Everybody is talking about it and the article can be found here (sorry, it’s in French). To cut a long story short, the Council of Europe has condemned my home country for not making the spanking and slapping of children illegal. This is a purely symbolic gesture obviously. France won’t have to pay any fines. But still, the Council of Europe has said it. I must admit that I have been thinking about this most of the day, and it brought back some mixed memories of my very French upbringing. You see, we keep reading about how we French bring up our kids with firm boundaries, and how this is good for their development. There are books about this. Some of them are even bestsellers. They glorify the fact that we French parents give our children stricter boundaries that our Anglo-Saxon counterparts, and say that this is something the rest of the world should learn from us. Let’s not sugar-coat it : such books are written by authors who clearly haven’t been brought up in France, and want to feed parents’ insecurities to make a quick buck. Somehow, they believe they know it all because they have spent a bit of time in France. They naively believed what they were told. Total and utter non-sense. I have said it. It is out there. The reality is, once again, far more complicated.
The truth is that we French women are not so blooming perfect. Yep, you read that right. And do you know what? It’s all right not to be perfect.
We all know someone prettier, younger, slimmer or fitter. So, frankly, why do we keep punishing ourselves all the time? Don’t you think that it might be time to take it easy and enjoy what we have? The fact that French women have the reputation of being glamorous in all circumstances this side of the Channel says more about the British than the French, in my opinion. Maybe, just maybe, this cliché has everything to do with British insecurities rather than this perceived French je-ne sais-quoi. Just a thought.
So, why are women that little bit more insecure this side of the Channel? I wonder. French women seem to ooze confidence because they know that they are unique, despite –or even thanks to- all their imperfections. In general, they know how to behave. They try to remain classy. For instance, binge drinking isn’t really their thing. Don’t get me wrong, we let our hair down from time to time, but not in the same way. And frankly, getting drunk on cheap wine is a terrible experience; there should be a law against it. I wonder why governments haven’t thought about this. I need to write to my MP about it…
Maybe this Anglo-Saxon insecurity stems from the fact that boys and girls are usually educated separately in the UK. In France, all schools are mixed (except some marginal exceptions), and boys and girls are more probably used to interacting on a regular basis. That said, I recently found out that going to a single-sex school doesn’t mean that boys and girls don’t interact. Quite the opposite, in fact. But still, it’s different, boys and girls are not used to being together.
So what is it that we French women do differently? I thought I didn’t know until I noticed small things that we French women tend not to do, whereas they seem to be common practice this side of the Channel. As you will see, we are not talking about big things here, but, added together, they might tip the scale in the right direction. Here are the main ones:
I have told you countless times that we French are different. We can do things that the rest of the world only dream of doing. In fact, we can even make people come back from the dead. For instance, yesterday, the leading news agency AFP (Agence France Presse) announced the death of French billionaire Martin Bouygues. This was big news, and the rumour spread fast on the Net -as you would expect. Martin Bouygues is one of France’s industrial leaders, and such a news would inevitably impact the French economy, the share price of his company, and so on, and so forth. In short, it was a big deal, and could have massive consequences.
Except that there was one tiny detail: Martin Bouygues was alive and well. At least that’s what he tweeted. And his company formally denied that he was dead. Apparently, the AFP got it completely wrong, and got confused because someone of the same age died in the village he was from. The AFP apologised profusely for their mistake, and promised that they would investigate what went wrong. That said, I have just had a look at Yahoo News and it still says that Martin Bouygues died on 28th of February 2015. It looks like things got out of hands. You don’t know who to believe these days, right? Is he dead, or is he alive and well? It really makes you wonder. I know that we will all die eventually, but let’s say it once and for all: this is a massive cockup.
As you know, Netflix is releasing House Of Cards Season 3 today. I happen to be a huge fan. But I can’t watch it. I am banned from watching a single episode or reading any spoilers, because my husband is on a business trip, and I need to wait for him to start watching the series. It is hard. I don’t know if I will resist the temptation. What is it with marriage and always having to make compromises? In order to make it easier, I have decided to write the summary of what the French version would look like. Here is what I came up with. How do you like it? Should I continue? Let me know.
