In keeping with the salute to French women month in my eBay store, I thought I would spell out a few reasons why la femme française deserves recognition.
There are more than 5 classic traits about French women, but let’s be practical.
1. French women are practical. While us non-French tend to think of style, perfume, and seduction when thinking of our French sisters, underneath it all, they have a solid foundation. Le Planning (the daily schedule) is strictly adhered to, three squares a day are de rigueur, and when they shop, they buy with quality in mind so their one purchase will last them for years, often decades. Snacking is looked down upon, unless at the proscribed hour of 4 pm “le gouter,” usually reserved for children. (Our housekeeper finds it really strange if I snack after lunch, or if I missed lunchtime and eat around 2 or 3. Can’t get over it and finds the urgent need to comment that I am eating.) If I were a Frenchwoman, instead of the piles of clothes that I don’t even realize I have taking up precious space in my closet, I would probably have an airy closet full of clothing that would serve me beautifully for years. It is thanks to this pragmatic outlook that the French woman is able to pull it all off (no, not all, but enough) and keep her cool. Which is another facet of the French woman I so admire:
2. Her cool and collected manner. When I arrived off the boat from the U.S. a few years ago, I was a multi-tasker, gotta-do-it-all-and-now kind of gal. Calm was not my strong suit. A little chaotic and going a little too fast. After a few years of observing les françaises in situations from harsh traffic jams, to dealing with someone’s foolish blunder, to a disloyal husband, where I would expect the honking of many horns, arguments, and public displays of drama, I have come to appreciate their more firm, centered and subtle response. In combination with the osmosis effect, and while simultaneously deepening my own practice of being centered, I now consider myself a recovering “speed addict. “ I have a way to go as I set little goals for myself, such as when having friends for dinner. I make simple meals, prepared mostly ahead of time so I can spend quality time with my guests instead of stressing in the kitchen over the timing of my complicated courses. This calm confidence is exuded by just about every French woman I know, and is a beacon for my daily life. I think that a good part of this cool demeanor has to do with focus (see above). When a Frenchie is on vacation, she is on vacation. She is not cheating and thinking about work and trying to get a few emails in. Even at the gym, the lady gym instructor here thought it was the funniest thing that I would read a book while on the stationery bike! I’m not going to take the focus thing that far any time soon, though…
3. The French woman is frank (franche) and forthcoming. Growing up in a pocket of the U.S. where being forthright is about as common as nose rings, I have always respected sincerity. And I must say I have found it here in France. I have a theory that they even named their money after the concept, le franc, and if you add an “e” – well one could extend the theory to the naming the country after it. Or maybe it’s the reverse; the French are so frank that the concept just grew out of their essence. If you are not used to it, you can be a little startled. I remember hearing one French colleague say to another “Je vous envie,” (“I’m envious of you) decades ago. It was said in a forthright way, meant as a compliment but the words and delivery were so direct, it made an impression on me. I think now it might be a little easier idea to communicate in English but back in the ‘80’s it was definitely from another culture. And unlike with us Americans, being direct is not in alignment with being aggressive or rude. It’s the opposite – used with respect for all involved, and a desire to communicate. There is not much pussy footing around in France!
4. They raise polite children. Something I adore when visiting French homes is that when (100% of the time, mind you) you arrive the children stop what they are doing wherever they are in the house, and come to greet you with at least one kiss on each cheek (les bises). This happens whether they have already met you or not. Then they generally will stay with you and their parents, to be present and listen in on the conversation. It is understood that this is grown up time, and I have never seen a child take over the conversation, and rarely even speak. It both strikes a little of a Julie Andrews movie, and like you are truly being honored as a guest. I don’t know how much these kids actually want to be there, but the fact that they do in such a gracious way makes me want to say “chapeau!” (“hats off!”) to my French sisters.
5. They know their position. This sounds a little formal, but it is exactly what it feels like: “their position.” I imagine that it comes out of a very proud and more slowly evolving culture. Women seem to know their roles and truly appear to be satisfied with them. Whether it is a stay at home mom, a divorced secretary, or live-in girlfriend business executive, there seems to be a well carved out place for them in society. Being a foreign woman here, and coming from the U.S. where we seem to be reinventing ourselves at dizzying speeds I have become sensitive to the way Frenchwoman proudly take on their roles.
And, bien sur, they are thin, seductive, reserved, and well read. But you have heard that before. I collected this short list of the Frenchwoman’s traits, because these are particular facets of character that I have come to admire and appreciate while living in France. I don’t think any of these would have occurred to me to aspire to before moving here as an adult. On your next trip over perhaps this brief insight into their character will allow you to catch a slightly different glimpse of the French femme.