Sunday, June 20, 2010

What French Women Know, by Debra Ollivier

I checked out What French Women Know from the library as part of my research for a book I´m writing on mid-life dating for a publisher in Spain. I thought I would speed-read it, just to get some facts and then move on to the next book on the pile I have on my bedside table.

Alas, I was hooked! I took advantage of a bad cold that put me to bed, to read every single page of it. Written by Debra Ollivier, an American who lived (and married) in France for many years, not only did I find it interesting but well-crafted.

Perhaps because I am of mixed heritage myself, I found it even more enticing. I am half Spanish (from Spain) and half American and I think I know both cultures pretty well. Throw in the mix that I attended a British school and that I grew up around people of many cultures, religions and ethnicities, a little bit of travel here and there and that provides me with a very open-minded perspective.

What French Women Know tells the reader that there really is another way of seeing and doing things, that is not the way the good old American woman is seeing and doing them, and which is making her try to be Super-Woman (and fail at it!), live a life in which every minute is planned (and priorities on her planner all wrong), and get that rock on her finger (after following the ¨rules¨ of courtship), no matter who slides it on!

Ah, says Ollivier, in France you will not see women sporting T-Shirts that say “Life starts at 70”, because it doesn´t! You will also not find a French word (or a Spanish word, may I add) for “dating”, since that is a concept that does not exist in the Old World! Women enjoy their feminity, they let men be gentlemen, they are ok with ambiguity, live-in relationships of decades (that don´t end in marriage: perhaps that is why the divorce rate is lower?) and looking voluptuous and elegantly disheveled. The French (and the Spanish, and the Italians, etc.) still make it a priority to enjoy life, to have long vacations, to sleep a siesta, to sip wine and break bread and to flirt innocently as a way of life. Ollivier mentions to what extent the U.S. is ruled by fear now: fear of being accused of sexual harassment if a man pays a compliment for one. What is wrong with that?

French women, writes Ollvier, are not trying to abide by the rules in life or in love. They don´t try to conform to the norm. In fact, it comes naturally to them to develop their own style. Different IS exotic in France, where the term jolie laide (pretty ugly) describes a woman who is not beautiful by Hollywood standards but is gorgeous in her own way. French women make their personal rules, they let their men be men and they don´t obsess about where a particular relationship is going, so they have more energy to enjoy life.

Of course, I know that this is probably not true of all French women. Also, although many French women may not shave, there are plenty who shave, wax and undergo electrolysis. In Spain, for example, the waxing industry for women is huge! No leg or underarm hair, ever, and people do shower! But perhaps our immune systems are stronger because we don´t abuse or even use hand sanitizer (wash hands, yes!), and we are not paranoid about illnesses. You will see friends drinking from the same glass at a bar. But, I digress …

Reading What French Women Know I realize why so many men in the U.S. today are so lost. Women here are trying too hard to play a certain role, a kind of alpha male woman hybrid. But hey, we have a mound and they have a penis! In a nutshell: Surprise! We are different! And we should embrace that!
Perhaps reading this book will provide some insights that in my case, were a reminder of how pleasant life can really be when you cast away stereotypes and embrace yourself the way you are, gender and all!


  1. So, How's your cold?

  2. Better, thanks, but I think I need to go back to bed to read the latest Emily Giffin novel!