|Me, French, 40-something|
Last week was all about growing older gracefully – or not so gracefully, in some cases. You can’t have missed the articles on Renee Zellweger: she was trashed in the press for not looking her age (45). What a load of rubbish! I personally thought that she looked lovely, and I didn’t notice any drastic changes to her face. Speculation is rife as to the type of cosmetic procedures that she might have had.
Seriously, can we give her a break? Not to mention that I loved her dress, and she had a great body. What is wrong with people? Why can’t they just, well, be nice?
At the same time, older French women seem to have it all: there was another article on Sunday on The Times, and it made it look like we older French women don’t age, we just get better. Apparently, being older is sexy in France. And nobody bats an eyelid when you go out with a much younger guy. Really?
Again, give me a break! Here is a newsflash for you: all women age, French or not.
Maybe Renee should consider a short stay in France to be duly praised for the way she looks, and get a much-deserved (I believe) confidence boost. Just a thought. She would have all men at her feet there.
So why do French women age better? The only reason I can think of right now is that most of us try to upgrade our ”maintenance regime’ after 40. I try to exercise every day (even if it is a bit of yoga or a nice walk). And I don’t buy cheap foundation any more. Now more than ever, it is about quality, not quantity. In short, we haven’t given up on the way we look. Is it vain?
I sometimes wonder why I even bother, because it is a fight that I am sure to lose. Of course I will get older! So why do I still make an effort?
Well, I suppose that I like to keep fit. It makes me feel good. And when I am happy, life is easier for the whole family (who said happy wife, happy life again?).
I also believe that this is yet another cliche, and that nothing I will say or do will change it. Obviously, it is a nice cliche: it would be a lot less nice to have the reputation to look like the back of a bus.
The other thing I like about getting older, is that I am becoming the person I want to be. I have always wanted to write, but somehow started my professional life in a completely different field. Now that I am doing what I love, well, surely it shows.
And maybe, just maybe, older women are becoming less invisible…if only!
I learned the hard way that despite my brand new passport I will never be truly British. That said, the worst comments I get usually come from friends and family back in France. And to make matters even worse, I keep hearing them again and again. Frankly, it is becoming a bit tiring. Here they are…
A kiss, when all is said,—what is it?
An oath that’s ratified,—a sealed promise,
A heart’s avowal claiming confirmation,—
A rose-dot on the ‘i’ of ‘adoration,’—
A secret that to mouth, not ear, is whispered,—
Brush of a bee’s wing, that makes time eternal,—
Communion perfumed like the spring’s wild flowers,—
The heart’s relieving in the heart’s outbreathing,
When to the lips the soul’s flood rises, brimming!
I watched Cyrano de Bergerac the other day, and I could still feel the magic. Seriously, it is an incredible text, right?
Growing older, I became passionate about a French author called Zola. I liked the realism of his books; I could live and breathe the characters. The most dramatic kiss of the Rougon-Macquart series can be found, in my view, at the end of Germinal.
Catherine and Etienne are trapped in a mine’s tunnel. Just before she dies, they share an intimate moment that starts with a kiss.
D’un élan, elle s’était pendue à lui, elle chercha sa bouche et y colla passionnément la sienne. Les ténèbres s’éclairèrent, elle revit le soleil, elle retrouva un rire calmé d’amoureuse.
With a sudden impulse she hung on to him, seeking his mouth and pressing her own passionately to it. The darkness lighted up, she saw the sun again, and she laughed a quiet laugh of love.
Very dramatic, right? And then she dies.
Usually, when I am in France, friends and family taunt me because they assume I can’t find decent bread in London. Well, they couldn’t be more wrong. I have better bread than when I was living in Paris. There is a lovely French boulangerie just around the corner. The owner happens to be from Bosnia, and learned to become a baker while working for the French army in Sarajevo. It is a very London story, isn’t it? As a result, I have fresh bread, croissants and pains au chocolat every morning, and the short walk to get my morning pastries is always a pleasure, even when it is pouring. I just love it. Let’s face it, it is even better than France. There it is. I said it.
In fact, in a funny way, I miss French yogurts in London. This is what the yogurt department looks like in my local supermarket, and even after more than 10 years over here it puzzles me.
|image by stockarch – stockarch.com|
On the face of it, it was a beautiful day, and I decided to go for a pre-work run in Hyde Park. Everything was going extremely well, as it usually does after ten minutes or so of running (for some reason the first ten minutes are always excruciating, and then suddenly it is all fine), when it started pouring. I was drenched. And I must admit that I didn’t like it. Everybody seemed undeterred, except for me. I am not that British yet, after all. Instead of running my usual two laps, I stopped at one, and waited for the rain to stop. It didn’t. I ended up taking a phone call from a French client under a tree. That’s when it happened: two guys, apparently work colleagues, passed by, heard me and started looking at me as if they had never seen anything like it before. And then, one of them said:
“- French women have a certain je-ne-sais-quoi, don’t you think?”
