). If you’re black you can only be from Africa or the West Indies, there’s no way you can be anything else. I understand that it has to do with the fact that France only recently got an influx of post-war immigrants and they’re just now dealing with racial issues. And to be fair, most of the non-white people living here really are foreign-born or first generation French. You’d be hard pressed to find a black person in France who’s familial line goes back more than one generation within France. But not so in the States. The funny thing is, my parents were born in Haiti and moved to the States in their late teens/early 20s so I am in fact a first-generation American (and I happen to very much identify with being Haitian, possibly more so than American, since I was brought up with Haitian food, language, music, culture, etc) BUT it was the principle of the matter. This asshole was insisting that because I was black, I could not be American. Sure we’re all African, but for many black Americans, how the heck do you know which country your ancestors came from 300 years ago?
Anyway, as I’m about to open my mouth to set the guy straight, I notice RomeBen tensing up next to me. He steps in front of me, gets in this guy's face and says, "Didn't she tell you 5 times that she's American??" then proceeds to go off on him in French!
Now a little background on RomeBen: This guy did his undergrad in Engineering at one of Paris’ most prestigious Grandes Écoles (basically the French version of the Ivy Leagues) then went on to get his Master’s and PhD from MIT in Boston. During the day he wears his little glasses and works on his computer, quiet as a mouse. He’s not pretentious or anything (I didn’t even know the details of his schooling until last night). He’s very polite and friendly, timid even. In his 6 years in the States he sort of picked up a general idea of how far black people have come; to be accepted and be able to claim the privileges that come along with being American. But this is not someone who you could ever imagine in a million trillion years saying the words: “We can take this outside.” But he did! He said those exact words! OMG.
By this point Sleazy Guy is cowering on his stool (meanwhile he was easily half a foot taller than RomeBen) and one of his friends, trying to pacify RomeBen, apologizes and says that his friend is a little drunk and doesn’t know what he’s saying. I couldn’t tell you what RomeBen was saying, I was too busy staring at him in shock, wondering what happened to the shy little geek who had spent the past 4 days hunched behind his laptop in my living room. Finally I put my arm around him, gently pulled him back and said, “Shall we go?” And he stopped, gave the guy one last dirty look and we walked out of the bar. It was intense. And to be honest with you, also extremely sexy… it’s awesome watching a guy defending your honor.
After that episode I looked at him in a completely different light. We joined the rest of the group outside then jumped in a cab and went back to the apartment. The 4 of us hung out in the kitchen drinking tea and talking until Benjamin and his girlfriend went to bed. And then RomeBen asked me if I wanted to take our conversation into the living room (since Benjamin’s room is right near the kitchen) and we ended up talking until 3am.
He’s such a contraction—this adorable and super smart science nerd who gets really excited explaining molecular physics (still completely over my head) but values quality of life over work, loves to travel and live in foreign countries and will throw down if you get on his bad side. But alas, he has a girlfriend back in Rome. She’s coming to visit in a week or so and he said he wants to introduce us. I bet she’s sweet and wonderful and we’ll probably get on great so let me just shut my homewrecking mouth right now… :)
Update: This afternoon RomeBen and I were both in the living room, he was working and I was folding my laundry when he got up and left the room without saying a word. Suddenly I heard classical piano music. I thought he turned the radio on or something but when I walked down the hall to investigate I found him playing away (my roommate has an upright in his room). I had my own personal 10 minute performance. If I wasn't smitten before I may be now!