Posted by / Category London /

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.

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London
  • Maybe you looked good compared with the joggers they are used to! 🙂

  • No, he’s right, it’s in the attitude. It’s the way you stand and hold yourself, the way you hold your head. A lot of British women slouch, but French women do tend to hold themselves better which makes them look good. Whatever you’re wearing, if you’ve got the pose, you’ll look good. 🙂

    • Sarah, I wish you were right. I have to say that I am very, very normal. Seriously.

  • I love a good old run in the rain but by the end of it I look anything but good – I look like a drowned rat! And I am normally out-of-breath. So I admire you for a. looking good, and b. having any energy left to engage those men in conversation!

    • I think that you have a point here: I am not pushing myself hard enough when I run. Must try harder.

  • You may not be able to see it but others do, whether or not you’re running in the rain in old clothes or away from it. You draw attention. Being French may be part of it but you could be from somewhere else and still get comments. Some people have that effect. The fact you’re French just makes you more interesting. I had a Latina roommate in London who had that effect and so did an English girl I knew – some indefinable quality that turns heads. Take it as a compliment that many women – French, British, etc. would love to hear. Not many do.

    • Thank you Penelope. The thing is, as you know, I am very, very normal. I really don’t understand what they saw in me.

  • Maybe your confidence is part of it as well.French women seem confident, and this is attractive to men.

    • Maybe I need to try to run a bit faster? Seriously, I was just running, Sonia!

  • Remember, Muriel, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. They beheld you…

  • Am I reinforcing stereotypes if I choose French over Spanish for my son’s elementary school language immersion? Even though my own Spanish is better than my French, I always felt lovelier speaking French. 😉

    I also read this: in the NY Times today and thought of you, Muriel! Particularly when they compare eating the birds to adultery!

    • The short answer is yes, Amy, I think that you are reinforcing stereotypes and that Spanish will be more useful than French later in life…unless he gets a french wife, that is!
      Thanks for the article, I enjoyed it very much!

  • I just don’t like that some men take it upon themselves to make comments about any woman, especially when it is based on appearance…I mean they said this within earshot. If they hadn’t known you were French, would they have completely overlooked that you’re a wonderful, funny, attractive and intelligent woman?

    I think it is great how you engaged with them. The “Oh la la guy” clearly isn’t used to the woman who he makes comments about speaking back.

    Well done on running your fastest KM and reminding us that it’s not our place to judge a book by its cover : )