Until I met Jeanne-Aelia Desparmet-Hart, Lundi was my least favorite day of the week, however since we've constructed our Transatlantic Parallel partnership -- I love Mondays (!)
Briefly, for those of you unfamiliar with our weekly exchanges, this is what transpires: Jeanne-Aelia, creator of the divinely chic blog, Through the French Eye of Design, lives outside New York City; I live outside Paris. That puts us in the unique sociological position of studying up-close and personal the habits and habitats of those whose culture may not necessarily mirror our own. And this is where we tell you about our adventures -- the frustrations, the faux pas and the fun.
Each of our "conversations" includes three subjects we choose together, followed by a total blackout until we see each other's post the same moment you do.
Today's Line-Up Includes:
1.) Knives and forks (and you think this isn't complicated?).
2.) Who's sexy? Or, what's sexy? Or, what's all the fuss about one button?
3.) If punctuality is the politeness of kings, why are the French always late for everything?
The Hot Button Issue
My feeling is that Frenchwomen of all ages are inherently more sensuous (or sexy if you like) than the rest of us.
Rarely have I had the impression their sensuality is anything other than natural. Skirts are tighter, jackets hug their curves, heels are higher, hair swings freely, they smell delicious, and then there's the button.
Where those of us "Anglo-Saxons" button-up, a French woman loosens the one just above her cleavage. It's effortless, sensual and never vulgar.
And beneath they are no doubt wearing the world's most luscious lingerie, but they only give us a hint, a peek, a whisper of that innate aura of mystery they project.
It seems to me it isn't a decision the way it is for us -- up, up, up and out -- ultimately all artifice and effort making most of us look as if we're not comfortable in our skin.
I've avoided talking about Hollywood because it has nothing to do with real life. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I have never seen a trashy, revealing picture of a French actress on the street. Yes, they will drop their clothes for a photo shoot in a fashion magazine faster, I think, than their peers from other countries, but I'm convinced that's proof positive of the fact they are comfortable with their bodies, bien dans leur peau.
See what Ines de la Fressange has done? And my favorite news anchor of all time (except maybe Diane Sawyer), Claire Chazal? She does the weekend nouvelles and I love her casual chic, her makeup and hair. Often she is completely undercover, but she oozes sex appeal. Oh, yes, she has a great voice, not quite husky, but almost.
(Ed. Note: What in the world has Roberto Cavalli done? Scary.)
Stop, Stop, Don't Even Think About It (!)
Put that slice of pizza down this minute (!) You're in France, remember?
You name it and the French eat it with a fork, or a fork and knife or a fork and spoon.
A small list: bacon, French fries, apples and pears when served at table -- peeled, sliced and eaten with a fork -- many sandwiches. Ice cream is consumed with a fork although most hostesses provide a spoon and a fork so you are not forced to lick the plate or bowl at the point when the fork becomes useless.
I've been told en famille or perhaps in a picnic situation, i.e. at table in someone's garden as opposed to sitting on grass in a field, if the hostess picks up a fry in her well-manicured fingers, it's a signal that the rest of us may do likewise.
I certainly hope Jeanne-Aelia will weigh in with more precision on this.
Curiously, very often the French eat asparagus with their fingers, dipping delicately into the vinaigrette. My-Reason-For-Living-In-France and I were having lunch one day at Brasserie Lipp where we spied a young woman eating her asparagus in the previously mentioned manner. I need your complete attention and imagination engaged now: it bordered on the obscene and everyone in the restaurant was riveted on her every languorous, laboriously slow gesture.
Whatever You Do, Do Not Arrive On Time
Louis XVIII (1755-1824 and king of France from 1814 until his death) famously said: "L'exactitude est la politesse des rois."
Obviously standards have slipped since the good old days of the monarchy.
If one is invited to a dinner for 8 p.m. do not, repeat do not, ring the bell, tap on the door or knock the knocker at the appointed hour.
Jeanne-Aelia may have a historical or culturally based explanation for this custom, I do not. I do however have the benefit of my experience. At a grand black-tie dinner in Paris given for some event or other during the ready-to-wear collections, an American friend and I arrived right on the dot (this was waaaay back when).
We spent the next 45 minutes drinking with the charming waiters. By the time the other invitees arrived we were on our third flute. We did have a particularly lovely evening however. . .
Even when one is invited chez des amis, the window of convenance is minimum 15 minutes after the hour and up to 25-ish. Supposedly 30 minutes is a bit much, although I've never been to a dinner where at least some stragglers showed up at half-past the hour.