When Catcalls Actually Make You Laugh

I’m currently in Cambodia, and traveling around Southeast Asia, and the attention from locals has been mostly restricted to “You buy something lady!” or “Tuk tuk lady!” or the ever-generous “Helloooooo!” 

Cambodia has warranted us the most smiles and nods, while in Bangkok and cities in Vietnam people either ignored us all together or followed us on their cyclos repeating “Where you go?”

Perhaps the word “catcall” isn’t entirely accurate to describe the content of this post. After all, the definition of catcall is sexual in nature, and the attention we’ve gotten from locals hasn’t been completely sexual. Although, one can argue that a man feeling entitled to say whatever he wants to whomever he wants is a blatant structural issue. 

While living in South America, the catcalls I received were bothersome and uncomfortable. Except for some that were downright weird (have you actually ever seen a woman? And no, I will not marry you even though you promise to love me until the end of your days), a lot of the men looked like they were finishing as I walked by. That’s disgusting. And on the hegemonic beauty scale, I’m not even close to the top. So why the drama, men? (I’m not the only one who had problems with street harassment in South America!)

Street harassment is a huge issue for millions of women around the globe who suffer every day. Luckily, it has never been so bad for me that I feel unsafe or in danger. 

For every woman and in every situation, there is a fine line between flirting and harassing, and it all depends on how welcome the forwardness is (see an explanation of the boundary at Kinsey Confidential). 

The upside to my privilege is that as a traveler, I often get to engage with locals though their micro-sexism. Sounds like a backwards thing to say, but sometimes, their comments are actually creative and funny. 

If I’m going to deal with your sexism, at least show me some humor- right?

Because of the lack of catcalls thus far in Southeast Asia, I’ve been reflecting on all those times in Europe, Morocco and Istanbul when someone threw something out and I threw it right back. The good thing about men who love to say things is that often, in my experience, they’re willing to engage in banter. 

Most of these were experienced along side my friend and fellow traveler Kimberly, who can correct me if my memory fails me on the details. While men in Greece were far less creepy than other destinations and didn’t offer us marijuana (then coke, the speed, then MDMA, like in Lisbon), Europe had its fair share of gross ogling an weird statements. Below are some of the most common things we heard followed my the most memorable:

  • “Beautiful but sweaty”

This great reminder of our physical appearance was common on the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain (detailed in this post).

  • “You have husband?”

No, and why do you want to know so bad? It certainly doesn’t change how I feel about you. This one was common in Istanbul.

  • “Excuse me what’s your name”

Cutting right to the chase! Are you going to remember it? Are you going to name your child after me? Boys in Istanbul were particularly happy to ask this question. Although many times it was phrased much like a statement. 

  • “I love you”

 I’m not quite sure you can make such a statement without knowing how my breath is in the morning or the way my farts smell after onions. Men all over the globe love to say this when they certainly don’t mean it.

  • “Can I ask you a question?”

To which in the bazaar in Istanbul I replied, “No I will not marry you!”

  • “INSTAGRAM!!”

You say yes to all the boys in Istanbul who wanted this and you’ll be an overnight Insta success. Why didn’t I just add them all?

  • “Hello spice girls!”

Exclaimed by the employees at a spice shop in the grand bazaar in Istanbul. Just because you say it doesn’t make it true. 

  • “Good morning spice girls!”

Almost the same phrase as above,  but when we rounded the corner in Fes, Morocco and heard this, you can assume it’s because we’re foreign.

  • “You are beautiful, like cheese”

This happened a few feet after spice girls in Fes, and we were impressed by their uniqueness. This particular man proceeded to follow us as we looked at post cards and he said that if we just joined him for tea he would give us 1,000 camels. I bargained for 2,000 and soon after he fizzled away.


And the award for most creative…

  • “Like a flower, 24 hour, no shower”

[Shout out to Kimberly for helping me remember this one] Unexplainable and perfect. Where did he learn this? Has it proven successful in the past? How can I learn to pretend to pick up guys like he tried to pick us up?

While Asia has been much more pleasant to walk around in (hassle free!) I haven’t got the chance to laugh at some ridiculous phrases. 

I’d like to hear yours! What are some funny things people have said to you while traveling?

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