Not many people know this, but I moved during my study abroad: out of the student dorms and into an international residence, much like the ex-blogger Patricia from Kisses and Croissants did when she studied in the same town! I remember her telling me that the dorms they put me in were in a pretty bad neighborhood and to try to find an alternative, if possible. But by this point, I was on the I’M GOING TO STUDY ABROAD roller coaster and finding housing outside of what the school provided was out of my scope, I thought.
I probably should’ve given it more thought.
You see, Grenoble is a fairly medium-sized European city. And like all cities, Grenoble edged into another city with a far higher crime reputation than itself: Échirolles. We lived basically on the line drawn between these two cities in Résidence Olympique thanks to CROUS, their university resident system.
So here’s what happened. One Friday, our two friends came over to the dorms so we could all have dinner together before going out. One had her bike stashed at one of the tram stops closer to downtown Grenoble, planning to ride home with our things for later that night and then meet us back at another friend’s house for predrinks.
Around 9PM, we left to board the tram taking us downtown. Because of the direction of the tram, the people already on it were from Échirolles. And there were a series of mistakes that led to what happened later. But first, we stepped on the tram, the door sealing behind us before the car lurched forward.
Mistake #1: we sat 4-across, across from 4 drunk Arabic men. (Normally, I don’t encourage stereotypes, but when they’re coming from Échirolles, I do)
Mistake #2: we spoke in English. A little loudly for the tram. Loud enough to catch their attention. This is where things started getting really creepy. The two men sitting across from our two friends on the other side of the aisle starting pointing to both of the girls and saying, in French, “Which one do you want?”
Mistake #3: certain people in our group were responding to whatever the men were saying. At first, they were responding to be polite. But once you start responding to them, they will not let you stop.
The girls later told me that they did try to stop responding to the men, but by that point it was too late. Every time they tried ignoring them, the men would reach over and stroke their hands or legs until they’d respond. The other girl and I were a little warier about things right off the bat. Once we started noticing that things were a little off, such as the mood of the specific car we were in, we stopped talking completely and turned on the bitch faces.
Overall, our side was undisturbed… except for when the men across from us started warming up some cocaine to smoke. “Vouz avez l’essayé?” Have you ever tried it before? We didn’t respond. Our friends on the other side of the aisle, however, were not so lucky. They kept asking them if they wanted to try any. If they’d ever had any before.
At this point, we were nearing the stop where our friend had stowed her bike. Without even looking at each other, we’d all decided to follow our friend to her bike to make sure everything was ok—and it provided the earliest escape for us from these men. It just didn’t work out exactly like we’d hope.
First of all, when we all stood to get off the car, some a man grabbed the water bottle out of my friend’s hand. “Un souvenir,” he said, caressing both of them as they stepped into the aisle. One of them went so far as to grab her clothes as she passed, which freaked her out. As we reached the stop, our breath of relief was cut a bit short. Two of them had also gotten off the tram and were angling towards us. Hurriedly, we took stock of the people around us, praying that it wasn’t all people like these guys.
Thankfully, we found some old people to stand next to. However, he followed us to our spot and spoke some words to my friend. Needless to say, she was extremely shaken up.The other one was nowhere to be seen. You know that feeling you get when you first see this HUGE bug and later, when you glance back and realize it’s disappeared from its spot, you’re extremely paranoid that it’s on you? That’s how we felt about the other guy that disappeared.
After he left, we said our goodbyes to our friend with the bike. As we watched her near the bike, we saw him appear out of nowhere and head in her direction. She veered quickly back to us and we crossed the tracks. He did too. She quickly scampered back to us.
At this point, our friend called French Boyfriend. After 3 times of not reaching him, he picked up. He was at dinner with his mother but he said he was only 5 minutes away and that he would be there ASAP. He also said that he was going to call his friends in case things got messy.
Between the call and him arriving, we saw the one creepy guy get back on the same line we took, but in the opposite direction. Which meant that the only reason he got off at our stop was to follow us.
FBF finally arrived, out of breath and sweating. It was clear that he had run all the way to the stop. At this point, we all breathed a sigh of relief. A few of us shed some tears—not me, of course, because I’m a fucking rock (more like I was still too stunned to comprehend). It was a weird moment for all of us, I think, mostly because we had never been so intentionally creeped on.
All of this could’ve been prevented if we were a little smarter about things. Not that you should never travel alone or that we should hide from being outside after a certain point at night; all it means is that we need to be a little more aware of our surroundings, even when traveling in a group. That’s not to say that it was our fault for why this happened or that society and social construct—the acceptance of this as a norm—is not flawed.
We should never let experiences like this prevent us from doing things or make us afraid of the world that we live in. The only thing we should take from this is that we need to be more mindful about the differences in cultures in all aspects before arriving… more on that later. But in a way, this as a catalyst to our moving was a blessing in disguise. Without it, I would never have moved, I would never have met the people that were such key players in my appreciation and love of being abroad, I would never have experienced half the things I did.
Man, looks like I’m on a creepy-story rut lately…