The Big City and Me: Feeling Safe and Comfortable in an Unknown City

Alex Seymour ’17
Staff Writer

Today, as I get on the subway in Hamburg, Germany, I find myself sitting across from a young girl, perhaps 11-years-old. She is eating carrot sticks out of puppy shaped Tupperware. The man next to her is about three beers deep — blatantly breaking the no alcohol on the subway rule. Out of nowhere, he pulls out a jar of sausage and offers some to the little girl. She politely declines. When asked why, she tells him she doesn’t eat meat. This provokes him to an extent that I have never seen before. He starts screaming at the child, insulting her intelligence, making jokes about “plants rights.” I try to distract him – I tell him I am a vegan. If a vegetarian kick starts him like that, imagine how he’d react to a vegan. I was wrong.

It turns out nothing can distract him from this little girl. After a while it starts to escalate – he waves his arms and scoots closer to her, I can tell from her face that she can smell his beer breath. I tell the girl not to worry, that I won’t leave the train until she does.

Meanwhile, the drunk starts singing the German national anthem – the old Nazi version.

As his stop finally approaches, the man leaves the train, but not before making a joke about robbing a bank and killing a man. He locks eyes with the little girl and says he will see her later.

As I get off the train with the little girl, her mother is there. She tears up and tells me that God put me on that train with her little girl. I gave the girl my number and tell her that if anything like that happens again to call me.

This incident is just one example of what women and girls must be cautious of when living in a big city. This has become especially clear to me now that I’m studying abroad in Hamburg, where reports of women being assaulted by groups of men on New Year’s Eve were in record numbers.

I’m not the type of person who lets myself get concerned or worry. But since living in this big city, it’s impossible not to notice the men who purposely get off on the wrong subway stop to follow me back to my apartment. I see the drunken college guys who stumble into my arms at the bars on weekend nights as something other than annoying – now, I see them as potential threats. I have learned how to walk through life not letting my guard down.

In the Smith bubble, it can be easy to forget that there are threats lurking around every corner. As unfair as it is, women have to watch their backs in the big city. However, we should not let our caution spoil our sense of adventure. Here are a few travel tips for the daring yet cautious women out there, acquired during my time in Hamburg. First: do not go places at night unless you are either with people that you know or if you are in a place that you know. Second: Watch your glass. If the guy sitting next to you at the bar insists on getting your drink for you, he isn’t someone you want to pal around with. Third: Make sure someone you trust knows where you are and what you are doing.  Fourth: Stay in well-lit, populated areas. Fifth: Be confident. Predators look for weaknesses, so don’t give them any. Sixth: Be observant. Don’t let yourself be surprised.

While it is true that the surest way to stay out of danger is to never venture outside of your comfort zone, that is unrealistic. All of us deserve excitement, adventure and the right to a full life. If we let the caution take over, the predators have won.

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