“If I could just be ___________, I’d be so much happier”
That was what I told myself about being French.
If I could just be French, I’d be so much happier
Upon my first trip to Paris back in 2004 , I was convinced that I was a French woman trapped in an American life.
This crazy obsession led to some interesting behaviors on my part. I did things like:
Trying to teleport myself into the country by only watching French films like Manon of the Springs and Amelie.
Getting decked to the nines to wheel my trash out to the street…. because that’s what I heard French women do.
Speaking French to the waiters at Outback Steakhouse in South Carolina. “L’addition, s’il vous plait,” which was received with a confused look.
Answering my daughter in French, in which she’d reply, “Oh, here we go again.”
Making my family suffer through months of nothing but French foods, such as Coq a Vin, served with only French wines. (Sometimes, you want a good ole’ American burger, fries and a beer.)
I don’t regret doing any of these things.
In fact, I am so grateful for my French experimentation. As a result, I mastered some French recipes, read new books, discovered new films and definitely elevated my personal style.
I believe that life is here for our exploration, discovering what lights you up and what doesn’t. I like playing on the edges and constantly being amazed versus sitting at home and thinking about a life of adventure and possibility.
How boring would life be if things were always “just so”?
So, I don’t regret my quest to become French, at all.
It’s like finding the perfect LBD. You must try many to find the one that fits you best.
Turns out my best life is a mix of inspiration across cultures, spiritual practices and ideologies. And, it’s not 100% French.
The irony of all of this is:
I’m still having a mad love affair with the French culture, but the honeymoon phase of lust, turning a blind eye and delusion is over. Now I’m left with what feels like a long term seasoned marriage — one of deep respect, loyalty and appreciation. There’s no more of me trying to change myself to please the other person. Or, me wanting the other person to be different than what they are.
As a result, our relationship is solid.
Me and France…I think we’re going to be together for a long time.
However, the only way we were going to survive was for me to come to terms with all of the ways I’ll never be French.
So, if you’re a woman who thinks your life would be better …
…IF you were a different age
…IF you lived somewhere else.
…or, like me, IF you were French…
I hope you’ll find solace in my discovery that trying to fit into a box (even if it’s a beautiful French box) will destroy your soul.
#1 – I smile way too much.
It’s impossible for me to walk down a street in Paris and not grin from ear to ear.
So, when I was told that smiling too much is interpreted that you are either a woman who is a bit “easy” (in a sexual kind of way), and/or of course, a dead giveaway that you’re American…
I tried extremely hard to keep a melancholic face. That lasted for about two seconds.
In fact, my attempt to not smile led to giggles at the absurdity of me fighting it.
I’ve concluded that Parisians must assume that I am a legitimate American slut, because I can’t help but to smile when I see a gorgeous Haussmann building, a well dressed couple holding hands, catch a whiff of butter coming from Poilâne or hear a French quartet playing along a street in St. Germain.
While I enjoy the relief of not feeling like I need to constantly wear a happy face to be a “nice girl,” I’ve come to terms that I’m a smiler. Always have been. Always will be.
Call me a slut. Call me American. Or, you can call me happy.
Makes no difference to me.
#2 – I’m an Optimist
I spent most of my life embodying one of the key French mindsets without realizing it.
This quality was found in my incessant complaining and pessimistic outlook on life.
I guess you could say that today I see the world more through a Hollywood film of happy endings versus French films with not really an ending at all. My attitude is why I’m able to spend time in France now. The girl I was would have never seen this as a possibility as her days were full of bellyaching about her life.
As I sit and watch French life unfold on the streets of Paris, I notice people complaining about the weather as they sip their espresso at a lovely cafe, the government, the Uber driver, whatever is happening.
When I asked a French friend, “What’s up with all the complaining,” he replied, “It’s a sport for us.”
Personally, I prefer making dreams come true and skiing as sports to indulge in, but who am I to judge?
I just know it’s not for me.
Plus, I actually enjoy hearing the dance of complaints around a French table. It would feel Parisian if it was any other way. Even more, I love being the one who has a possible solution, a happy twist on the matter. Nothing seems to confuse or irritate a French person more than to throw a new plot into their story, especially one that has a silver lining.
