The French don’t wear berets

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The French don’t wear bérets. T-shirt-wearing Americans do. Sausage-eating Brits do. And some mail-order Russian brides do, but the French don’t wear bérets. They stopped when the first postcard came out of the Eiffel Tower wearing a navy blue béret with a smiley face on its head. But the tacky postcard didn’t stop DKNY and Gap from putting them on their models. Even Sarah Jessica Parker had a brief affair with one on Sex in the City, but that doesn’t make it right. (Note: she later went on to model for Gap.)  When visiting Paris, if you want to fit in with the French, fight the urge to purchase the matching cashmere set of baby-blue béret, gloves and scarf—unless, of course, you just can’t live without them and you also happen to be a super model, a movie star, or both. In which case, you can wear or not wear whatever you like. However, keep in mind that Instyle and Vogue reserve the right to nit pick and criticize every accessory on your body, including what had better be a non-fat, blueberry muffin in your right hand.  Recently, I’ve been forced to spend a little more time than I’d like in the city of London. Two days ago, I was crossing High-Street Kensington, when I saw something tall and pink coming my way in a béret. Could it be…a flamingo? The Pink Panther? A cast member from Mean Girls? Or more likely, a tourist in a fluorescent pink lamb’s wool béret with matching scarf, gloves, coat, belt…and boots. French? Hardly. American tourist, clearly on her way to Waterloo station.  I shook my head and fought a tear of pity from rolling down my cheek. Had she any idea, the embarrassment that was in store? I should know. Three years ago, when I was in living in London working on a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, my mom concealed a black cashmere DKNY béret in my suitcase. I thought it looked cute. It didn’t. My flat mates ridiculed me and eventually I loaned it to a friend going to Paris for the weekend, and refused to take it back when she returned. She said the French were rude to her, and I don’t doubt it. I’m not French, but I do live in France and I don’t speak to people in bérets.  It’s not that the French are rude. They simply demand a certain level of respect. There is an unspoken dress code of perfectly polished shoes, well-knit stockings and flawless skin. Contrary to popular belief, that the French don’t demand designer labels or Hermes scarves, it’s not how much you pay for it, it’s how you polish it.  The French demand that you say “Bonjour” before you ask them for something, “Excusez-moi” if you want directions, and “Pardonnez-moi” when you bump into them. Henry Higgins said in My Fair Lady that, “The French don’t care what they do actually, as long as they pronounce it properly.” The basic rules are: Don’t butcher the language, don’t butcher the dress code and go to a butcher for your beef.  The French are particular. It’s all about the details. They buy cheese at a cheese shop, bread at a bakery and pastries at a patisserie. Everything—food, clothes, etiquette—is “just right.”  The Brits buy bread, cheese and meat at a place called Sainsberry’s. The best coffee in the city is found at Starbucks and people smoke, and don’t look cool doing it, (and they have yellow teeth).  I have recently been spending a bit of time in London, on Courtfield Road in South Kensington, near the Gloucester Road tube station. And I don’t like it.  The food is inedible, the women buy anything with fake fur on it and look like Julia Roberts in the first scene of Pretty Woman, only ten pounds overweight. There are no edible fruits and vegetables and the lettuce is brown. One cannot sit outside anywhere and we’re stuffed into small corners of restaurants, with loud, smoking, poorly dressed people surrounding us, normal people visiting from France.  The only thing civilized about London is the theater, but that too, is ruined by audiences in jeans and halter tops eating ice-cream. Whoa…..okay. What is going on? Criticizing wardrobes, eating habits, lifestyles—this is so… judgmental. And that is just not nice. Is it possible that during my visit I have become a complete and utter snob? Or wait—have I become just a little bit French?  A bit depressed by my dreary surroundings and no cappuccino at Le Danton to cheer me up, a Euro Star ride away, I decide to take myself out for dinner. There is an intimate Italian restaurant just around the corner from my flat, which is consistently packed. It’s not super expensive and definitely not cheap—the risotto (my favorite Italian dish) runs about $30 per person. I slide into my knee high boots and my long sleeve black wool, Donna Karen dress. Earlier that day I spent the equivalent of $50 on stockings, which I must say, look fabulous (patting myself on the back). I pull my hair into a pony tail and apply my frosted pink Chanel lipstick purchased with the stockings at Harrod’s, and I’m ready.  Two minutes after I step out of my flat, it’s raining; I sprint to the corner and fling open the door of the restaurant. In the mirror, I catch a glimpse of what used to be a pony tail, but now looks more along the lines of a rat’s nest. Attractive. The hostess is standing two feet from my face staring at me. She’s not speaking. I start to get uncomfortable and my eyes shift above the doors leading to the kitchen where deer antlers are mounted on the wall. I wasn’t aware that Italians were such avid hunters. Finally, I open my mouth and ask the hostess if she has room for one. Her head jerks, as if I’ve just awoken her from a dream and she stares at me blankly. Her black, button-down shirt and…
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Comments

  • M. A. Butler
    2020-01-07 17:53:55
    M. A. Butler
    I have to disagree with you and I have to alert you that you don’t speak for all French. I know a number of French bands that look less-than “polished” and I know of many French who wear berets. Not trying to be an ass but I feel you I need to know that though your are expressing personal opinion is mostly misinformation.

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  • C
    2018-09-18 07:58:59
    C
    This is one of the most snob sounding racist articles I have ever read. We get you like France, but maybe you could express that without making despairing and stereotypical comments about “t-shirt wearing Americans” (Which French also wear), Brits and their “yellow teeth”, and implying that any Russian female tourists are “mail order brides”. For somebody who professes to have grown up in USA and moved to France one would expect a better appreciation of multiple cultures and not this racist drivel you have so proudly published online.

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  • Theophilus Ghoststone
    2016-08-08 00:36:07
    Theophilus Ghoststone
    I will wipe my tear away as I wear a genuine French beret everyday. I would feel naked without it. I chastised my French friends for not wearing one. We do not wear beretscame do not eat escargot anymore! Then kiss your culture that took millennia to create goodbye and console yourself with a Crispy Creme doughnut and a Big Mac.

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