Since my first stay abroad, I have been impressed by French women young and old. The grace, confidence, charm, independence and style are inspiring. French women are truly a force to be reckoned with.
Over the years, I have stayed with some wonderful French families, had wonderful French girlfriends and now have an amazing Mother-in-Law and 3 French sister-in-laws.
From knowing them, I have become better and more well-rounded. I wanted to share the things that I observed and learned from them with you:
- Move on! – You had an abrupt breakup? Talk about it once and then get over it. There is life to be lived and you are young. You didn’t get the job that you interviewed for? So what. You failed an exam? Again, so what? That person was rude to you? Were you rude back? No? Then what am I supposed to do about it? I think this has a lot to do with confidence. It’s not right to be defined by every failure and encounter. You can learn from it, but don’t dwell.
- Be mysterious – A bit of a cliche but it’s true. French women keep little secrets. “I love that dress!” you say to French woman. “Thank you.” replies French woman. You don’t need to self-deprecate or tell the person it was on sale or blah blah blah. Just say thank you. Keep the bathroom door closed when you pee, keep your best recipes locked away, don’t put all of your cards on the table. Americans tend to be such a confession culture. You don’t have to tell everyone that you had a spray tan, wax, etc.
- Don’t be flashy – Downplay your name brand objects, don’t wear items with monograms, no wild new trends, no fake hair, or too much makeup or too much anything… Don’t covet objects. If you wind up with a beautiful Chanel bag, by all means wear it… Don’t buy it if it isn’t in your budget. Don’t show off your clothes, purses, etc. or be what French people refer to as “bling bling”.
- Learn the art of conversation – “Il faut avoir de la repartie!” Be quick with a reply or comeback. Conversation is a game, a tool, a charm, and a person who knows how to do it skillfully will be appreciated.
- Don’t ask for thank you’s – I hear a lot in the US women complaining about not being appreciated. It drives me crazy. A French woman doesn’t put herself in that position. She wields respect. If a French woman doesn’t want to do it, she doesn’t do it. If you are doing something for someone who doesn’t thank you for it, maybe you aren’t doing a service to them or you shouldn’t be doing it for them.
- Be independent – Before being a woman, you are a person. I loved dating in France because French men expect ideas, opinions, well-roundedness out of women and aren’t threatened by it. I believe that is because women demand to be equals. This reverts to tip number 5. You are responsible for your emotional well-being. Draw lines and stick to them. A strong, French woman will not wait for approval or let an opinion of a man change their opinion of themselves. To hear it and truly listen to someone else’s opinion is one thing, but to let your mood and self-esteem be affected by it is another.
- Have hobbies – Not only hobbies that you share with your partner, but your own hobbies. One of my host mother’s attended a painting restoration class, another was an avid jogger, my sister-in-law with 8 children takes courses in Eastern Medicine, my other sister-in-law loves yoga, etc. These hobbies are all independent of jobs, marriage and kids.
- Be social – Friends are important, get-togethers are in important, maintain your own circle of friends, etc.
- Take care of yourself – Stay away from the needles and freezing machines, and just eat right and be healthy. This is one of the most eye-opening parts of living with host families. The men were so attracted to their 40-60-year-old wives. I would often walk into the room and the husband’s hand was on her waist while she was cooking or he was sneaking a kiss. I realized how much love and adoration they were getting from their men. Of course we can credit French men, but like I said in number 5, French women just wield respect.
- Do it all (within reason) – Have hobbies, have kids, have a job, have a husband, whatever you want, but don’t burn yourself out. Hire a maid, hire a nanny, don’t sacrifice your well-being for having it all. Don’t succumb to peer pressures, just do what you need to do to feel good about yourself and be happy.
- If you’re putting on weight, stop eating so much – Don’t starve yourself, just cut some bad habits. I will never forget my host sister coming into the kitchen before dinner and my host mother tapping her bum and saying “Hm, no cheese and dessert for you this week.” The daughter didn’t break down and cry like I would have. She simply replied, “Yes, you’re right. I have been eating like crazy lately.”
- Always revert to the tried & true – Nothing to wear… Jeans, a t-shirt and flats, a dress and flats, etc. Stick with the recipe of your grandmother’s, avoid trends, avoid jumping on bandwagons and avoid consumeristic and capitalistic urges to have the next new thing.
- Have thick skin – Try not to have taboo topics. Talk about weight, wrinkles, clothing sizes. My host-mother was scolding her youngest daughter who was 5 at the time. She said “Sit down!” and the daughter immediately shot back at her with “Maman, you have wrinkles!” My host mother didn’t even flinch and she said “Yes, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to sit down”.
- Pride yourself on being well-rounded. Don’t worry about what you will wear here, how you are going to fit in, what you will say in a new setting, etc. Just be confident and know how to handle any situation by being true to yourself.
- Don’t take people’s crap – If someone makes you feel bad, stand up in the moment. I am from the Midwest and this is so hard! It has taking me years of practice, but I am improving immensely. This week a bigger kid was picking on my toddler at daycare. I envisioned my old self internalizing fear and anger and crying to my husband about what to do, instead I took that anger and spit it right back to the kid that deserved it. I said “Hey kid, if you touch her, it’s not going to be good for you.” Everyone’s jaw dropped and I walked out of there knowing no one was going to mess with my kid. Directing your anger at the person deserving it and not internalizing it is important. Otherwise, it will come out at the wrong time and eat away at you. There is an art to this and it can be tricky to learn. You need to stay above the fray and not make it too personal. If a friend is taking too much or doing something that pisses you off, make sure you stick just to the thing that is bothering you. Let them know that your relationship is strong, but you won’t tolerate x, y or z.
Okay, so those are my 15 lessons from French woman. Of course, some American women may already be like that but I had a lot to learn and French women really shaped me in the end. They helped me learn out to get down to what I truly want and truly enjoy myself every day. I feel like I owe them a lot.
Thanks for reading.