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Lucky me. My business and schedule allowed me the luxury of a three-week trip to the Côte d’Azur this summer. I could hardly wait to get snuggled into my plane seat and tuck into the novel my friend Suzanna lent me for my trip titled All You Need to be Impossibly French: A Witty Investigation into the Lives, Lusts and Little Secrets of French Women by funny Brit Helena Frith-Powell. This skinny novel is an Englishwoman’s attempt to crack the code, to unearth and simplify the recipe for Frenchness, especially relating to the beauty of French women (quelle surprise). This is my official report, having done plenty of investigation and, dare I say, meditation on the subject of how to be French.
I spent two and a half weeks basking in extreme Frenchness: sipping café au lait and wine, nibbling on pastries and cheese, taking in the beauty during forest and meadow walks, working on upping my vitamin D intake by lounging in the sun on la plage, shopping at Galéries Lafayette and giving my Franglais a spin with anyone who had the patience to indulge me. This is not my first trip to France, nor will it be my last. I travel to the country at least once or twice per year for “research” for my business. My goal with each trip is to re-Frenchize myself, down to my impossibly French manicured toes.
To put it into North American speak, the French have boundaries. I realize this is not a sexy observation of French life. The perception is that the French are all hopelessly romantic, live in the moment and enjoy fantastic sex. Women are women and wear sexy lingerie, and men are men and pour on the seduction and flattery. We have a long way to becoming impossibly French. We see “them” as indulgent, which says more about “us” than it does “them”. The French just don’t see life the way we do, and they never will. They have boundaries and we must learn to live more like them, or else lead lives not experiencing the good life.
Let me explain with some examples of what I mean by boundaries. The French guard their lunch times; they will not keep their shops open or their offices running during these sacred midday hours. They will not sacrifice food quality for convenience (although sadly, with each trip I observe how the North American fast food craze is increasingly taking hold in France). They will continue to wear colourful clothes and will absolutely not be seen in sneaks, jogging pants or in stained, holey, unshapely T-shirts. The French are dignified creatures who revel in ritual, their daily bread, coffee, meals and family time. The French wear their style effortlessly. They gracefully wear summer linens, strappy high heels, flowing scarves, fantastic jewelry and dazzling hair styles (not a scrunched-up ponytail to be seen).
Should we have more boundaries like the French? Should we set higher standards for ourselves? Yes, we should. What I learn each time I spend in France is a simple fact that although we may have more gadgets and take things for granted more, the French live much better. Aside from still smoking (God knows why), they do seem much more relaxed and less stressed on the whole. The first week I was here, I heard my iPhone phantom ringing every hour. Now I hear church bells. It is blissful.
We should care about French boundaries because in our North American thirst for cheap goods, fast money and convenience, we have traded the good life away. I will try to bring my French education back home. I’ll start small by taking lunch breaks with colleagues, by turning off my phone after work, by eating homemade food as much as possible and reveling in relationships with my friends and family. I will also make sure to limit my sweats to the weekend and in the comfort of my own home only.
Thank you, France, for constantly reminding me of the good things in life!
Natalie Grunberg is the mistress of PantybyPost.com, an online subscription service that sends a pretty French panty surprise in the mail monthly. Natalie cherishes her ‘field trips’ to France, a very necessary part of her life and business plan.
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