Self-Care: Get French Quick

April 24, 2019

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  • Merci beaucoup, Max!

  • I just had a lovely 5 days in Paris and while I have no idea how accurate the books are I can attest that in Paris, women are allowed to get old and not fade away. Vive la difference!

  • My go-to happy place is snuggled up with a Peter Mayle book. Such delight in the commonplace. Food, drink, the people in your own neighborhood. They uncomplicate me when I need a reboot.

    • Love the Peter Mayle books!

  • Je l’aime!

  • I didn’t notice that this was written by you but when I got to the part about lingerie top and bottom matching I said this sounds a lot like Max! And it was.

  • I need some matching lingerie. I’m more west-coast-hippie than anything-chic, but I can see the value, provided they are comfortable.

    • I too am a west coast hippie in search of beautiful but comfortable lingerie… is there such a thing? anyone??

      • Cheryl, there IS such a thing, when you find the brand that works for you. But it is *work* to find it. As certain Frenchwomen would say, shopping is not a lark. It is grueling. Different values 😉

    • This old hippie actually PURCHASED matching undies and I can’t wear them. I simply can’t bring myself to! But I do admire them in the drawer daily. They look so pretty in there! 😉

    • I started wearing matching lingerie several years ago, and it does seem to weirdly make me feel more self-confident! (My favorite brand is Wacoal, so not cheap, but not the most expensive, either. And most importantly, it fits me well!)

  • I wonder if you know about Tonya Leigh and the French Kissed Life and her podcast. Her site just got rebranded. I love to knit and listen to her podcast .
    Many good words of wisdom for women

    • Oooh, thank you! Love her update.

  • I can’t resist telling this story, which has both knitting and French-womanhood content. Many years ago I was in Bordeaux covering the trial of an aging Nazi collaborator for an American newspaper, and I had to go to a magistrate on an upper floor to get my ID. The magistrate turned out to be an elegant woman of a certain age, sitting behind a fearsome desk. I was 35 at the time, somewhat rumpled from travel–and carrying my knitting, which was poking out of my tote bag. When I entered the magistrate’s office, she fixed me with a glance and said, “I see you’ve brought your knitting.” Flustered, I muttered something like “Sorry, not very professional, I guess.” She laughed and declared, “Au contraire! Here in France, we professional women can succeed without sacrificing our femininity!”
    (My memory of the actual French words we exchanged is fuzzy, but I’m pretty sure she actually said “Au contraire.”)

  • The woman in the painting looks just slightly as if she has been caught farting! “ oh no, c”est le petite chien, madame”

    • PS I loved the whole article! I wonder if I still have my copy of French women Don’t Get Fat. Knowing me; I probably ate it!

  • Great as always Max—— I read this over my first cuppa and went off to yoga thinking about it, returned still thinking about it. Will likely knit for an hour still mulling. The moral of the story is that it is a (strangely) compelling piece and I must just be forever without said je ne sais quoi.

  • Wonderful, merci.

  • My parents were French and I grew up in the US and France. And you might say I have a love/hate relationship with all things French.
    Beauty – As a culture French are obsessed with thinness even more so than Americans and will tell you that you have gained weight. Thanks for that. I hadn’t noticed. They may not care what you think of them but they want you to know what they think of you.
    French society is still extremely patriarchal and many women still see themselves as secondary to men. Know you place ladies. Being “feminine” and desirable to men is more important than expressing who you are and just feeling great for yourself. They need a quiet space for themselves because they are expected to act a certain way, comme il faut, when they aren’t alone.
    I love going back for a limited time. I love the food and the cafe culture and the beauty of the cities and the countryside but I’m always happy to come home where it’s ok to be me.

    • Maryse, this is making me LOL so hard: “They may not care what you think of them but they want you to know what they think of you.” You certainly have the gift of le bon mot 🙂

    • Good to know! Possibly we can get caught up in an idea of French without truly knowing all things French.
      I read your post after I left a comment!

    • Hmm, sounds like the opposite of self-care, actually.

    • Thank you for sharing, Maryse. I do think we get so caught up in adoring the French and cherry-picking only the good parts that we don’t realize there is more to the culture and society and it’s not all perfect.

  • Loved every bit of your article. Since moving to France is NOT an option, possibly adopting some of the “french ways” might be nice. I already love matching pajamas although I do not always match. Several things to ponder….

