The Pick-up Artist
We still don’t get it.
“Have you ever been on a roof top in Paris? Danced until 7am when the metro re-opened? Been shown this city by a real French man?”
My eyes slung open wide, bewildered by his precision and the efficient way in which he zeroed in on the naive desires I hoped my semester in Paris would hold.
“No, no, and no. PLEASE TEACH ME YOUR WAYS.” (Really, I said it in capital letters).
I had only 4 weeks left in Paris and finally accepted that my experience abroad would not live up to the fantasy I had conjured in which my academic language capabilities would miraculously translate into flawless conversational skills complete with an immaculate accent. In my fantasy, I would assume the role of Chic American that the French adore but in reality, I quickly realized this was a role I could never play, if only because it does not exist in the Parisian social realm.
Paris had been wonderful and gratifying–just not in the cinematic way I had imagined. I didn’t even know there were roof tops in Paris. But with so little time left, it seemed my moment had finally come. I still don’t know how the mysterious trench coat-clad man sidled up next to me and smoothly began our conversation (his English was not very good) but it felt like magic. Maybe it was the effortless grace he exhaled in his interjection of the closed conversation I was having with my devastatingly American friend? Maybe it was his accent? I was enchanted by the foreign environment.
As our conversation flowed, he pleasantly surprised me. “I left the corporate world to start my own venture and the now the quality of my life is excellent,” he told me in agreement with my perspective regarding the value of a liberal arts education versus that of training for a particular occupation. He was perfect.
“So what do you do?” I bluntly interrupted.
“I think if you are smart you can start your own thing and be much happier,” He cooly responded.
“So, what do you do?” I asked again, insistent on an answer.
He continued to babble until he finally said,”I don’t like to bring this up in these situations, but I teach men to talk to girls.”
Not sure I properly understood, I rephrased in terms I could digest.
“You’re a pick up artist?”
He nodded and began to elaborate on his dual identity but to be quite honest, I had kind of stopped listening as my brain perpetually refreshed with new questions. It all made sense. His sly approach, smooth conversational skills–had I been played? Were one of his “students” lurking near the doorway taking notes? It felt…dirty.
But my acute curiosity outweighed disgust. He tried to assure me that he had approached me on the merit of genuine interest, even using his real name (which he never did) and so candidly making me aware of his true occupation. To him, the pick-up artist persona was a fictional hat he put on to perpetuate his business, and on this random Saturday night he had innocently come out, hat off, to have a few drinks.
He asked for my number and I left it with no intention of seeing him again. It didn’t matter after all, this was a fantastic story to share in the moment with my roommate and forever with anyone unlucky enough to have never lived in Paris.
Through my brilliant internet stalking abilities, I found his website. Yes, he was a pick-up artist. The site even included tutorial videos. One hidden camera video showed him chatting with an English speaking girl coincidentally named Charlotte. Her face was blurred out. I began to have heart palpitations. Would I wind up in one of these videos? I re-played our conversation in my head and realized it would have made a pretty blase cinematic scene. He had used his real name and we spoke primarily of the American educational system. Comfortable in knowing that I may have been the exception, I said yes when he texted me to invite me out two days later.
My roommate had dubbed him the “French Hitch,” and assured me that he was likely not a serial killer. And though this opportunity presented prime social experimentation, I was not wholly convinced that this man did not suffer from at very least, split-personality disorder.
Our dates consisted of a generously sized portion of my scrutinizing his every move, trying to comprehend his psychological motivations, carefully chosen words, and subtle but biting body language. He told me the focus of his work was on how to escape the “creepy dude” stereotype rather than on directly how to pick up a girl. He said he had found that creepiness is the fundamental problem with a man’s natural “game.” And then I realized that what drew me to him did in fact spawn from his lack of, well, creepiness. He never did anything cringe-worthy in my book, which floored me as I am unnecessarily critical in these situations. He told me that a lot of his coaching centered around body language and the physical manner of approaching a girl. “She should never feel physically trapped,” he told me.
As he scientifically broke down the methodology, my previous conceptions of the mystique surrounding French romance shattered. The fact that he could create a successful business in Paris meant enough insecure Parisian men existed to sign up for his workshops. These men may have possessed a foreign appeal to me, but clearly their game was no better than the prototypically American, “hey baby, are you from Tennessee?”
I couldn’t help but think: has human to human communication become so antiquated that we need to pay money to learn it from someone else? Has male to female communication become so calculated that acting on sheer impulse no longer warrants the proper response? Hearkening back to Leandra’s What is Dating?, I really do have to wonder: if even the French can’t get it right, are we doomed?
In my last few weeks in Paris, we continued to date. He never seemed pushy, he acted politely, kept our conversations intelligent and his presence was so easygoing, I forgot on more than one occasion that I may or may not have had been acting as an accessory to his teachings. I’d even convinced myself that his vocation was simple and standard, when in effect what it was, was calculated, scientific and rare.
French Hitch certainly provided a unique Parisian (mis)adventure of sorts and while we never did dance until the metros re-opened at 7AM, he bestowed new found social knowledge upon me. Sure, it resulted in a sense of disillusionment but this was a story I could harbor forever better than any of the Waltz-variety.
When I finally left Paris, I felt somewhat defeated as I cringed at the thought of dating American men again. Does it actually take a self-proclaimed professional to provide a seemingly normal dating experience in this day and age? Why was it that the only man I could connect with was effectively a professional dater?
When he came to New York three months later, I realized that he was only cool on his own, French turf. In Manhattan, he seemed lost and confused and unable to grasp the English language. Had the relationship been simply a manifestation of inflated, self-inflicted French ideals? What did the quick emotional turn around say about me? My moral standards? That about settled it, no more pick-up artists for me.
Story by Charlotte Fassler, edited by Leandra Medine