Apparently one’s cultural upbringing has far more impact on one choices, one may dare to admit. So, let me try to tell you what it means to be French!
OK, so I’m French and have lived abroad for many years. When I go back to France, I often feel disconnected. There are quite a few specific topics, like politics and general news that I read about, but do not have a real sense of what they mean. The ‘gillets jaunes‘ mouvement was one of them. I did not live it and didn’t really understand it, which became very clear when talking about it with friends.
Recently, I was chatting with a French person, and had to cut short when he started talking about the French president. “I’m afraid that, by living abroad, I do not have enough information to form an opinion on such matter” I replied to him. Sure, I’ve read a bunch of articles, but in my opinion, I still don’t have a clear view and certainly not one, that I was ready to share. Being informed is different than actually experiencing it. Same difference between collecting cookbooks and actually being a chef or ‘learning’ to flight a plane and actually being a pilot!
Well, I should have been more French in this circumstance, which means I could have just complain, as this person did. I just didn’t have time!!
So, these are just small examples of the disconnection I feel. Yes, I go back to France often, but I tend to stay in my tiny bubble at my dad’s place, especially nowadays.
When I get out of such bubble, I often experience a reverse cultural shock and I don’t feel like I belong anymore. I don’t feel French enough… until recently.
Emily in Paris!
Then came Emily in Paris and the pouring of comments and slight outrage of the stereotypes about French, Paris, style, work environment, toxic masculinity and so forth.
But I was not outraged! I enjoyed a cute, somehow funny tv show, knowing perfectly well that these are mostly always full of stereotypes, which ever country, such shows are based in.
However, it did get me thinking of my time in Paris…
I do not recall having colleagues who dressed anything like Emily’s colleagues especially Sylvie (Sylvie is a French goddess! More on that below). Although I admit, her attitude and manners reminded me a little about one of them!
Men’s flirtiness didn’t shock me, although it felt outdated, so before #metoo or #BalanceTonPorc.
No one I know owns a beret. Paris isn’t that clean and is much noisier, offices do not open at 10:30 in the morning and no, you can’t smoke inside (!!), Café de Flore isn’t a trendy place anymore, people shower… No, your sextoy will not break the whole of Paris’ electric grid… You’ve already read it all.
It didn’t matter (to me), it’s just a tv show!
Most importantly, from there, I went into an internet rabbit hole and came to the realization… I’m fu@$#ing French to the core!
I’m so fu@$#ing French!
Well, again, not stereotype French, I don’t have a beret and don’t walk around with my baguette under my arm. I shower too.
The French way is so much more nuanced and yet there are just as many types of French as they are Americans for exemple. Americans are not all non-vaxxers, covidiots, fanatically pro-guns or else. French are as a diversified bunch as you can find. Parisians are definitively not a representation of all French people, etc.
France is a multicultural and multi-ethnic society.
So it bears the question: what does it means, to me, to be French? How does it translate into the way I live and see the World?
What does it mean to be French?
It is really hard to define actually! I will try to divide into categories but this will undoubtedly lead to stereotypes I so want to avoid. Nether-the-less…
The French culture
“Liberty, equality and fraternity“. This is the French motto and yet it has always felt intangible to me. Just like in many other countries, there are in France plenty of injustice and many circumstances where fraternity seems to be lacking. Still, this motto seems engrained into our way of life, somehow.
Maybe more importantly to me, the French culture is about living with centuries of incredibly rich history, while trying to do better with the future. It’s about great education (even if useless in the work environment), it’s about pursuing expert level goals at things without necessarily looking for financial gains, striving toward unattainable standards, complaining about everything and yet loving every aspect of it, cherishing privacy yet spending hours arguing about anything and everything jumping from one topic to the next even with strangers, knowing the ‘rules’ and yet breaking them without a care in the world…
Being French is a complex matter, it’s about having an opinion about everything (even if you don’t feel like sharing it like in the exemple I gave above), it’s about appreciating life in all its aspects, complaining, arguing, making fun of oneself, respecting etiquette while being judgmental about others lack of etiquette. It’s about valuing Art in all its forms, including culinary arts of course!
It’s about being everything & its opposite and enjoying life!
The French art de vivre
French Art de Vivre seems to always be summarized to amazing food & wine, smoking and every now and then adding sex to the list. (Note: French make love, then don’t f*@ck! Yes, even for one night stand!)
Well, I guess it’s a pretty good list! But it’s also only a partial picture of course. Dinners without great conversations are nothing, wine without amazing food is boring & unsophisticated.
