A Basic Guide to Being French
From what to wear to how to decorate your home, read how the French live, according to a few authoritative writers
In regards to ageing, the biggest difference between French women and most other women, according to Mireille Guiliano’s book French Women Don’t Get Facelifts, is not grooming, clothing, nutrition, or skincare — it’s attitude. She says French women have a different definition of what constitutes being old. According to the book, findings from a multinational survey about ageing reveal that a third of French women believe “old” starts after eighty. “She (the French woman) takes care of herself and for the most part watches her weight and external presence, but she doesn’t attempt to look like her 20-year-old self. America and many other cultures are youth cultures. France is not.” — Rosie Kelway
Pleasure and ritual are at the heart of the French girl’s eating habits. She knows instinctively that enjoyment is one of the keys to eating wisely. This means bypassing soulless fast food outlets, saying no to eating on the run, and yes to sitting and savouring, preferably at a cafe, with friends. She has three meals a day: a small breakfast, light lunch and delicious, three-course dinner (yes, dessert too). And wine, naturellement. “The French girl does not snack,” writes Debra Ollivier in Entre Nous, A Woman’s Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl. "She knows that like history itself, mealtime will repeat itself. If her stomach rumbles, she won’t rush to its rescue; she holds out with the knowledge that the longer she waits, the sweeter the return.” — Rebecca Barry Hill
A French woman's home is her sanctuary, with every minute detail considered, from the bowls in the cupboard to the tools in the garden shed. She prefers effortlessly rustic living to anything too minimal, although everything is clean and presented in an orderly fashion. "The essence of French style can be summed up in the word gout, which essentially means taste," writes Florence de Dampierre in French Chic Living. "This concept can be traced to the end of the seventeenth century and is forever linked with the dazzling court life at Versailles, where Louis XIV established a culture of luxury, beauty, etiquette, elegance and quality that still dictates many details of French life." — Lucy Casley
For the Parisian, the object of her desires changes like a gust of wind through her tousled hair. Instead, she “is in love with the idea of love”, according to How to be Parisian: Wherever You Are, co-written by Paris natives Sophie Mas, Audrey Diwan, Caroline de Maigret and Anne Berest. Writing letters that she will never send, skipping work to wait by the phone or dreaming up a life with someone who doesn’t even know her name. “Her entire life revolves around flutterings of her heart.” Meaning that she is, perhaps, more faithful to love itself than anyone else. — Danielle Clausen
Although not strictly a French woman, former editor-in-chief of Harper's Bazaar Kate Betts shares insight into how the French work in My Paris Dream, which is a reflection of her time living in the great city by the Seine. "We operated on the adrenaline of fear... We were always on deadline; stories were always needed yesterday," Betts says of her time working for Fairfield Publications in the 1980s. But for all the hard work during the week, the French know how to keep up a good work-life balance, with Sundays reserved for sleeping in. "Long romantic interludes in bed with a lover were followed by church, the flea market, family luncheon or a walk in the park... Offices were dark, stores were shuttered, even bakeries closed at noon, once Parisians stocked up on their daily supply of baguettes." — Jessica Beresford
Garance Dore is the type of French woman you’d want as your best friend: chic as hell but far from intimidating, and with a hilarious sense of humour. In her guide, Love x Life x Style, the photographer and illustrator opens the style section by sending up the stereotype and fascination with French chic: “The French woman does not exist! She is a myth! Why waste your time on books about her secrets? She’s as much a mess as you are!” Except, she does exist and Garance writes that the secret comes down to one word: attitude. And a few, apparently, easy lessons:
1. Style is about not standing out too much. “Fashion is a quiet, personal matter.”
2. Own your imperfections. “No hiding them or trying to change them - you learn to make something interesting out of them. And clothes are there to help.”
3. Trends? Non!
4. Gym clothes are for the gym: the French woman knows and respects the distinction between interior life (at home) and exterior life (outside, dressed up).
5. She knows her style: what she loves today, she’ll love forever - and if it works, won’t hesitate to buy three of a certain kind of T-shirt or red lipstick. — Zoe Walker