Wednesday, May 5, 2010

I'll Never Be French

I'm reading a very funny book by Mark Greenside called
I'll Never Be French. I haven't finished it yet but the premise
is he follows a woman to France for the summer and ends up living in Brittany, at least part time.

Something like that happened to me although I haven't yet had the good fortune to make France my semi-permanent home. I did live in France as a student and fell in love with the country and the people. But the women were a mystery to me. I was a junior in college then and not really a woman myself. But I could tell these women, even the college students, weren't like the gals back home.

That's why I enjoyed the rare opportunity I had this year to live in close quarters with a French woman. I warned my friend Sylvie before we left for Ethiopia that I would be taking notes. And I did. So here's my homage to Sylvie and other French women who have become less mysterious to me but remain something to aspire to versus something I am.

Here's what I learned from living with a French woman.

French women invest in fashion

Maybe they learn it from their mothers or maybe it's part of the secret code, but French women understand that great fashion is timeless. They make investments in stylish, timeless pieces. A great trench coat, a classic handbag. When you amortize the cost over a lifetime of use, it actually makes more sense to spend big.

Of course this brings up another quality French women have.

Fait la regime

French women are very aware of and also take action to keep themselves in good shape. One thing I have to say is that while in France I did experience some of the most ridiculous workouts I've ever seen. In that regard, American women kick ass. I went swimming and there were couples making out at the edges of the pool. I went to aerobics and people were smoking outside of class. But, French women manage to stay pretty much the same size throughout their lifetimes, hence making investments in fashion, makes sense.

Fait la regime you'll hear all the time in France and it's basically a commitment to very quickly turning around any weight gain by dieting. There's no packing on 25 pounds and holy merde what happened? French women and men closely watch their waistlines and make quick adjustments where needed to slim down. So their size is their size, for a lifetime.

French women paint

After spending a day in an Ethiopian orphanage cleaning bathrooms and god only knows what, we came home to our spare little room and collapsed on our spare little twin beds. I don't remember what I did but it wasn't much. My friend Sylvie on the other hand took out a small sketchbook and watercolors and proceeded to capture a scene from the day's events in her book. And I remember thinking wow. First she had the thought or preparation to bring paints. Second, this was obviously something she did as a habit. Third, how cultured? Like a lost art, no pun intended.

French women have really nice underwear

You know when you get Victoria's Secret catalogs, or sadly no longer get them because you're not their demographic anymore, whatever, a-holes - but I digress. You know when you get those catalogs and you think, mmm that probably hurts. Or geez I really don't think my butt will look like that in those. Well French women are wearing that underwear. It's not so much even that it's tiny or lacy, it's just that it matches. I mean my underwear collection compared to Sylvie's is appalling. I should be appalled. What am I thinking? I'm dead? I'm wearing the underwear of the dead.

Come on American women. We need to step it up. Go see your local bra whisperer. Find a beige and a beige that match. Or isn't torn. Or isn't from 1984.

Come on.

French women moisturize

I never really thought about moisturizer until I hit 40 and now I think about it, but I'm not really committed to it. Eh whatever, right? Oh I forgot my sunblock in the car and it's like 200 yards from here so I'm not going back. My friend Sylvie always wears sunblock and always puts on moisturizer. And it shows.

French women don't take shit

This was interesting for me if not a bit uncomfortable but I really noticed this quality when I was travelling with a French woman. French women do not take shit. Whatever Protestant-based or Catholic, Quaker, Pilgrim-based guilt American women seem to carry around, French women do not abide. We were flying to Dubai and the guy in front of me basically reclined his seat into my lap during take-off, something that is technically illegal according to made-up airplane laws. Well Sylvie immediately pointed out his mistake explaining that my tray table was now positioned directly under my rib cage and he needed to remove it, all in a way that was charmante. He moved...and then I think he went to fetch us some free champagne from first-class.

Because while American women are intriguing, even beguiling, French women are extraordinary.

"One is not born a woman. One becomes one." Simone de Beauvoir


  1. LOL! How true! As a Half-Finn and Half-French now American, I really appreciated your commentary. I saw your post on Lissy's FB (I'm her sistser).