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The cougar in spite of herself.

I brought a cold and/or upper-respiratory bug from Cornwall to London. (Should have stuck with postcards, huh?) It worsened the next day so I decided to go to bed early rather than see “War Horse.” The virus had chewed its way into my bones.

Fortunately I’d packed some cold meds. A paranoid traveler is a prepared traveler, as well as a traveler who doesn’t have to go out in search of a pharmacy when she’s feeling like homemade shit.

As I crept along the hostel hallway I saw some young dude using a cell phone. He hung up and said, “Hallo, how are you doing?” Couldn’t place his accent or his provenance.

I replied, “I’m sick and I’m going to bed” and kept moving.

He followed me. “You are sick? What’s wrong?”

“A cold.” I coughed to punctuate/demonstrate. “Good night.”

“You should take a shower,” he said.

That sounded odd to me but I shrugged it off. “Maybe later.” As I pushed the heavy door open I saw the light I’d left on was now out. Apparently my roomies were early-to-bed types, too. So I opened the door as little as possible to keep out the hallway glare and slipped through the narrow space.

And the guy tried to follow me in.

We were not amused

I should have shouted at him to get the hell out of the room. Perhaps it was the cold medication making me, you know, stupid. Or perhaps it was just the inculcation I’d received from girlhood on: Don’t make a fuss, don’t raise your voice. Besides, my roommates were asleep.

So all I did was close the door, effectively shoving him back out. After my keychain flashlight helped me find my sweats and toothbrush I went back down toward the women’s bathroom. On my way back the guy showed up once more. By now my spider senses were really tingling.

“Oh, my friend, you are sick,” he said, falling into step with me and draping his arm around my shoulder. I pushed him away and put my card key in the door. Then I felt him kiss me on the back of the neck. Eeeww!

Yes, I should have clocked him one. (Or at least yelled “Knock it off, Rob Schneider!”) Perhaps it was the cold medication making me, you know, really stupid.

Instead, I turned to face the smarmy little stripling and said, “Back off. I don’t want you to touch me. And besides, I’m old enough to be your mother.”

He whispered, “You look younger.”

Oh, puh-leeze.

I never wanted to be a cougar

“Go away,” I said, and opened the door.

“Good night,” he said, and patted me on the butt. Double eeewww! Did he think he was doing me a favor? That all American women of a certain age were dying to be pawed by gigolo wannabes?

Note: I did not feel menaced by this guy, nor did I feel that other young women were in any real danger other than to be grossed out by his trying-too-hard-to-be-smooth antics. The hallways amplified noise;  even slightly raised voices sounded like conversations via megaphones. If he did try to push himself on someone all she’d have to do is yell once and the entire floor would hear.

No, what I experienced is the same thing I saw throughout the hostel: Men being a little too familiar with women they didn’t know, asking leading questions (“Do you have a boyfriend?” was a preferred initial query) and trying to get them to go to a pub or a club. None of those guys suggested a shower, though, or came on to guests currently in their sixth decades.

I never wanted to be a cougar. Younger men are pretty but they’re just not that interesting. And I certainly didn’t want to be a cougar with a head cold.

Now I’m just chalking it up to his being a guy who was young and dumb and full of, uh, hormones. He wasn’t succeeding with women his own age (gee, wonder why?) and he was desperate to make a little time with anything that had a double-X chromosome. If I’d been less sick and less medicated, I’d have burst out laughing. He was about as subtle as sandpaper on sunburn.

Or maybe he thought older American women had money and would be willing to help fund his vacation to London. If that were the case he was not only annoying but also stupid: If I had money, would I be sleeping in a room with seven other people and hiking to the toilet?

Now I can laugh. I can also consider adding a mini-Taser to the key ring.


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30 Comments

  1. Donna, these travel adventures are hilarious!! How are you ever gonna want to come home after all this adventure??! I agree…he sounds kind of yucky and not the least bit “interesting”. But it will certainly be a memory souvenier!

  2. Mary Lambert

    OMGEEZ!! You could write a book just on the characters you’ve met on this trip alone. lol He doesn’t sound like a menacer….just an awfully full of himself young fellow. I’d have laughed my head off! Probably wouldn’t have affected his ego a bit.

    Is there such a thing as a mini-taser? I think someone as irresistable as you had better get one or invent one! :o)

  3. “Cougar with a Head Cold” sounds like the name of your band, Donna. 😉

  4. In my book he was pushing himself onto you with a kiss and pat on the butt! That is beyond normal. That is menacing. You are very kind and trusting. He probably did not care that you had a head cold. LOL…He wasn’t prepared to kiss you in the mouth if he could just get to the goodies.

    The whole floor would have heard me screaming at him. I have a bloodcurdling scream. Just ask the various dogs that were traumatized by it. And guys, too! By the way, yell”Fire!” No one will ignore that.

    Suggesting you shower should give you an idea he was not after your money or any benefits other than one benefit to him. Actually, a shower might have helped loosen up the head congestion.

    I hate to sound like your mother. But, you were way too lenient with that jerk. Nice women end up missing because they don’t want to make a ruckus. This makes my head hurt! The next woman he bothers might not be so lucky.

    Maybe your cold will clear up soon. It would be nasty to be ill on vacation. Have fun.

  5. I’m sorry but that is hilarious! And creepy at the same time!

  6. lostAnnfound

    That’s too creepy! :0 The kiss on the neck would have had me either turning around and yelling at him or hitting him!

  7. Ick. Yeah, mace at least.

  8. Oh, Lord. HA, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! I’m falling on the floor, girl. That is just more than awful! Never knew you were ” Just a hunk, a hunk of burning love.” (Oh, of course, not that you couldn’t be a flamin’ hottie—how am I to know?) Never, ever let it be said that you don’t have an absolute proclivity (“inclination, especially toward something discreditable”) for this kind of stuff! It gives you so much writing material, wouldn’t you agree?

