What is "esprit de l'escalier"? According to wikipedia it is "usually translated as "staircase wit", [and] is the act of thinking of a clever comeback when it is too late to deliver it. The phrase can be used to describe a riposte to an insult or any witty remark that comes to mind too late to be useful, after one has left the scene of the encounter. The phenomenon is usually accompanied by a feeling of regret at not having thought of the retort when it was most needed or suitable."
I went to a very fun birthday last Saturday night - sincerely, a fun birthday party. There were many folks present I hadn't seen since before my year in Israel, and the birthday boy, celebrating his 60th, is one of my all-time favourite people as well as being boyfriend to one of my five BFFs. Here's the story leading to my having suffered from esprit de l'escalier:
One of the other party-goers, a dude in his late 50's or early 60's, clearly considered himself a ladies' man, a playah. So, he sat down on one of the couches with myself and my friend (also of the female persuasion) and opened his conversation thus: "So, do you girls dance?" An innocent question, to be sure. My pal answered: "Only when I'm drunk." I said, "Yeah, me too. I need a few in me to get on the dance floor. I guess we're not really into dancing, per se." He proceeded to tell us that women dancing, generally in a circle, was hardwired into our genetics as a bonding mechanism, that this was inherently a feminine activity. I said, "How interesting. Murray over there is a ballroom dancer and he's not a girl." This was where the conversation took a bizarre turn: said dude then asked us, "What do you girls do to bond? Do you kiss? Touch each other?"
Did someone just scratch the needle across the record and stop the music?
Inappropriate. And I said so. But, he wouldn't drop it. I was at a loss for words, for several reasons:
1: Location, location, location. We were essentially at a family-type party, not a bar. Quite a few generations were present, and within earshot. If this question were posed while I was bartending, I would have had a witty Carla-in-Cheers appropriate comeback - or, I would have had his ass removed from my bar.
2: This is a friend of the birthday boy.
4: Plain old (feminine genetically hardwired?)(simply Canadian?) politeness and desire to salvage the situation without hurting his feelings. (That's right, I said it. I didn't want to hurt his feelings. This deserves another post unto itself.)
Here's what actually happened: I turned the conversation around. "We talk about fashion, decorating, books. We talk a lot about books. What are you reading these days?" I thought: phew! Saved a little face, had a not-bad convo about pulp fiction, and that's that, end of inappropriate questions from the playah. Nope. He asked the same questions not once but twice more that evening. And here's where the esprit de l'escalier comes in, because I thought: if I had shot him down right then and there, then maybe/hopefully I could have saved the other women at the party from him.
Of course, the biggest esprit de l'escalier that crossed my mind was to have punched him. "How's that for a gender-bending reaction, pal?" Or, I could have fed into his question: "Oh, my goodness! Is it so obvious that we are into heavy petting to prove our girl-love for each other? Gosh!" But, the most satisfying esprit de l'escalier involved variations of saying to him, "Are you for fucking real? Let's poll the women in the room to find out how they bond with their girlfriends, starting with the mother of the hostess." Somehow, I think that the answer that the mother of hostess would have provided would have been the best shut-down that man has ever experienced.
My analyses of why he thought this behaviour was/is suitable are taking up entirely too much space in my head since then. I don't believe that such behaviour is as harmless as some would have us believe - especially considering that such questions instantly wither a person, and how can being put on the defensive, as well as being reduced instantly to a sexual creature in a place of safety amongst friends be viewed as anything other than hostile? Did he feel threatened? Intimidated? (As a group, we're outspoken but friendly and welcoming.) Does my spending this time on my blog writing about him give him power? To this last question, I answer No. By airing this experience in a public forum and hearing the reaction, "Unbelievable," makes me hope that his inappropriate behaviour will never again occur, that it will become an extinct instinct. But, to be honest, rational and reasonable, a leopard such as he is will never change his spots, and I take great solace and strength knowing that there are so many men out there who are not like this, men who speak to women as intelligent equals.
And, I'm working on an esprit de l'escalier-free life. When you work in a bar, you have the opportunity to deliver those ripostes to the insults, and when you don't work in a bar, you surprisingly have fewer insults to which a witty riposte is necessary. Interesting, that.
Image discovered at www.figarospeech.com
Wednesday, February 02, 2011
The Alli's were the first pair I got when I started working for Fluevog. I love the two-tone chocolate and burgundy, the slightly turned up toes, the masculine brogue combined with the multiple feminine-ish buckles. Plus, they're the perfect showcase for funky socks and tights. Yum.
Posted by Tanya at 6:21 AM