You may be reading the last chapter in the "What Do THEY Think of Us?" series although it's possible one more is on the horizon. Two women I've been wanting to interview are taking interminably long vacances. Viva la France.
Overall this week even the criticisms they site seem almost charming. I think "too much enthusiasm" is infinitely more desirable then measured, controlled restraint.
Let me introduce you to the respondents: Caty, a former Air France stewardess who works on and off in a friend's boutique; Caro, a doctor in pharmacy; Françoise, a real estate agent, devotée of all things Marithé + François Girbaud and one of the first people I met when we moved to France; Catherine, an English teacher at the lycee in the village next to ours and Caroline, a practicing endocrinologist and researcher.
And the answers are:
Caty: I find Americans charming, particularly in first encounters. But I think it's part of their cultural politesse, which is to say I think it's superficial, yet pleasant.
American women seem far more liberated than Frenchwomen, particularly in their relationships with men. But is that such a great idea? I'm not sure. I don't know whose fault it is but from our point of view we Latins like the games of charm and seduction, that little romantic dance between a man and a woman. Before we go too far with a man we believe he must 'deserve us,' we're special.
Caro: 'Tea time' is just plain annoying. It's another mini meal to prepare, I think it's a waste of time. (That must sound terrible, non?)
I hate English pharmacies. They sell everything, nothing is arranged properly and there is never anyone to offer advice, spend a moment talking with you. I've heard American pharmacies are exactly the same.
Françoise: Everything is all or nothing in the United States. When a woman is on a regime she'll go from eating everything in sight to nothing at all. We constantly watch our weight and for the most part few Frenchwomen have the yoyo problem.
If an American starts a new sport at 40 she'll practically kill herself on the first day.
I love the way they dress when actually participating in sports, but frankly can't they keep their sport clothes for sports and change into something else when they go out? Generally I think casual has turned into n'importe quoi -- a petit effort wouldn't hurt. And then when they get dressed-up for some big event, it can be too much. Less is more.
Oh yes, vitamins. Americans take them by the fist-full. I have French friends who live in the States and they do exactly the same thing. In fact, so do I. Every time they visit I give them a long alphabetical list from A to zinc. I really do think vitamin E has helped my skin. . .
Catherine: I've had more experiences and friendships with the British. I find them easy-going, respectful. They are particularly tolerant and accepting of other ideas and ways of life. They come off as cool, but I think they have a fire inside. They're the opposite of Italians.
They're positive and faithful in friendships. The single criticism I have is they don't make much of an effort to speak a complete sentence in French. They figure everyone speaks English so why bother.
The British love French cooking. My friends are constantly asking me for recipes.
I think neither the British or the Americans in general care much about clothes.
And finally it seems to me Americans are more intellectual and care more about studies and education.
Caroline: I work with Americans and find the way the women in my profession dress is so strict and uniform-like that it's almost shocking for me. Those suits -- complete imitations of a man's except for the skirt. Why? I couldn't believe it when a colleague told me she was obliged to wear pantyhose in the summer. What's that all about?
I don't understand why women can't be feminine and professional at the same time. Where's the contradiction?
From my experience career women think about nothing but work, work, work. Recently one came here to collaborate with me and we worked from seven in the morning until 11 at night for two weeks. (I have a life outside work, a husband and three children and I don't like sacrificing time with them when it's not absolutely necessary.) On her last weekend she shopped, shopped, shopped. She didn't ask me for addresses or ideas, just what time the boutiques open. I assume she planned to shop the same way she works.
All in all I find the English less strict on pretty much every level.