Monday, February 22, 2010

Transatlantic Parallel

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


Jeanne-Aelia Desparmet-Hart said...

Letitia! you write so well!!! and youe images are so great I love the winking lady of flirting. Is that by Gruau? By the way, Joelle -who is here for a longish weekend- and I were stunned when we saw the picture of the Versailles charity ball; there is a lady with a blond chignon in a blue dress and shawl who look EXACTLY like our darling mother 20 years ago. (No, she was not there. and sadly she is no longer here.) Fun detail. GREAT GREAT post as always!

My Carolina Kitchen said...

I always look forward to lundi Tish. These are so much fun. I love the winking woman in the wild red hat. So appropriate.

Don't get me started on old "has-been" glamorous movie stars who rich married oil barons that "borrow" their gowns and shoes from Saks Fifth Avenue. As a lady, of course I won't reveal names, but some would be shocked.

Lovely post. I will stick with vous. Everything else is too complicated for me.

knitpurl said...

wonderful incites with your usual humor, thanks Tish!

I think the 'Gown borrowing' happens anywhere.

materfamilias said...

V. interesting -- one of our great pleasures in our visits to Paris is that we've been asked to tutoie our hotelier-become-friend. Makes us feel a teeny bit adopted Parisiens! Now I'm off to check the other side of the Atlantic.

A Thousand Clapping Hands said...

I love all the manners in France...they're like an Olympic event. Just when you think you've gotten over a hurdle, down you go. But you can look glamourous while doing so...and flirt with whoever picks you up. Entertaining as always, Tish.


The Daily Connoisseur said...

So insightful- so true- and so funny!

BigLittleWolf said...

Yes, indeed. "Frenchmen like women."

Exactly why THIS woman likes Frenchmen who like women.

Delicious post, comme d'habitude.

metscan said...

What fun to read these monday posts. So true, yet so funny how a different culture leads your behavior.

Carmie - the Single Nester said...

I do love to flirt! Unfortunately, when I was in Paris, I had not "come in to my own" as a woman. Can't wait to go back and test out my new found security! J'adore le blog!

Metropolitan Mum said...

Ooops. Looks like I forgot to tell you that I'd love to see the inner life of your sac a main. Must be the Caribbean sun shining on my head. It all goes mushy mushy inside. Ok, here goes: please, please, please play along. I always wanted to know what's in an interesting lady's bag.

On a different note: I saw that picture on your blog and was thinking 'why on earth did she post a picture of Hitler and Braun?'. I never realised before that Charles de Gaulle and Hitler looked somewhat alike. Having said that, I'd better duck down now. I can feel frog legs being thrown my way...

Semi Expat said...

So love these incites into French life from you!! Thank you - a great post as ever ....X

Richard @ The Bewildered Brit said...

I've always felt that there's a certain joie de vivre in the whole way the French constantly flirt. I do sometimes wish Americans would be slightly less straight-laced at times. :)

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

Tish, this was great. I loved the piece on flirting. I just love that the French take love, sex and friendship to HEART and really live it. It is so funny that every year that my fourth grade students correspond with their French pen pals, the first question les français ask my kids is, "Es-tu amoureux/amoureuse de quelqu'un?" My kids just spit and think it is disgusting, but voilà, cultural difference! They will learn soon enough how rich that is!

Bisous, Anita

Bonjour Madame said...

I loved hearing about the flirting, it just makes you feel alive sometimes. Is that so wrong? I think not.

I'm watching the Paris part on The Devil Wears Prada right now and wishing I were there!

myletterstoemily said...

a terrible theft to return dresses worn to
events. it can be a terrible burden,
however to keep up with all the parties.

i have friends whose lives revolve around
their dresses.

please put me out of my misery if i ever
get that desperate.

Style Artisan said...

I am a hypocrite. I would enjoy being on the receiving end of the flirtation, but would not like it at all if my dear, sweet husband was flirting away with someone else. So, I will be thankful that he doesn't!

The "gown borrowing" goes on everywhere, unfortunately. It is appalling, so I loved the bit about the store clerk with the press clipping of the customer wearing the dress!

Beautifully50 said...

I love this post! Having worked for 2 French companies...I definitely agree..French men love all women! I have to say, I can be a real flirt, it's just my personality and it's always innocent!
Check out my post today..I love your blog - makes me feel like I'm a little closer to Paris:) my favorite city!

Gypsy Purple said...

I SO enjoy your blog!!!!!

Morgane said...

I enjoy your posts specially because it make me open my eyes on french "attitudes" : flirting yes ! I guess i do it constantly even with the butcher or my "fromager" : i bat my lashes when i ask him a "camembert coulant" lol!


It's so lovely to read your post...I'm intrigued as always~
I need 'flirt' in my to do list now!

Shelley said...

I'm thinking there is flirting...and flirting. It is fun and lovely when everyone knows it's going nowhere (ie parties are married); otherwise I'm afraid I can't help but feel sad about it. If everyone is free to pursue each other, however, be my guest. I used to love to flirt with my father-in-law, also an outrageous flirt. In some ways it's just about being more interested, smiling more and trying to amuse.

I thought the picture of deGaulle looked a lot like Hitler as well; just the style of the day no doubt.

There are stories of British couples who always addressed one another as Mr. Jones or Mrs. Jones as well as referring to their spouses as such. If their relationship were that distant it would be very sad. I would hope it was just sort of an inside joke.

These are great blog posts, Tish!

La Petite Gallery said...

This is a great post. The art work
red hat is cute.
As far as those gals that return dresses that has been going on in the 50's at Neimans in Houston.
Glad they got nailed.
The Balls are a real farce. A way to have fun for free.The price of dinner barely pays the bills for party.PALM BEACH GOT CAUGHT AND THE MILLION DOLLAR PARTY AFTER IT WAS PAID FOR LEFT ALMOST NOTHING.

Duchesse said...

Fascinating, Trish! My DH is French-Canadian, so his take on flirting is French. He feels sorry for (what he calls) "tight-assed Anglos" who, for exxample, wear decollté then glare if that attracts a glance.

And my French GF says, wearily, "With French men, it is so much work, because they all think they have to seduce you".

pve design said...

I feel totally blessed. My husband was born in America, raised in France and his flirt is such a happy mixture. I shall never forget the first time we laid eyes on one another. All the oceans and water in the world cannot undo pure love.
Lovely and fun comparison.

Jacqueline said...

Dear Tish,
Do you think that we should adopt the ways of the country we are visiting or should we stay true to our own culture ? I think that I am in two minds.
I am going to tell you something now, after which, you may never speak to me again.
I DON'T FLIRT !!!! Shock, Horror !!
I have always found flirting rather a strange pastime. A real tease. ...and I don't know what the point of it is. It doesn't ever come to any conclusion and finishes on an incomplete note.
Sorry Tish. If we ever meet up though, and we go out, you can flirt away to your heart's content. I don't mind other peole doing it. It's just not for me. XXXX

Natasha said...

Very interesting and very entertaining. Thank you for sharing your perspectives on the art of flirting! Can't wait to see what you discuss next time!

Thank you so much also for visiting Tish and for your very sweet comment. It is so nice to "meet" you and I can't wait to go and read some of your older posts.

Best wishes,

Morgane said...

hello !
i tagged you on my blog !
passe une bonne journée !

The Gold Digger said...

I worked at Macy's for a while a few years ago after being laid off from my career job. The evening dress department did not accept returns of evening gowns for that exact reason. No returns for anyone.

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