“Why would I want to be French?” is the question I occasionally am asked when I tell people I write a blog that teaches American women how to become French.
It’s not that I believe you can literally “become” French, the way you “become” a vegetarian or a Radiohead fan or any other druthers. It’s not even that I think being French is “better” than being American, or any such sort of elitist attitude.
My passion in pursuing a more French life is purely for the quality of life that the French savor, and it is a viewpoint I adopted long before my first visit to France.
I grew up in the very shallow end of the gene pool, where life is often hard and things are not always pretty. We lived about 20 years behind the times, in a small, two-bedroom house which we rented – my grandmother, grandfather, sometimes my great-grandmother, my sister and me. We had a wringer washing machine on the porch (yes, automatic machines did exist) and we hung our clothes on a line to dry. The house had green, asbestos siding on the outside (the material of the future) and was decorated in what my grandmother referred to as “Early Salvation Army” with second-hand furniture and a red braided rug purchased with S&H Green Stamps.
Still, I could never understand why we couldn’t use our few good things, the things that only came out for Thanksgiving or Christmas, on a regular basis. Why the one crystal vase we owned was stored protectively in a trunk. Or why my “good clothes” couldn’t be worn regularly, instead of hanging in the closet waiting to be out-grown.
Conversely, in France, beauty is as important a part of life as food and water. If you can choose to look at something beautiful or something not beautiful, why wouldn’t you choose beautiful? While some may come from humble background or meager means, there is still a certain elegance to life.
Meals are prepared simply and presented beautifully.
“Shabby” things with a patina of age are lovingly displayed in well-kept homes.
Women choose their daily outfits from a limited wardrobe consisting only of pieces that make them look and feel wonderful.
And aging? Like the evolution of a flower that goes from a bud to a bloom to a dried blossom, so goes life in France. There is no disdain for aging or lack of appreciation of beauty in any of its stages.
The essence of living Frenchly is in the small details. Enjoying the aroma of strong coffee and feeling the morning air. Placing freshly picked flowers in the home, maybe in an unsuspected place. Having a pleasant conversation with a stranger. Listening to music while enjoying a simple supper of bread and cheese and wine. Taking a moment to put on the scarf, the earrings, or the perfume that make you feel complete. It doesn’t take a lot of money or time, it just takes attitude.
Oddly, it’s summed up pretty well in a 90-second chocolate commercial, where you see une femme progress from a playful child to a confident young lady to a beautiful mature woman, never losing her joie de vivre, all to the tune of Edith Piaf’s “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien” (No Regrets).
So yes, I believe being French is a state of mind, and is one that anyone can adopt. And my motto? Always use the good dishes.
Wishing you a beautiful French week!