People get together to enjoy life, to experience & learn new things. Discussions will often be about the latest art exhibition seen, or a particularly interesting movie. If talking about their vacations, they focus on the experiences, the most intriguing details or encounters, not the mundane details or issues they faced, except if such issues can somehow be presented as an adventure on their own.
But French life isn’t just about eating and drinking and taking too long to do so. It’s about discovery, pleasures, humor, happiness and the people they love.
Important side note: Of course, you can bring a bottle of wine as a gift to your host. Your host will not serve it to the dinner you are attending though! Obviously!! First because, your host will have paired the wine to the dish, chilled the bottle or else as appropriate. Most importantly, because, your host would not take the risk of shaming you, if the bottle had gone bad for some reason! It happens even to the best wines!
Side note ended. Sorry I had to… Internet rabbit hole made me do this
The French style
Well, we can not, not get back to Sylvie from Emilie in Paris! She is the epitome of the French women stereotype. Sexy without being tacky, gorgeous without tons of make up, stylish / classic / sophisticated, flirty without being accessible, demanding without a word, a little bit of disdain in her eyes makes her look unattainable & uncaring about people’s opinion. She is witty and maybe slightly mean, yet authentic, while shrouded in mystery. Some would summarize her as slightly toxic, other might say she is a strong independent woman, whereas she is just as fragile as she is strong.
Sylvie has mastered the French attitude and yes, the French style!
Oh well, I’m not sure you get a better picture of what it means to be French with all my babbling! I told you it is hard and maybe I know nothing about what it means to be French.
However, there are 3 things that stroke me as being pillars of the French Art de Vivre. But again I could be wrong.
The 3 pillars of French Art de Vivre
These 3 core pillars seems to not be fully understood by people who try to emulate the French Art de Vivre, or the French style for that matter.
Moderation is key
When going down this internet rabbit hole, I realized that moderation is engrained in French! We eat and savor everything in moderation. We drink a lot, but we don’t get hammered (ok, it does happen, accidentally especially when young!) We party but can still function the next day!
We don’t really have to refrain ourselves, we don’t have to think about it. It seems we just know the right balance or when to stop.
Moderation is just key to what we do and how we live our lives. And I realized that this is the “French way”, that has influenced and lead to most of my recent decisions and articles here.
When I talked about coffee and money struggle, I had already a finger on my French side. Even when talking about simple living habits and the choices I make, there is probably a lot of Frenchiness in there!
French do not like extremes
This goes with the above but clearly a step further. In France, bigger is not necessarily better. Our houses are big, not American huge. Same for our plates, our cars, or our glasses of wine!
French don’t like extreme diets and fades. Extremes are generally considered unhealthy.
Extreme opinions (including political or religious ones) demonstrate a lack of intelligence, of being able to discuss the World in a nuanced way. French love black & white in fashion, not black & white opinions! The World issues are all shades of grey.
This also probably transpired in my writing and especially in my endless argument that you should find what works best for you, because prefab to do lists can’t possibly be good for everyone!
Quality over quantity
French tend to favor quality over quantity. You will read this again and again in articles about French style, French fashion, etc… but obviously quality isn’t about the price tag.
When I started my sewing adventures, wanting to have quality clothes that perfectly fit, that was probably my French side talking!
This is something that is truly imprinted in us, in all areas of life. With regards to fashion, our homes, our food... and indeed, we may have many lovers, but only one at a time!
I just never really stopped to ponder how this ingrained ‘quality over quantity’ criteria was affecting my life. How this is what probably lead me to sewing, up-cycling, or shopping vintage. I had certainly never realized why such choices were easy.
Well, again, I’m not quite sure you have a better view on what it means to be French, even with these 3 pillars and what could possibly make it so special that thousands of articles have been written on French style and French ways.
In short, I think it’s all in the nuance!
When I read some of these articles, nuance is what seems to be missing. Rules are being given, like “take your coffee on a terrasse and judge people passing by” or “ditch your wardrobe and buy this and that instead” as well as “your make-up should be this, not that” in addition to numerous tips on cooking and diners at home.
When the French lifestyle isn’t about rules… obviously!
Oh well, I think I’m actually very very French!! But then again maybe I’m all wrong so we’ll never know for sure.
In any case, my next goal should probably be to master being French unapologetically! Savor life the French way – always strive for perfection and unattainable goals, while enjoying every steps and complaining a little, along the way!
A note on the Witch puppets displayed here:
These are from Prague. There are numerous styles that can be found there, where all sorts of puppets are being made. Some say that the withes can bring you bad luck! Mine are nice witches and they protect us and our home.
Folktales says that you should never keep 2 witches together or they might fight! Well, mine do not hate each others. In fact, they are probably sisters or at least from the same covent!
And no, I’m certainly not one to burn a witch!