  • Like Maryse I am French and American and agree with every word she says, emphatically! I adore my family in France and enjoy visiting them, but have very conflicting feelings and prefer to reserve France for vacation rather than living and working there. There is subtle, crushing sexism: we are served food at home meals (rather than passing around the bowl to serve yourself) and I often leave meals hungry because women are served smaller portions while sitting there watching the males get much more… I worked as a builder in a workshop and sometimes co-workers would outright refuse to carry something with me, because it’s unwomanly to lift a box?? I was paid less than male co-workers and while that exists here, there it was literally announced that I made less because, well obviously, je suis une femme. It is frustrating to live in a place that does not value hard work, not because work is the be-all-end-all but because it is too extreme there, the disdain for work materializes in oppressive mediocrity, pigeon-holing people into a state of rarely striving for better/more/excellence.. But to avoid being too negative about France, I did learn to work with my hands exquisitely well in these workshops (precisely because there was no pressure to finish on time!) and I took up knitting while living there!! There must be some happy medium between the French joie de vivre and the American work ethic….perhaps Quebec? 🙂 Another gem of a book is “French or Foe?” a guide to specific cultural misunderstandings between Americans and French people.

  • I’m a bulky Midwesterner, can’t look French if I tried, and believe me, I have. I loved living in Paris, though, and worked coaching intercultural relations. What I appreciate most about the French is that they value intelligence, wit, experience, and the arts.

    I enjoy the “ Get French Quick” lit, too! For your reading pleasure, consider French or Foe? and Savoir Flair!, both by Polly Platt; A Year in the Merde, Stephen Clarke, and Almost French, by Sarah Turnbull. There so many, but those are on a shelf in front of me. There is a blog/website, Chocolate & Zucchini, by an American expat in France; it’s mostly about food, but the photography is wonderful and it’s full of glimpses of French life.

    • Miracle: My library has them all! Thank you 🙂

  • – a review of Pamela Druckerman’s French Children Don’t Throw Food.

    • Oooh, fun – thank you!

  • I very much enjoyed my time in France too; however, the culture can also tend towards macho and image-obsessed (yes the images are usually also fabulous but but but…) cellulite creams and the image of the ‘pitoune’ and a critical streak that is hard to understand, when you come from North America where everything is freer, more possible. I wish that I had met knitters/crafters in France. I certainly didn’t meet anybody curious about the knitting I was doing… (Not meant to be critical on my part, and of course this was eons ago…)

  • Comme c’est drôle ! Je n’aime pas les clichés et les généralités mais je reconnais un bon nombre de choses que je fais et qui m’ont été transmises. Je ne me doutais pas qu’elles pouvaient être spécialement French :=)
    ëtre vues de l’extérieur c’est comme prendre du recul, Merci.

    • Merci madame! Vous m’avez appris un peu de français, ainsi que quelques faits français 🙂

  • Getting to this late, but I love your columns as always.

    My bit of French is Marie Claire Idées, which is sort of a French Martha Stewart Living, blending fashion, home and cooking. I limp through it OK with my high school French. I have pulled out Google translate a few times, but mostly it is the pictures which interest. The difference in French vs. US esthetics and style becomes apparent when looking at magazines focused on upper-middle class women who are interested in home-keeping. One big difference is the instructions. The US versions tend to give very simple instructions which hand wave away any difficulty and skill, saying telling you how to cast on very explicitly, but not how to wrap and turn. Or they will give simplified instructions which will not make what is pictured in the magazine. Idées? “If you are going to make this, we assume you know how to do so. Here are highly abbreviated directions, noting how this differs from the expected.” Larger Barnes & Nobles carry it in their International Decor section.

    My other is not explicitly French, but should count. It is Judith Jones’s “The Pleasures of Cooking for One.” She was Julia Child’s editor. This cookbook came about after she was widowed and realized she did not want to give up cooking with the same high standards and expectations just because she was cooking “only” for herself. Now she is not foolish, so she talks about finding efficiencies, what equipment is best suited for solo chefs, and how to cook meat with the expectations that you will get three meals out of it. She turned me on to eating the leg and thigh of roast chicken on the evening it is cooked and then using the breast meat for other dishes, as it is better suited for salads and casseroles.

    PS, do take Max’s online workshops, they are great.

  • A little late to the game but here are my two “centimes” (from a 30-something French woman, educated in the US, currently living in Paris):

    Honestly ladies, I can’t think of a French equivalent to MDK, which says a lot about French women, knitting, and life in France in general. The sense of humor, the creativity, the ability to question one’s privileges and educate oneself (with regard to Black Lives Matter, and MDK’s recent change of name)(bravo les filles!), as well as the warm fuzzy feeling of community and solidarity that I get when I visit this website, well, I think that most French women might be a little too self-centered to appreciate or create that. So, thank you, Non-French Ladies, for showing us how to live 🙂

    And I totally second everything that Maryse and Sarah said above. I had to travel to the US to get a PhD in Women’s Studies because it simply did not exist in France.