Thursday, November 18, 2010

30 Chic Days – Day Eighteen

Day 18: Make notes

A few days ago I met a real live French person. She was tiny, with a petite bust and a pixie haircut light-brownish-red in colour. Having just moved to New Zealand she was moving into a new place with her husband and children, and at that moment buying shoes for her children.

You can bet I took lots of notice of how she spoke, what she said and how she presented herself. What did she wear you ask? A pair of lightweight dark-indigo straight-leg jeans with black flats and a soft cotton blouse in a similar indigo-blue colour.

Her earrings were like little silver starfish and I think she wore only her wedding rings, no other jewellery except perhaps a watch. Her makeup was very natural to the point that I wonder if she had any on.

It was so charming listening to her and her children talking to each other in French. I even picked up a few words. I noticed her children were very well-behaved in a nice, friendly way, grown up as in normal, not being silly and making fools of themselves.

Did I mention this woman was tiny? I’m not sure if French women are just naturally petite (slight shoulders, dainty wrists) or if it’s food-loving people like me who feel like a giant next to them.

There is a fantastic chapter about halfway through Lunch in Paris, which I am reading at the moment, where the author describes the women in the French family she is marrying into. ‘They don’t diet’, she observes, ‘they just don’t eat’. At last, the secret.

The most interesting thing I found about our brief conversations in the shop was hearing why her and her family decided to leave France to travel a long, long way to settle in New Zealand. She told me when she was growing up her family travelled a lot and she had lived all over the world. When she went back to France she said she didn’t feel French anymore, as they were all so insular and thought France was the best at everything.

There’s nothing wrong with being proud of your country of course, but she said not being open to other ways of doing things got to her. And of the books I’ve read I would add that there are prescribed ways of doing things in France.

Also in Lunch in Paris, the American author’s French fiancee told her he always wanted to be a film director but when he went to a guidance counsellor he was told ‘you won’t make any money from that and it’s hard to get in’, and was given a list of alternative careers to pursue instead. They lived for a bit in New York City where he was encouraged by his fiancee to send out demos, which got great feedback and some good leads. This showed him how different America was to France.

So what am I trying to tell you here with my real French person sighting? a) my ears are always peeled for any hint of a French accent, b) observe everything about the person when you do detect one and c) living in France is not the be all and end all (oh, but imagine those cobbled streets and wooden front doors on Parisian side streets...)

Do as I do and take what you like best about France and the French, and adapt bits and pieces to make your own life, exactly where you are right now, as chic as you like.


  1. Yes! I have felt this way for a while now. Instead of thinking moving there would be the epitome of everything, I'm quite happy with the opportunities and spirit of where I live now, but can use my imagination when it comes to tweaking my habits and home here to make it a little more French. Great post. I think you are the first I've heard say this out loud. Bravo.

  2. Your last paragraph is a good one! "The grass always is greener (on the other side of the ocean)" may be an appropriate observation.

    A male acquaintance recently came home from France and was VERY relieved to be back in the U.S.A. He said he found the French very rude. He had a few other negative comments, too (I just can't remember them all.)

    His comments don't discourage me from taking what I most admire from France and the French and weaving it into my life here and now.

    Your writing has really pointed me in a positive and chic direction! Thanks!

  3. Hi Fiona, our first next-door neighbours here in Budapest were a French family of four, mum, dad and 2 little girls of around 7 and 9 when we first met them. You can bet that I observed and tried to learn! They were from the south of France and, perhaps for that reason, the mum didn't really conform to all the stereotypes - she went to the gym a lot for example - but she was certainly always well turned-out (but not excessively so, quite naturel). Through her, I used to go hiking with the French ladies; we would meet at the school early morning (the same one that Brad and Angelina's kids are going to right now!) and I would love to see all the French mums (and some dads) at drop-off time. That reminds me, the very first time we met them, the adults all shook hands, but she went to give our boys (then 11 and 13) kisses on the cheek; they were taken aback, to say the least!!

