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Urban Etiquette

Ellen Vanstone answers your questions about the annoying behaviours, poor manners and impatient encounters that dot the days of a city dweller.

Urban Etiquette: How do I answer men's questions without radiating sensuality?

"I was in the grocery store and a nice-looking man asked for advice about cheese. I asked him what kind of cheese he was looking for, when he suddenly blurted out he had a wife and ran away."

See more Ani at etsy.com/ca/shop/anicastillo.

Ani Castillo / For Metro

See more Ani at etsy.com/ca/shop/anicastillo.

Dear Ellen,

I was in the grocery store and a nice-looking man asked for advice about some cheese on sale. I asked him what kind of cheese he was looking for, when he suddenly blurted out he had a wife and ran away. I don’t like to be rude, but why should I respond to men who ask for help if they’re going to treat me like the whore of Babylon?

Female Shopper

Dear Female Shopper,

I could suggest your fellow shopper was U.S. vice-president Mike Pence, inexplicably shopping for cheap groceries in Canada, and he was momentarily bewitched by your sexy aura of dairy-product acumen before coming to his Christian senses and fleeing. Or maybe the #metoo movement has made all men terrified of talking to women in case they’re charged with assault in the cheese aisle.

But the truth is, many perfectly nice men have always been dorks around women they don’t know. This is due to ancient teachings and modern TV shows, which drill into men’s brains the idea all women are dangerously seductive and the source of all their bad behaviour ever since evil Eve forced addle-brained Adam to eat an apple (to use a Judeo-Christian example).

The result for us women is endless experiences like yours. A man encounters one of us acting like a normal, polite person, and he interprets our good manners as a flagrant come-on, or invitation, or consent.

Note that some perfectly nice women actually do flirt with attractive gents at cheese counters, and there’s nothing wrong with flirting, or being flirted with. It’s a compliment. It’s Darwinian. It’s a worthy example of nothing tried, nothing gained. It can be an ideal way to begin a solid, loving relationship.

The trouble is that many badly conditioned people don’t understand two simple rules. Flirting is allowed only between equals. Flirting must cease immediately if it’s not wholeheartedly reciprocated. Think of flirting as the friendly version of throwing down a gauntlet. If the other person doesn’t pick it up, you walk away. You don’t keep hurling the glove in their face. Take a hint already!

Meanwhile, there’s not much you can do about confused, ruinously conditioned men who randomly treat you like a predatory slut at the grocery store. Try not to take it personally. Someday, praise be, all adults will learn to treat each other as friendly social equals instead of threatening alien monsters.

Need advice? Email Ellen: askellen@metronews.ca

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