Disclaimer: all characters are fictional and the product of my vivid imagination.
The French President, Arnaud Duchemol, is clinically depressed since his mistress, the gorgeous journalist Isabelle Demoulin has dumped him for the leader of the opposition, the charismatic (and very rich) Benoit Pouledor. This is an open secret amongst politicians and journalists, but the rest of France doesn’t know (obviously. That’s how things work in France). The president self medicates with cognac and is feeling suicidal. His Chef de Cabinet, the driven Arielle Boisneau (Chief of Staff) is running the country for him, always finding excuses when she has to lead the Conseil Des Ministres (Cabinet meeting) in his absence.
Count on my to brush up your English skills. You might think that because you were taught to speak English at school or at work you will be fine, but you couldn’t be more wrong. The British are very precise about how things must be said. Here are a few tricks that will go a long way to gain a better understanding of what the British really mean and how to make sure that they understand you.
- Use as many works as possible
A simple ‘yes’ in response to a question will betray the fact that you are not familiar with the way people talk over here. You need to say instead ‘Well, I sort of said I would’. Or ‘yes, I hear what you say’. Keep the conversation going at any cost.
In the same vein, never say no. Except in a life or death situation, of course. ‘No’ is much too direct. It closes the debate and the British love to talk. Instead, you can always buy time by saying ‘this is an interesting point of view, isn’t it?’. OK, let’s practise now. Let’s suppose that someone tells you: ‘boys and girls need to be educated separately because they learn in different ways’. If, like me, you feel strongly that this is a backwards idea coming straight from the Middle Ages, don’t say so. Bite your tongue. Breathe. Instead, say something like ‘This is an interesting point of view. That said, I really enjoyed being educated with boys during my childhood’. Do you see the difference?
- Pay attention to what is NOT said:
You need to question everything you are told. ‘Is this school any good?’ I asked one of my friends. Oh yes, it is a good school, she said, very sporty. What she meant of course, was that they were not very good academically. But how could I have guessed it?
I will always remember my first day at work in London. My then-boss gave me my security pass and my phone, and immediately started a lecture on the fact that I wasn’t supposed to drink any alcohol during my day at work, not even a small glass of wine. I felt like I was being lectured by my headteacher. Except that I wasn’t at school any more. Not nice.
Apparently, he felt strongly that, because I was French, he needed to make this point really clear. He also said that they would be random drug and alcohol tests. Now I was warned.
Random-test me all you want, I thought: I will not turn up sloshed at work just because I am French.
No, not me, silly! As you know, we French women don’t do cosmetic surgery. Because we don’t have to: we don’t age. We mature. We get better. It’s a genetic predisposition. And if some of us indulge in a little bit of nip & tuck occasionally, we will never, ever admit it. That’s just us, I suppose. What can I say? We are beautiful naturally, and that’s all there is to know. Did I also tell you that I wake up already made up? No seriously. It’s a French thing, we all have it. It is in our DNA. And no, I didn’t go to the hairdresser to have a blow-dry. Somehow, my hair places itself naturally. I promise. As for my dress, well, it just happened to be placed in my wardrobe and was just, well, perfect. So lucky, right? And of course I am naturally slim. After all, I am French. I didn’t go to the gym this morning. It wasn’t me, you must be mistaken.
This is, apparently, what everybody believes. Seriously, guys, how gullible can you be?
Today I would like to talk to you about a little bag usually favoured by men, where you have just enough space to put what you need for an overnight stay. We French call it a ‘baise-en-ville’. Literally, it means ‘f***-in-town’, but funnily enough, it is not rude at all to talk about a ‘baise-en-ville’. Everybody has one, and it is always a smart buy (also for a woman, actually). I suppose that it stems from the fact that we French like to compartmentalise our lives, and remain pragmatic in all circumstances. Hence the bag. That said, it has completely lost any naughty connotation. I assure you. Hand on heart. You can safely talk about a ‘baise-en-ville’ and everybody will be impressed.