French Women: Revisiting the Myth

How to be a Parisian wherever you are … I couldn’t contain my enthusiasm when my lovely neighbour knocked at the door one morning to give me a double spread she found in the Sunday Times dated 24/08.

‘Perfect, this will definitely have the Continental Touch.’ I though optimistically.

‘French women have it all figured out!” She added, giving me a knowing wink.

I started becoming slightly suspicious, thanked her profusely, closed the door and read it, read it again, and again.

The article was a series of bullet points, extracted from How to be a Parisian wherever you are: Love, Style and Bad Habits, book published on 4th September in the UK.


I wasn’t sure what to make of it. There were few points I clearly identified with, but in essence, it quite frankly annoyed me. Which, in turn, prompted many questions (rather shallow ones in hindsight): Was I loosing my ‘Frenchness’, if such a thing even existed? Did I become boring and uptight? Why couldn’t I see the funny side of it? Was I taking this – and myself – too seriously, which French women are not supposed to do, by the way.


French women – or, as per the focus of the article, Parisian women – don’t do a certain number of things.

Everybody knows that Parisians are so different, right? And that in the rest of France, people are just desperately trying to look and act French but it all remains, after all, very amateurish. First ‘raising eyebrows’ moment!


Moving on… Parisians don’t:

ask at a party what people do for a living and how much they earn. I was definitely tought from a very young age that this was not ok.

have a massive wedding photo on display in their living room. Indeed ours, which I put reluctantly and our mantelpiece, is tiny.

match their handbag to their outfit. Check! I NEVER do!!

flaunt their money or act like cheapskate. I was brought up to believe this demonstrated lack of class.

use ‘I have had one too many as an excuse for inappropriate behaviour’. Yes… I would add we have probably grown up to learn to carry ourselves as appropriately as possible in public, avoiding those situations at all cost.

try too hard with appearance, or wear too much make up. True. From what I have seen amongst my friends and family, we prefer to bank on good quality clothes and skin care (Clarins and Lierac being personal favourites) . We don’t mind looking slightly ‘ruffled’, as long as it stays ‘chic’.

follow trends: trends follow you. French women probably enjoy going against the latest trend. It’s the best strategy to stand out. Who cares if that fabulous military coat you bought over ten years ago is not ‘in fashion’ this winter? It will eventually make a come back and you’ll be seen as a trend setter. Fact.

take themselves too seriously. Right. I might have lost my touch on that one…


What do they actually do?

– say hello to everyone but talk to no one. In essence, be polite but, when your are content with yourself, you don’t need to spend too much precious energy, unnecessarily socialising with anyone. I do realise how arrogant this sounds.

eat a full four-cheese pizza, but put sweetener in coffee. Cheese is sacred. It’s all about balance!

eat croissant for breakfast yet not put on a pound… This is because they actually don’t do it every day!

have a bookshelf that shouts ‘intellectual’. Because they had to read Proust and Sartre at school; I reckon this clearly developed their ability to over analyse anything and everything, from relationships to restaurant menus.

wear scarves

buy very expensive shoes but never polish them. A similar rule applies to handbags. It is, in fact, part of a holistic approach to material things.  See, French women bank on quality as opposed to just wanting to show off. I suppose they have a slightly different approach to luxury. They invest in timeless items for their own pleasure, not in order to impress or display. And they will keep them forever. Literally. It links back to French women don’t flaunt their money – It’s tacky – and the fact that they don’t follow trends.


So far so good.


Now, they also smoke like a chimney on the way to the countryside – to get some Fresh air, drink vodka at night and green tea in the morning, and take their scooter to buy a baguette even though they are environmentalists. When did they become that shallow! As we are down to stereoptypes, I’m surprise they wouldn’t rather drink wine and coffee…


OK, it’s funny in a way. Even I can see that. I couldn’t just embrace the stereotypes that make French women look good, completely denying the ones that don’t.


But the article went downhill from there, with tips on how to become a snob and best practices for cheating on your husband. In other words, how to be rude and loose all sense of morality, while thinking this is totally ok.

I won’t dwell on these but rest reassured, you won’t miss much considering that the first ground braking rule of infidelity is to deny, deny, deny! Who would have thought…


I suppose there is an entertaining side to the later ‘tips’ (you’ll have to buy that book to find out more). They feed long established stereotypes: French are arrogant and they all cheat. These stereotypes surely came from somewhere. It’s well known, there is no smoke without a fire. Again, it’s all about balance though, and where to draw the line between pure entertainment and key life values. But this is another debate altogether.


In the meantime, don’t worry. You don’t have to cheat on your husband to get the French touch. Next time you buy a pair of Pierre Hardy, simply remember not to be too precious about your new acquisition. That will do.


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French Women


Categories: Culture & Society, Style

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