Edith de Belleville on Guiding, Paris Cafés and French Women in History

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Edith de Belleville on Guiding, Paris Cafés and French Women in History
Edith de Belleville was born and raised in Paris in the Belleville section of the city. She studied law at the Sorbonne University, where she earned a post-graduate degree in labor law; she has practiced law in Paris for more than 25 years. At 50 years of age she decided to go back to school to become a licensed tour guide so that she could share her passion for Paris with others. Now she divides her time between her law firm and the museums of Paris and the surrounding area. Edith is also the author of “Belles et Rebelles : à l’ombre des grandes Parisiennes.” She will be the guest speaker at Adrian Leeds’s Après Midi meet-up on November 12. She recently took the time to answer Janet Hulstrand’s questions about her life and work in this interview. Janet: First, I’m curious about the path that took you from being a lawyer to being a licensed tour guide in Paris. When and why did you decide to make this career change? Edith: It’s a long story. My husband was half Canadian and wanted to raise our two sons in Canada because he said there is more sport and nature in a Canadian education than in Paris. I could not agree more. (I love Canada!) But in Toronto I could not practice law. So I had the idea to become a French teacher, as studying French is compulsory in Canada. So at 40 years old I had my degree in teaching French as a second language. But we never ended up living in Toronto (which maybe was better because I could not imagine myself with high-heeled shoes in the Canadian snow!) But I wanted to use my new degree in Paris, so, eight years ago I created a meet-up group, La Vie Parisienne. My goal was to organize visits of the streets of Paris in English, to find foreign students for my French class. I found zero students, but I liked very much doing the guided visits. The members of my group encouraged me to do more visits. So this gave me the idea to get the degree to be a licensed tour guide. Et voilà! Janet: How does one become a licensed tour guide in France? How much training is required? Edith: To be a licensed tour guide you have to earn the license of professional guide in a French university. I did it in two years, taking evening classes at the Université of Marne La Vallée, as I was working as a lawyer during the  day. You are first selected according your profile: you need to speak two other languages fluently (for me it’s English and Spanish). Then you take the classes. I have to say, the classes were excellent. I learned a lot with this degree! French history, art history, the history of Paris, the history of French literature, geography, English, even theater and marketing. You also learn how to guide disabled people. I thought my classmates would be only French students. But not at all. Seventy per cent of the students were foreigners from all over the world: Vietnam, Brazil, Russia, Estonia, Thailand, Italy, Ukraine, and Japan. I was really impressed by those students because it’s one thing to know French, but it’s another thing to learn by heart a poem by Clément Marot, a famous 16th century French poet, when you come from Thailand or Estonia! I was moved to realize how these foreigners loved and knew so much about French culture. As my history teacher said to us at our graduation, “Now, you are the Ambassadors of Paris.“ And indeed, this is how I feel. I’m thinking of asking for a diplomatic passport from the French minister of foreign affairs. Janet: When you have earned the title of licensed tour guide, what does it allow you to do? Edith: Article L221-1 of the French tourism code stipulates (I’m sorry to be a bit boring and technical about this, but I am also a lawyer after all…) that only licensed tour guides are authorized to do guided visits in museums and inside the historical monuments. The list of historical monuments is very long, but for example it includes the palace and gardens at Versailles, and Notre-Dame. I love Marie-Antoinette but before I was not able to do guided visits where she used to live, because I was not a licensed tour guide. But now I’m allowed to do my guided visit of le Petit Trianon and the hamlet of my favorite queen. My dream came true! Janet: I’ve just started reading your book, “Belles et Rebelles: à l’ombre des grandes Parisiennes,” and I love it. What inspired you to write this book? Edith: Thanks for loving my book! Again it’s a long story. When I created my meet-up group, I did mostly guided walks about inspirational French women. I believe that French women of the 21st century are the heiresses of great French women from the past. I think I’m one of the first guides in Paris to create guided walks in English about French women in history. Plus, I strongly believe that the myth of the French woman that sells so well in the U.S. has a historical and cultural basis. You cannot understand why “French women don’t get fat, French women don’t sleep alone, French women have two lipsticks and a lover, French women are Madame Chic, French women don’t have face lifts…” (I am referring to real American book…

Lead photo credit : Edith de Belleville. Photo credit: Ted Belton

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Janet Hulstrand is a freelance writer, editor, writing coach and teacher who divides her time between France and the U.S. She is the author of "Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You," and "A Long Way from Iowa: From the Heartland to the Heart of France." She writes frequently about France for Bonjour Paris, France Today, and a variety of other publications, including her blog, Writing from the Heart, Reading for the Road. She has taught “Paris: A Literary Adventure” for education abroad programs of the City University of New York since 1997, and she teaches online classes for Politics & Prose bookstore in Washington D.C. She is currently working on her next book in Essoyes, a beautiful little village in Champagne.


  • Nicholas John Cox
    2019-10-25 05:52:19
    Nicholas John Cox
    The Jewish history of Paris is both fascinating and tragic at the same time. Did you find the 1st World War Jewish memorial plaque on a wall in Rue Sedain in the 11eme?


  • Hazel Smith
    2019-10-24 11:08:51
    Hazel Smith
    I love Edith. Great article!