Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Nobody Does It Better: Part II

In this, the second survey on the subject of "what they know that we don't" the women quoted below are expats from Canada, South Africa, Germany, England, Portugal and Italy. All have lived here for decades and are fully integrated into French society. (Two arrived as children and therefore have no accents on their flawless French.)

The rules remained the same as in Part I: Since I use only first names they could be nasty or nice when extolling the virtues or damning the vices of les femmes françaises. You'll see we have a bit of both.

This is what they told me:

Ella: They are far more realistic than we are. I think it's a pity we were brought up believing in fairy stories, happy endings, princes on white horses and all the rest. They know better.

Oh yes, it's not a cliche, they really can cook.

Victoria:  No Frenchwoman hangs around her house in her pajamas all day. It's unthinkable. When I take my children to school, every mother is dressed stylishly and has done her makeup. Of course I do too.

For a few years I worked for an American fashion company and I noticed the huge difference in the way the French and English girls dressed. The French were always smart while the English girls would show up in flip-flops, too short skirts and tops that bared unsightly flesh. Eventually a memo was sent out with a dress code.

Sometimes I do think Frenchwomen project a public image that doesn't coincide with who they really are. Perhaps we all do in some ways to protect ourselves, but it seems more pronounced with them.

I think even though I don't have an accent on my French I'm still considered 'exotic' which in a way I find very appealing.

Once a friendship is established, which can take quite some time, I think they are extremely loyal.

Helga: From the minute I started studying French in school I knew there was no other place in the world I wanted to live. 

What do I think of Frenchwomen? I think they always look stylish no matter what they're wearing and I have the impression they don't often spend a great deal of money on their clothes. It's just the way they put them together.

I think in general they're optimistic. They have a sense of balance, of what is important, what is trivial and a waste of time. 

Another quality I've found to be consistently present is their tolerance. They are accepting of various behaviors in their families and friends and perhaps in society in general that Anglo-Saxons tend to judge more harshly.

Maria: I smile all the time and when I arrived in France I realized Frenchwomen don't smile that often. It made me feel strange and out of place. I don't know whether it's good or bad, but I do smile less now.

I was surprised by how much time it takes to make lasting friendships and to be invited into a French home. My family had an open-door policy. We were constantly inviting friends -- old and new -- for dinner, Sunday lunches, an aperitif. It's very different here.

Elise:  My experience has been -- and it happened several times -- Frenchwomen take advantage of others,  they're friendly when they need something and forget about you when you are no longer useful.

I think they're controlling and manipulating in their relationships.

Suzanne: They have a serious non-involvement in anything outside of their own selves (!)

Their commitment to the 'boff' factor (translates sort of like "whatever. . .") gives them a kind of toughness and a hard-hearted factor I quit envy.

Simone de Beauvoir, with all her talk about freedom. . . It was her greatest pain.

I don't think I'd like to be a French woman.


Marsi said...

"Sometimes I do think Frenchwomen project a public image that doesn't coincided with who they really are. Perhaps we all do in some ways to protect ourselves, but it seems more pronounced with them."

I was wondering about this yesterday while driving. I'd taken my son to the doctor for his annual school physical and had noticed, once again, that I was the only mom in the waiting room who'd made an effort to look nice. As I was driving home, I fretted a little about whether the nice bag and shoes (you know which ones) and the three strands of red coral branches around my neck made me seem to others someone who I actually am not. And then I thought, "A French woman wouldn't even be having this conversation with herself, and wouldn't feel like she ought to apologize for taking care to look nice." It really bothers me sometimes that women in the U.S. just don't seem to care about wanting to look nice for themselves, their significant others, their children, and perfect strangers. Why NOT improve the view??

My college friend in France has made the same observation about how French women can be so very self-involved and exploitative in their relationships -- that they are nice only because they want something from you, and as soon as they get it, they're gone. The Paris-based author of a blog called La Mom, which I sometimes read, has written about the phenomenon quite a bit as well. I wonder where that comes from? Have you encountered it yourself, Tish?

Thank you, by the way, for the lovely email over the weekend. My poor fella has stabilized and is doing so much better, but now I'm in desperate "catch up" mode for a few days. Will answer you soon!

xo --

knitpurl said...

Is it breeding? How one is raised makes a difference and certainly where in the world one lives. In my corner of the world I've encountered many a stare over the years because of dressing a certain way (usually it's the heels with jeans). Even make-up can induce a stare or two.

Marsi's question about looking good for one's self, family, etc. is one to ponder here in the States. There are women out there who do care about how they look, those are the ones I admire, no matter how few I see on a daily basis.

tish jett said...

Au contraire, Marsi, that is exactly who you are: a woman who wants to be as beautiful as she can be for herself, her husband, her family and anyone else lucky enough to have their day enhanced by looking at you.

You must hold up the standard and raise the bar for women who let themselves go. It's such a shame and the pity of it all is that looking good is not only our best revenge, but also lots of fun. Once we're dressed up, made up we're ready to face the day in confidence.

I think Victoria who just 40 was perhaps referring more to a facade of politesse, that French ritual of what is and is not "correct" -- I'll see if I can get her to clarify.

Luckily I haven't had that negative experience although I know many women who have. And I have seen it in action. It can be very cruel.

P>S.: Be careful with your red toothpaste as cute and retro as it is. My dentist told me it makes teeth look whiter because it makes the gums more red. It's the contrast. Don't use it especially any time soon after a whitening product unless you want pink teeth.

tish jett said...

Yes, it must be breeding. From the time those little silver spoons are slipped into a little girl's mouth her mother is already beginning to control her diet and this will continue on through the teens until weight watching becomes a reflex.

Once in an interview I was asked why I wanted to be a fashion journalist and I answered "because I think clothes are one of the most important statements a woman makes about her personality, what she thinks of herself and how she perceives her life." In a way it's a sociological question.

Bravo for you, Carole.

Bonjour Madame said...

Fascinating interview answers! I like the answer about how they are realists. Once you can weed out the things that are not real and deal with what is, it removes a lot of anxiety and worry over unrealistic ideas.

It seems they dress nice with no exceptions. This has to be an upbringing and cultural issue. Who wants to be the oddball out in France where most women are at the top of their game with making an effort on their appearance. It's the opposite here, if you dress nice, you are the oddball out, hence the second guessing of ourselves, etc.

I also like the comment about balance and think this is key. If you know what is important you can focus on that and prioritize correctly instead of wasting a lot of time on unimportant things....or worse, important things to other people. I'm going through this with work right now. I'm reacting to everyone's whims and I think it's going to stop today. I'm curious to see what reactions I will get.

Thanks for bringing us such interesting insights into French women.


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