It's Lundi, and you know what that means.
It's time for the Transatlantic Parallel with my partner Jeanne-Aelia Desparmet-Hart creator of the stylishly sophisticated blog, Through the French Eye of Design. Every Monday we venture into those treacherous waters separating New York from Paris with its undercurrents of ingrained customs and curiosities we've both learned to navigate over many years of swimming along or barely treading water. We've each been in sink or swim situations -- no money talk, lots of lively un-PC conversations, heated political banter and so on.
We must never forget on which side of the ocean we find ourselves before taking a deep breath and plunging in.
For those familiar with our weekly discourse, stop reading now (just this paragraph, and pick-up the flow below): Jeanne-Aelia and her American husband live outside New York City, my Reason-For-Living-In-France and I reside in the countryside near Paris. Et voila. Each week she and I decide on topics to be discussed and debated for your delectation. As I've mentioned, we post simultaneously and thus never have a clue as to how the other will address the subjects at hand.
Today's Line-up Includes:
1.) Flirting (You know how much I love this subject.)
2.) The How's, Why's and Wherefore's of Tu and Vous
3.) All Dressed-Up With Someplace to Go. (Charity Soirées.)
To Flirt or Not to Flirt? That Is Not the Question.
Remember, I'm on the fun side of the Atlantic. Flirting is a national pass time, an art, an obligation.
If one cannot flirt at a dinner, a cocktail party, in cafes, on the street -- anyplace really -- then what's that thing called joie de vivre? It's like champagne without the bubbles, a Ladurée macaroon without the filling, a woman without perfume. . . OK, I'll stop.
Granted it can be innocent with no ulterior motives. Or, it can be based upon hope: Maybe this will lead to something wonderful. Either way it's fun. Either way it's a game. Either way, no offense taken. Either way, no one plays it better than the French.
I've often found Frenchmen to be their most alluring and seductive at table. Seat a well brought up gentleman between a great beauty and a femme d'un age tres certain, he will flirt left and right. I can assure you the woman of 80 takes on the blush of youth while the lovely young thing laps it up as her due. They sparkle under the attention and when you get right down to it, the kindness of the man in the middle.
As my Reason-For-Living-In-France often says: "There isn't a woman in the world who doesn't possess some kind of beauty." He is absolutely sincere.
Flirting has no expiration date in France. Men and women of all ages are still in the game and most are grand masters of the gentle sport.
As many of you know, my in situ social studies have lead me to a simple realization: Frenchmen like women.
Tu, Vous oh-la-la C'est Compliqué
It's not complicated for Jeanne-Aelia certainly. I'm sure she'll have plenty to say on the subject chez elle.
You all know the basics: vous is the formal address for "you" and tu is the informal, and always, I regret to say, accompanied with verbs which agree with the pronoun. Let me translate: that means if one wishes to speak French correctly, you are not only required to learn tenses -- don't get me started -- but also the tutoyer and the vouvoyer verbs. (Two separate sets of verbs for "you" and "you." It's nuts.)
Those of you whose mother tongue is English, just thank your lucky stars. We may have some tricky grammar and a few curious words: bow, bow, bow for example (think about it), but overall we've got it easy.
J.A. will probably explore and explain the intricacies behind the rules and regulations for "you." Unfortunately I cannot because on this subject I remain an outsider. I tutoie all my close friends, children and animals and vouvoie everyone else. We have many friends with whom we use the familiar you form whose children use the formal you with them. Apparently Charles de Gaulle and his wife, Yvonne, always addressed one another using vous. It is traditionally, and particularly in aristocratic families, an expression of respect (and sometimes social distance).
As for the correct association of the verbs, I use whichever one I happen to recall at the moment whether it agrees or not. That's the beauty of being an étrangere, you can somehow seem charming even when you're stupid.
Making The Rounds
Glamourous, glitzy, gala charity events exist on both sides of the Atlantic. I've been to many here and there.
From this point on I think I shall tip-toe through the remainder of the conversation. . .
Apart from the worthy cause around which an evening is built, the soirée also provides multiple benefits for the individuals who buy tickets and companies which buy tables (and yes, I know, individuals also "buy" tables and invite friends) as donations.
The women go shopping whether they are regular targets of photographers or not, and the men shake out their tuxes. Rarely are these events white tie.
(I knew a woman, often photographed for the party pages who would buy her designer dresses -- she needed plenty because of her busy calendar -- wear them and return them the day after the event with some excuse or other about why they didn't work out. She was famous for this. On the final occasion she tried to pull off her ruse, the saleswoman was waiting with a clipping of her in the dress the previous evening.)
I've been on both sides of these fetes, attendee or journalist (WWD and W) and know how important they are to those attending. Apart from the tax deductions in the United States, they are also choice opportunities for traditional networking and glad-handing, but even more important they are occasions for one to perhaps climb higher on that steep, steep obstacle riddled social ladder. Charity events are a buy-in. We've all seen the rapid rise and fall of what old society -- on both sides of the sea -- refer to as the nouveau riche.
On this I may be totally wrong since it's not always facile when in another culture to pick up every nuance of a situation, but I don't believe there is that same quest for another rung up in France as there is in the United States.
Please correct me if I'm wrong, chere Jeanne-Aelia.
I'm sure however there are far fewer gala benefits in France. It would be virtually impossible for one to have three or more charity events in one week as can be the case in New York or other major cities in the States.
(Pictured above: Le Bal Marie-Antoinette for the Friends of Versailles gathered in the salon d'Hercule in the castle. Below: The New York Metropolitan Museum of Arts' Costume Institute