  4. Love your suggestions. I too read Lunch in Paris (loved it) and found it dimmed the mystery of France a bit as you mentioned, but at the same time there are so many amazing and wonderful things about it that we can incorporate into our own lives. Great post - love that photo.
    I truly am enjoying this series. Such wonderful work. Thank you for sharing this with us all. Have a lovely Thursday.

  5. hi fiona,

    so interesting. i have 2 very good clients who are french and i get to speak to them at length each month as they come to me for their waxing. they offer a much different version of being french and living in france also. and their insights on americans are hysterical.


  6. At last the diet secret...just don't eat....
    well I should have guessed!

    what a sweet chic looking woman...and she does look "French"

  7. Lunch in Paris is one I picked up when it first came out but put it back for another day. I am however through Paris Hangover (I read it yesterday) and am halfway through French Trysts, so thanks for the recommendations, I'm loving them!

    I do think that the grass is always greener because no place is perfect. You have to create your own world rather than trying to move to one you think will be the best only to find it comes up short. Every place will if you don't make it your own.

  8. Fiona,
    Great observance. I love to observe women who, without trying one iota, stand out amongst others. (Cary Grant once said he pretended to be the man he wanted to be until he became him, or visa versa). Love the reminder that we can be who we want whenever we want. xoxo

  9. Brava! to your little French woman for being able to think, and now live, globally. Although it is my biggest dream to move to France, I know this would not be an idyllic perfect experience. I picked up the same nuances you have when reading "Lunch in Paris"--especially the comments about her fiance and his schooling. I have also laughed till my sides ached in reading the "Merde" series by Stephen Clark--yes, some of the French attitudes would be hard to take every single day. I love realists but I think of the French as being dark realists whereas I try to be "there is always a silver lining" realist. Another great post, Fiona. Where are you coming up with this stuff? You have unfathomable depths to your French chicness.

  10. Hi,

    this is a great series and for some reason I have been missing it so glad I found you again.(-:

  11. notes are a very important part of the observation process! =)
    people-observing is one of my favorite past-times!
    my imagination constantly works to put me in my own chic place <3


  12. Stephanie, I agree. I love living in the country where I grew up. I like to have my background around me and family close. To daydream French things in this setting is as close to heaven as I'm going to get.

    Rebecca, thank you! I find I need a jolt every now and then too. A chic jolt of course. Something to inspire is far better than internal nagging for myself to do better.

    Patricia, thank you so much for your wonderful observation. It sounds so French to go hiking after dropping off the kids to school. Didn't Anne Barone in one of her books write that French women don't so much do organised exercise but instead swim, hike, etc. My Great-Aunt said that too, of living in France, they would do different weekend activities - like waterskiing for example.

    Simply Luxurious, thank you so much for your lovely comment. I'm really enjoying the real-life aspect of Lunch in Paris. And she even has a French partner to make it easier.

    Janet, I know 'real' French people would probably laugh at my blog and my thoughts on what being French means. I hope they don't mind that I have borrowed some of their things and ignored others. I like to make up my own version of being French as I go along. It was so hot last night I had a cool beer (and it was lovely). My husband said dryly 'I heard that's a very French chic thing to do, drink beer from the bottle'.

    Hostess, I know, the secret is out now. The gorgeous creature is Lucie de la Falaise. I have just found out she was born in the same month and year as me. We are practically twins.

    Kalee, I hope you're enjoying Kirsten Lobe's books. They're such a hoot. A friend said once of another friend who had moved from New Zealand over to Melbourne in Australia 'oh she'll be back soon, Melbourne won't have what she's looking for. She'll still find herself there.' Exactly what you said, you have to be happy and comfortable with yourself. Whereever you go, you'll always be there.

  13. Yes, life in France can be very rigid, with people not being open to new things. That’s why you’re able to form such a clear stereotype about the women.


Merci for your comment. Wishing you a chic day!

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