  9. Maybe he was just a med student practicing to make house calls. ha. You sure pack a lot of adventure in a vacation.

  10. bobbysgirl

    This is just too funny. He was probably from an Eastern European country.

    The shower might have helped LOL!

    DD was an exchange student in England. When she was sick she went to the doctor. (under their system) I don’t know if travelers can see their docs, but it might be worth an investigation. Maybe for the guy when an American woman beats him for unwanted advances. ROFL

  11. I’m sorry but that was a funny story. What a sicko but in a weird way, flattering no? Maybe he really thought you were cute.

  12. Weird.

    Sounds like a lot of goings-on get gotten-up-to in those hostels…maybe he was just doing what he figured everyone else was doing.

    But yuch! What a creep!

  13. While I do love your twist on this situation, I do worry for you. Just call me mom.
    Take care.

  14. So much for thinking I’m too old to have to deal with that kind of crud… Your graciousness was coming through Donna.

  15. Vicky Fox

    Donna, your adventure is soaring to interestingly new heights! I hope it’s not like this in Alaska, or I’ll have to be your official regulator:)

    • Donna Freedman

      @Vicky: Ha! Actually I expect that the men of Talkeetna will be enthralled by you and I’ll have to be your spotter. 😉

  16. Your description of what happened made me laugh. The only thing is that I know of way too many guys who are like the one you described. I’m embarrassed to admit that I think I might have dated a couple of them.

  17. jestjack

    Wow Donna….! As a father of two daughters this is the kind of stuff that keeps me up at night. Some “creep” taking liberties like that…just makes me crazy. Glad you kept your wits about you and remained safe.

  18. How much are your hostel stays averaging per night, Donna? (I know — I’m being nosey. But we’ve been considering going this route.)

  19. Catseye

    Oh my God, Donna! So glad that didn’t turn out any worse than it did. I have to admit that I’ve been a little concerned about your personal safety over there amidst all them “furriners”. Yeah, he just sounds more creepy and clueless than dangerous.
    Really sorry you’re sick while on vacation AND out of the country. Please take care of yourself. Hope the trip’s been worth it so far.

  20. Still can’t get over the mini-taser on the keyring idea! Wouldn’t that just be a “kick!” (yes, stooopid pun intended)

  21. Donna Freedman

    @Bobbysgirl: Only if it were a COLD shower, and if he were the one taking it.

  22. Donna Freedman

    @Cindy Brick: Originally I’d booked a “pod bed” room for 26 pounds per night. When I got there I wondered why in the world I did that, and asked to be switched to cheaper digs.
    I couldn’t get one cheap room for the rest of my stay — the hostel was booked fairly full — so I wound up checking in and out numerous times, a night or two in each room. Kind of a pain, but they let me store my suitcase for free and I was going out in the mornings anyway.
    Thus I wound up spending anywhere from $19.32 to $41.86 (ouch) per night. Most of the rooms were on the low end of the spectrum. The pricey one was the pod-bed one — and, unfortunately, it was sometimes an UPPER berth, as lamented in this post:
    http://www.donnafreedman.com/2011/03/12/in-which-i-briefly-second-guess-the-hostel/
    I’m definitely sold on hostels. Next up: A trip to New York City, which has a hostel in the same network as the one I joined in Chicago. I may also hit that network’s Washington, D.C. location.
    Accommodations vary so be sure to do your homework. Some are much nicer than others. The one in Chicago was relatively new and quite pleasant. The one in Cardiff had adjoining showers and toilets, and sinks right in the room. The one in London was EXTREMELY basic but I couldn’t beat the location — just a couple of blocks off Piccadilly Circus, and for as little as less than $20 per night. I’d go back there in a heartbeat. Once I save up some money, that is.

  23. Not the least bit funny. Whether you realize it or not, you were assaulted, yes sexually. Obviously not life threatening, and kudos to you for deterring it from escalating. But I shudder to think of someone not as aware or as strong. He should have been reported. Even you as a mature woman were concerned about making noise and disturbing others. And a younger less experienced woman might have been traumatized by what he did to you. I really don’t get that people think this is funny. Stay safe.

  24. soooooo creeeeeeepy!!!! I am totally creeped out, hours later, to the point that I had to come back and creep out!!

  25. A glowing endorsement for hostel-based travel. 🙂 Really, it is — you got a story out of it. The most interesting thing I got from my London stead was a butter and chutney sandwich.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Flexo: I got several stories from my hostel stay, including the one about the roommate who was arrested for importing machetes while on a Seventh Day Adventist mission in the Congo. You couldn’t make this stuff up.
      Thanks for stopping by, and for leaving a comment.

  26. Kristina

    Your stories are very interesting and I can’t wait to some day get to the UK and Ireland as those are my last two European countries.

    To those wondering about hostel travel: I have done it since I was 12 (now mid thirties) and as long as you have a good head on, there are no problems. I have traveled extensively and never had a problem. It is safe and if “the multiple people in one room” idea bothers you, every hostel has private rooms for 1 or 2 cheaper than a hotel. Try it in a local city and you might find a new, frugal way to travel and extend your trip through the hotel savinga.

    I can’t wait to read the rest!

    • Donna Freedman

      @Kristina: I’m working on a “frugal travel hacks” piece for MSN Money right now and I have found several different services that will match you (for free) to a homestay (for free). Some is actual couch-surfing and some are more like B&Bs except that you don’t have to pay.
      In both cases, of course, good manners would dictate that you helped with chores, took the hosts out to dinner or did something else to show your gratitude. I may give this form of travel a try.

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