Just last week, while eating dinner alone, I noticed the two gentlemen sitting beside me. One of them had teary eyes was was speaking so fast in French, I didn’t know the content of the conversation, but I could tell he was in emotional pain.
Out of nowhere, the friend turned to me and said in English, “He’s going through a divorce. His life is over.”
Ugh? Why would you say that to him, I thought.
I turned to the gentleman and said, “I’m so sorry to hear that, and can I share something with you?
“Your life with your wife may be be coming to an end, but what if your life is just beginning?”
The fatalistic friend gave me a befuddled, troubled stare.
But, the soon to be divorced man? Well, he had a glimmer of hope in his eye.
“Can you say more?”
For the next thirty minutes, I coached him around his divorce only to discover he is a French TV producer.
“France needs you,” he said.
He ordered me a glass of Champagne, and with a sante, I was grateful that I wasn’t French.
#3 – I’m not a no-makeup, barefaced kind of gal
I’ve tried that “effortless French no-makeup, just rolled out of bed and look fabulous with red lips” look. Except, I didn’t look so fabulous. Truth be told, I looked like a woman who had given up on herself.
So, I had to come to terms with one of my loves: makeup.
Yes, I adore my cosmetic bag — filled with magical potions and luxurious products.
I wear foundation every day. I think faux lashes are an invention by God. And, my lipstick collection is as precious as the silverware passed down from my mom.
There I said it.
Imagine the scene from Sex & The City 2 when Samantha wrestles a local Abu Dhabi man for her Birkin only to have condoms fly out into the street where she proclaims:
“Condoms, Condoms….yes I have sex!
Except, it’s me being surrounded by French people who are staring at me in disbelief as I flash my makeup loving face with fake eyelashes and lipstick, shouting,
“Makeup, makeup…yes, I wear makeup!”
#4 – I like sweating it out (yup, I said it)
The French moderate approach to food and exercise gave me peace of mind and has allowed me to maintain my happy weight for years.
While I am a huge fan of the French approach to exercise, I don’t live in a city where I can walk everywhere.
Plus, I know my body – it likes to sweat it out.
In the early days of me trying to be French led to nights of eating cheese and sipping wine with a little five minute walk here and there. It also led to a 10 pound weight gain within a few weeks. Quickly, I knew that this whole French eating cheese with no formal exercise wasn’t working for me (plus, I’m sure French women aren’t downing a wheel of brie every night).
So, I had to get back to the basics: listen to my body.
My body enjoys sweating it out…in a gym, at home, or outdoors.
Equally, I also enjoy my more “French-like” activities, such as skiing, biking to the farmer’s market, hiking, playing tennis and other sports.
As a result, no matter where I have lived, I have learned to figure out how to make my environment work for me. And, thanks to the French, I no longer look at the concept of exercise as black and white kind of gal who thinks I either have to work out 2 hours a day or do nothing at all.
Recently, while running by the Seine, a car passed and its passenger shouted, “American,”
I smiled (a giveaway he was correct) and gave an “okay” sign.
(A French tip: an “okay” sign does not mean the same thing in France as it does in America. Basically, I mistakenly told the person they were a worthless zero).
#5 – My gestures are all wrong
Oops…another reason why I’ll never be French: my intentions are good, but I get the gestures all wrong.
#6 – I am 100% open to encountering new friends
This is a tough one, because as I’ve I become older, I am very particular about with whom I spend time.
When it comes to friends, I’ve adopted a “less is more” and “quality over quantity.”
Turns out, this is very French.
However, Parisians aren’t likely to invite you out for a cup of coffee after your first meeting or your tenth.
As my Parisian friend, Olivier Magny, wrote in Stuff Parisians Like: Discovering the Quoi in the Je Ne Sais Quoi:
“By the age of twenty-three, Parisians have found all their friends for life. Parisians have three groups of friends: childhood friends, friends from high school, and friends from college…Newcomers to Paris can therefore only befriend age twenty-three or younger.”
My life and circle of friends has changed so much from the woman I was when I was twenty-three a years old.
Because of my willingness to let go of certain friendships and be open to new ones, I’ve surrounded myself with an incredible small circle of friends, most of which I met in my 30s (way past the French deadline).
The French are private people, which I respect immensely. But, if I like you and we click, why fight something that could be magical?
