17 July 2013

Why Was This Woman Touching My Leg?

She was a complete stranger, yet she was casually touching my leg. Why?

That's what I wondered the other day on a crowded train between Montreux and Lausanne. I had taken the last seat in the usual 4-seat, face-to-face arrangement you find on Swiss trains. The other three seats were occupied by 3 talkative friends, a woman directly across from me, a man next to her by the window, and a woman next to me. The couple across from me held hands. They all three nodded to me courteously when I sat down, then went back to their conversation in African-accented French. All three were black, obviously immigrants, probably in their 30s.

Soon I noticed that the woman next to me was allowing her hand at her side to touch my thigh. A Swiss person would never do this. I glanced at her, but she didn't seem to notice me as she talked to her two friends. I resisted squirming away from her hand.

The guy then took out his phone and started taking pictures of the gorgeous passing lake panoramas, while the women leaned forward diagonally so the one across from me could flick her finger across the smartphone screen of the woman next to me. They were engrossed in conversation, apparently oblivious to me. So much so, that the woman across from me put her hand on my knee so she could lean closer to see her friend's phone display.

For a minute or so the two women continued like this, talking in French that was too fast and accented for me to follow. The hand of the woman across from me remained on my knee. I tried to make eye contact but she was apparently too involved with her friend and the phone notice.

I was just about to interrupt them to ask where they were from, and to cordially point out that it's highly unusual on a Swiss train for one passenger to touch a stranger on the leg so casually, when my wife arrived from her seat down the aisle, leaned over and gave me a kiss. As she and I spoke, I realized the women were no longer touching my legs.

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