So, last Tuesday I met this super creepy guy.
I fully admit that one of the things I enjoy about Iceland is the general shortage of suspicious men hanging out on street corners, or following you around the grocery store, or being that guy you dated in high school, but it happens everywhere and Iceland is no exception. I’ve had one guy who was overly persistent in a bar, but I don’t hang out a lot in those, and another who has ‘questionable’ (those are absolutely air quotes) opinions about the role of women and doesn’t seem to hear the word no, but that’s two men in two years. Pretty good I’d say.
On this fateful Tuesday, I met man three. A little before 8pm I saw a guy walking up to the door of student housing, and since any day you have to dig your keys out of your bag a moment sooner than you need to is a sadder one, I quickly waved goodbye to my friends and jogged up while he still had the door open. I thanked him, and he said “you’re welcome”.
“What do you study?” He asked.
“Education. I’m over on the other campus.”
“And where are you from?”
“Alaska, in the U.S.”
Pretty typical questions from the people you meet in student housing. I unlocked the door to the stairwell (yes, a second and different one) and followed him in.
“What about you?”
“I’m from (insert a county that isn’t Iceland or the U.S.)”
“And what do you study?”
“Oh.” I branched off toward the door to the entry on my floor, and after a moment’s pause he came down from the next stair and followed me. I’d started to reach for the door, but turned back around just as he boxed me in at the wall.
Admittedly, I was about a foot away from it still, as my neon backpack filled with a lunchbox, water bottle, books, folders and laptop prevented anything closer.
“Come up to my room tonight.”
I stared at him, dumbfounded, for a count of about three heartbeats before we heard the sound of someone else entering the stairway above us. He took a step back, and I slid away from him along the wall until I reached the door. He stood there while I opened it, and watched me through the glass door as I pried my shoes off without untying the laces.
I could still see him when I went to the common room, as I hadn’t wanted to go to my room until I knew where he was. He, of course, was waiting in the stairwell, about three steps up so he could see through the windows which direction I would go down the hall, or maybe which room I’d go into. I took off my backpack and sat next to the only roommate in the common room, a new guy named Neil.
I sat there long after Creepy Guy went up the stairs. Neil lives in the room next to mine, and I stayed with him until he went to his room, and could watch me go into mine. I checked the lock three times before I called a friend. I told her what had happened, and was surprised by how upset I became.
I don’t know if it was the shock of it, because I really wasn’t expecting that from some random guy in the hallway, or how creepy he was, but it took a while to calm down. No there wasn’t anything I needed, and yes I was fine, all I could tell her was “I’m just so upset.”
This sort of thing has happened before, and frankly this was rather tame. I’m thinking specifically about the time a guy tried to lure me into the trunk of his car, or the time a guy laughed when I said no, or the time I let the home phone ring until the answering machine recorded my then-boyfriend saying “Pick up the phone. I can see your car is in the driveway. I know you’re home. Pick up the phone. Don’t make me get out of the car.” On a scale of weird to crisis, Tuesday only ranked creepy, but I didn’t like it.
My friend was just what I needed in that moment. She said “I can see why you’re so upset, and I’m so sorry that happened to you.” After I calmed down I rechecked the lock, and sat in my room. I desperately needed to do laundry, but all I could think of was seeing him again in the hallway, or even worse, being cornered in the laundry room. I thought about making dinner, but didn’t want to be alone in the common room in case he came back, and I really didn’t want him to see which room I live in. Instead, I turned on a lamp and read a book until I thought I could fall asleep.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m perfectly capable of telling someone off, and the next time I see him or he tries to talk to me, I’ll tell him to go suck an egg. I’m also very capable of running away, screaming bloody murder, or knocking him down the stairs, but he really did manage to startle me. I felt very safe in my Icelandic apartment building with 86 other people and have never had a problem with anyone, but I’ve got a problem with him. I’m also very committed to making it his problem.
The next day I sat down to write student housing an e-mail, and hesitated. Growing up, I learned through experience to be more assertive, but I also learned to keep my mouth shut. It depends who you’re talking to, but never doubt that unless an ‘actual crime’ has been committed (FYI, sexual harassment is a crime) you’re not likely to get the response you’re looking for. Some of my least favorite responses, and the ones that really made me rethink if it was worth discussing with someone, were:
- Well, maybe you overreacted. Did he actually do anything?
- Maybe he didn’t hear you.
- No, I can’t believe he would do that. I’ve known him for like two years!
- But I thought you liked him?
And my personal favorite
- What will it take to get you to leave my office?
However, this is Iceland, and I give people here a little more credit for
being liberal having a basic sense of gender equality than some other countries (most other countries). I double checked with another friend, and carefully constructed my e-mail. It’s important to set the right tone of seriousness vs. ‘female hysteria’ (air quotes again), and you need the right balance for a prompt and positive reply. Here’s what I came up with:
Dear Student Housing,
I just wanted to let you know that I had an uncomfortable experience in student housing yesterday with a man who lives on another floor. I didn’t know if you were the right person to send this to, but we get all the updates from you, so I hope this is right.
I live in (insert street name here) 16, and I walked into the building at the same time as a man who I hadn’t met before. He asked what I study and where I’m from. I asked him, and he said he studies chemistry and is from (insert country name here). When I went to go into the entry room on the (my floor) floor, he came very close and told me to come upstairs to his room. He didn’t back up until someone came into the stairwell on another floor. As soon as he moved, I went into the entry and he stayed and watched me until I was out of sight.
It made me very uncomfortable, and really creeped out. I was upset enough that I didn’t want to leave my room, because I didn’t want him to know where I lived if he came back to the (my floor) floor. I’m perfectly comfortable telling people if I do or don’t want to have sex with them, but this guy was really creepy, and I can’t stress enough how incredibly uncomfortable he made me feel.
I just wanted to give you a heads up. He lives somewhere on the (not my floor) floor or (also not my floor) floor, and I’m definitely going to be very conscious of locking my door at night, or any time I’m in my room.
I got an response within half an hour.
“Although it is very difficult to receive information like that without having a name or a room number, knowing about incidents like these is important. Residents should always lock their doors, so keep doing that, especially if you feel safer. Please keep me informed, and let me know if anything more happens. Also, if you learn the name/room number.”
Not bad, Iceland. I already told you I was locking my door, but otherwise decent.
I’m still creeped out, and hope Creepy Guy never finds out where I live, but I think if I run into him again
after knocking him down the stairs I can report it and they’ll actually do something. And believe it or not, I have a feeling I’ll be seeing him again.
Also, I got the unique and otherwise unobtainable experience of using Creepy Man in 16! as the subject for an e-mail, so… not the worst day.