American women have a long held fascination with French women. We tend to assume — and book sales reflect as much — that French women have it made; they enjoy relaxed relationships with food without ever worrying about putting on an ounce, they keep elegant homes, curate closets full of classic pieces at any budget point, and they raise children who dress themselves before school and refrain from throwing fits about which color lollipop (they don’t eat lollipops anyway) they want at the supermarket.

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Having spent a summer in Paris, I can attest that there are threads of truth woven through each of these visions of the French woman: she just seems to know without having been taught how to live a life that is at once chic and simple, yet also at ease and exciting. But this doesn’t mean that she — or a woman of any other nationality, for that matter — should exist on a pedestal of our own making. More importantly, it doesn’t mean that the French woman has little to learn from her American sister, either.

Still, there is much we can glean from women who live in other parts of the world and France is no exception. Here are my top three unexpected observations about French women, all of which I am hoping to incorporate into my own very American life in the years to come.

They embrace their individuality.
Of all there is to see in Paris, one of my favorite phenomena is to observe is the distinctiveness of each French woman. Too often, in Paris as elsewhere, I have noted how my friends and I go out and about wearing some permutation of the same outfit. By contrast, if a French girl is born with big curly blond ringlets, she doesn’t tamp them down with chemical solutions or piping hot tools; she lets them loose. French girls are unafraid to express themselves and to be who they are. Every French girl is a study and a creation of her own individual makeup.

They share meals with women of all generations.
I couldn’t sit down to afternoon tea without noticing that girls my own age were almost always there enjoying time with women senior to them. Whether they were professional connections or personal mentors, there seems to be an inherent respect among younger generations for older women. They appreciate the wit and wisdom they offer, which seems an alternate perspective to aging than we tend to have as a culture.

I think that perhaps much of the ease we detect so readily in French women is because it is absent from our own lives.

They are where they are.
This is a lesson we are accustomed to sitting through these days, and seeing how the French are different made me realize just how much that lesson is still needed. After dinner, as my American group would segue from one part of the night to the next, I would look around to find us all on our phones. That was rarely the case with groups of French girls our own age. I think that perhaps much of the ease we detect so readily in French women is because it is absent from our own lives. French women are present in the moment. They don’t think to grab their phones or other distractions after (or during) a lovely dinner, because that would not be in keeping with the integrity of the experience at hand.

While I don’t plan on exchanging citizenships anytime soon – there is something quite refreshing about American girls, after all – I do hope that in the months and years to come the ethos of Paris will sneaks its way into my life in ways intentional and surprising – that my time, my plans for my life, my sense of self, and my creativity will all be made a little more free.

How have you been inspired by the lifestyles of French women?

Image via Kat Harris

5 comments

  1. Whether you agree or disagree that this is the way most Frenchwomen act, I think it holds some valuable lessons that we all, no matter what nationality, should embrace. Thank you King for the lovely reminder!

  2. I must disagree. I think that when American women spend time in France, especially in such a cosmopolitan city as Paris, they see and interpret what they want to see, what they have read, the stereotypes. I am an American woman and have lived in France, much but not all of it in Paris, for close to thirty years and, being married to a Frenchman see the “real” France, the insider’s view of the culture, the country and the society. Rare is the Frenchwoman that embraces her individuality. I was always shocked, no matter how often I did it, to walk through my sons’ high school and notice that every single young woman was dressed exactly the same, and usually in black. France is still a very class-driven society and women will always dress much the same to all the women of the same class. In fact, this is so true that one can often guess the background and the life situation of a woman by seeing how she is dressed, made up, how she behaves, etc. They are not at all comfortable in stepping outside of their (known and familiar) comfort zone and tend to be very uncomfortable around women who are different, dress differently, act differently than they. Believe me, I know. These are generalizations as are yours, but closer to the truth.

    And young French women always, always have their phones very close by, ready to text when the thought strikes. Probably much like their American counterparts.

    But I will agree that the French do often share time with friends and family of different generations which is a pleasure indeed. My own sons, now in their twenties, are and always have been comfortable with people of all generations.

  3. I must respectfully disagree that we younger women don’t respect older women…indeed it seems to me that the disdain runs the other direction. You don’t see us building 50 and under neighborhoods, no older people allowed. The seniors have decided to segregate themselves from society…and we miss them.

  4. From my one weekend spent in Paris, I too was astounded by the generational bridge. The cafes were buzzing with women of every age sharing the joy of the moment (and a nice sip of wine). This is a lost trasure that both honors seniority and trains up youth.

    http://www.onebrassfox.com

  5. What a lovely article. I agree that we should not put a particular type of women on a pedestal because each nationality certainly has something to offer. Your observation that French women are more present in the moment seems to be spot on; I observed the same thing when I was in Paris. Like you I am going to try very hard to focus on the present and not distract myself with technology from my current experience.

    Alyssa J Freitas

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