#7 – I am a dreamer
Oh, that’s another thing. The French don’t believe in magic. They are realists.
Yet another reason why I’ll never be French.
#8 – I dress for me, not others
I will never forget the feeling of being looked at from head to toe while on the metro in Paris. And, this wasn’t just by one person, but by many.
They didn’t try to hide their judging eyes.
I felt so exposed (especially considering my lack of style at the time). I had been found out. I was worthless.
French female friends (yes, I have some that who are older than twenty-three), have admitted that they are exhausted by the constant pressure to look good in their country.
Last year, I witnessed a waitress walk up to another waitress at a cafe in the 2nd arrondissement and sarcastically ask, “Are you pregnant,” and thumbed her belly.
What the what?
This does NOT fly with me. Fortunately, my girlfriends would never do such a terrible thing. If they did, they would be quickly escorted out of my life.
While I enjoy beautiful clothes and believe style matters, it’s about the relationship a woman has with herself. If you dress to impress others, you’ll live a life of pressure and inevitably be disappointed. If you dress to impress yourself, you’ll be inspired and will always win.
The irony is this: in my little town, I’m judged more when I dress up than down.
Yet, none of this really matters. What matters is how I feel.
Judge away wherever you’re from.
I am finally a woman who feels bien dans sa peau, whether I’m in yoga pants or a ball gown. (But, you’ll most likely find me in a pair of black skinny jeans with a t-shirt and blazer, because that’s what feels good for me.)
#9 – I am a “girl’s girl”
Rumor has it that French women aren’t the biggest supporters of each other. In fact, several French women have admitted, “We wish we had what you have in America — a sense of sisterhood.”
This makes me sad, because I can’t help but imagine what life would be like without girlfriends full of love and support for each other.
I spent most of my first thirty years living with suspicion and envy of other women, and it was one of the biggest waste of my precious energy. Yet, it’s understandable why women are fearful of each other.
We are raised to feel like someone can steal our guy, job, looks, success. We are constantly judging ourselves based on how we think we measure up to other women.
And, it’s all an illusion. When you show up as the kind of woman you’d like to meet, you will discover beaucoups of women who are kind, loving and supportive. If they’re not, it’s only because they’ve been brainwashed in fear.
While I admire many things about the French woman, my heart breaks at the constant fear she may live in in regards to other women.
At the end of my life, I want to be surrounded by my closest girlfriends and daughter in a celebration of our sorority — the memories we shared, the challenges we’ve faced together, the children we’ve raised, the loves we had and our love for each other.
#10 – I dance like no one’s watching
One night, my friend and I went to Silencio, a private nightclub in Paris. I was fascinated by how contained everyone seemed considering the deep bass of the music thumping through the club.
When I hit the dance floor, the faces of the people standing along the wall were in disbelief. There I was, decked to the nines, dancing like no one was watching.
(My girlfriends from grade school didn’t nickname me LaTonya for no reason.)
Just like I don’t dress to impress others, I don’t dance for others either. And, I certainly don’t dance to be French.
I dance for me. For release. For pure joy. For ecstasy.
Apparently, this isn’t very French. (But, they sure do love our American music.)
The Moral of my “Why I’ll Never Be French” Story….
Now, you may be thinking,
“Whoa Tonya, I wasn’t expecting this from you. You teach many principles based on the French lifestyle.”
So, here’s what I want you to know:
- Not all French people fit my descriptions above (just like not all Americans drink beer and watch NFL)
- One trip to Paris changed my life in the best ways (an continues to open my eyes each time I return)
- I’m proud to have adopted some of the French mindset into my being – the love of fine perfume, an appreciation for art, an upgraded lingerie collection, a joie de vivre that is felt in an ordinary day, a sense of simplicity and elegance, a true love of food and wine and an ever expanding French vocabulary.
- I am in love with France and its people (I wouldn’t want them any other way)
What I’ve learned with my multiple failed attempts of trying to be French is this:
While we can gain inspiration from many places, you must come to terms that you are a unique woman and there is no perfect formula, approach or culture that will be 100% suited for you.
Is there a certain box you’ve been trying to fit into that doesn’t feel quite right?
If so, I suggest you do what I did:
Take what you love and leave the rest behind.