I couldn’t believe it: I was wearing black leggings and the first sport T-shirt that I could grab this morning, and they thought that I had a certain ‘je-ne-sais-quoi-! Why? I was sweating and dripping at the same time. Not to mention my lovely ponytail.
I still don’t know what went into me, but as soon as my phone conversation was over, I started running after them, and decided to confront them. Don’t judge me too harshly, I just wanted to understand.
“- Hi,” I said, “Excuse-me, but I overheard what you were saying. What do you mean exactly by ‘a certain-je-ne sais-quoi’?”
I know that it is not British to confront people like this, and it is not ladylike, but you need to understand that we French women don’t mince our words. I desperately wanted to know.
They looked a bit bewildered, and one of them muttered:
“-Ooh la la!”
I ignored him. The other was a bit more composed. I wanted an answer, and somehow he seemed to get this. He looked at me and said:
“- It is the attitude, Darling”
Don’t Darling me, I thought to myself.
“- What attitude? Running in the park?”
“- No. Somehow despite the rain and everything, you managed to pull it off .”
“- Pull what off?”
“- Well, he hesitated, good looks.” He smiled clumsily.
I sensed that I wouldn’t get anything more out of him, muttered a quick “Thank you”, and ran back as fast as I could.
The sad reality was that, because they had heard me speak French, they had simply thought that I looked good. That’s how strong the cliches are over here: you speak French, you look good. It is automatic. Speaking French simply gives you style and beauty, even when you are in your running kit under the rain. Lesson learned. It isn’t rational, it just is.
Because, come on, the simple truth was that I didn’t look good. This much I knew.
On the bright side, after talking to them I ran my fastest km ever (since I started running again), at a bit less than 5 mins (YAY!).
They got it all wrong: I didn’t look good: I was just fast today. That’s the problem with cliches, right? You simply can’t see people for who they really are.
|Where Do I Go From here?|
Where do I belong? I don’t really know. I would like to be able to say that I am a ‘citizen of the world’, but the sad reality is that I am still very French, and becoming more British by the day. How can I tell? Well, little by little, I started to notice some changes in me. It came gradually, and I didn’t see it at first. But here it is: I am going native. And I have identified the main signs of going native. Please reassure me and tell me I am not the only one. I am being brutally honest here…
1. I keep criticising the tabloid press but can’t help having a look at the Dailymail online every day. Especially during my lunch. I know. But, you see, I am telling it as it is;
2. I love having eggs and bacon for breakfast. No more croissants for me, thank you very much. Because when I have eggs for breakfast, I don’t have this pang of hunger at 11 am. See, maybe I was born to be British;
3. I don’t judge any more. OK, let’s be frank: I judge less. If I see female friends with huge granny pants, Spanx, Visible Panty Line, or even without any underwear under the yoga pants, I don’t say a word. Who am I to judge? If it makes them happy, it can’t be that bad, right? That said, if I see a guy wearing a suit and sport socks, I still judge him immediately. I told you, I am still French. Or maybe it is just a classic case of double standard?
4. I tend to forget my coat at home. I used to be tightly wrapped up all the time, but not anymore. Maybe I got used to the British weather. What a shocker!
5. When something has gone pear-shaped, like, for instance, it is pouring during a birthday party in the park, I tend to say that it could be worse. ” At least it isn’t snowing, right?”. I don’t know where this is coming from, I must admit. But here it is.
6. The other day, I went to buy my Sunday newspapers. I gave the money to my newsagent, and said something like “Here you are, Darling!”. That’s it, it has happened: I have called someone Darling. In a completely innocent way, for the record.
7. When I travel to Paris, I am disappointed not to find a Pret or a coffee shop at every corner of the street. Having a coffee in a French bar has become a depressing experience. When did it all happen?
8. When I was growing up, in France, one of my treats was Pepito biscuits. Now I talk about Digestives. Times have changed.
9. I want to text my French friends in English. It is just easier. Sometimes I even do it. The words come to me in English. I hope that I am not losing my mind!
10. I seem to start all my sentences by ‘Sorry’ or ‘Excuse-me’. What is going on?
So, what’s next? Are such changes normal? I am starting to worry now.