French Feminine Secret: Work to Live

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People who know how to employ themselves always find leisure moments, while those who do nothing are forever in a hurry.”
– Marie Jeanne Roland

I just e-mailed a friend of mine who lives in the South of France, and here is the automated response I received:

Bonjour, je suis en vacances du 28/7 au 26/8.
(Hello, I will be on vacation from July 28 through August 26.)

We can call the French lazy and lacking ambition and drive.  However, while we are cranking out 60+ hour weeks, shuttling our kids to the moon and back, stressing our bodies to the max and spiraling into states of depression, they are probably sitting on the beach of Ibiza sipping a Pina Colada (scratch that; the French are not Pina Colada drinkers), and laughing at how we Anglo-Saxons just don’t get it.

French life is centered around quality and pleasure.  Excessive work is not pleasurable to the average French woman.  So, while the average Anglo-Saxon seems to always be in pursuit of The Next Big Thing, our French sister is likely to be basking in the Big Thing of Now – her morning café, 3-course lunches and, of course, frequent holidays and vacations.

The French woman certainly doesn’t have an arsenal of productivity tools and her time management system seems to be nothing more than being present wherever she is.  In fact, to the outsider looking in, she seems to have time on her side.

However, she’s a lot like us — she has a job, maybe a husband and kids and a home to run.  But, you’ll find her reading a book during lunch (that is, if she’s not indulging in a multi-course dejeuner), stopping off at her favorite market on the way home to pick up a fresh baguette and sitting down with her family for dinner (and looking fabulous while doing it).

The French woman understands that her career is not her life, just a means to offer her what she’s really after:  a life of play and pleasure.

This reminds me of a story I once heard:

A group of French people were working for an American businessman.  Every day, they would leave at lunch and wouldn’t return for two hours.  The American businessman was frustrated.  “We need to be more productive, and your 2 hour lunch breaks are interfering, so tomorrow bring your lunches with you.  You’ll be eating on the job.”

The following day, the American businessman was looking forward to increasing his production.   At noon, the French workers, having agreed to eating on the job, went to the back of a truck, brought out tables and chairs and covered them with beautiful linen.  They placed vases of fresh flowers on each one and set up each place setting.  For le menu, they grilled steaks, roasted potatoes and cooked haricot verts.  Of course, no French lunch would be complete without a glass of red wine and cheese.

Two hours later, the French finished their lunch and went back to work.

The French woman can thank her country, which has made her seemingly tranquil lifestyle possible. The government has certain laws in place that takes the fear out of job security.  The 35-hour work week leaves plenty of  time for love and passionate pursuits.  And, everyone, from the banker to the plumber, receives 5 weeks of paid vacation, which you’ll never hear a French person say they’re too busy to take. This makes it very easy for the French girl to relax in her life.

Across the ocean, we’ve been raised very differently and afforded opportunities that the average French woman doesn’t have (and for which I’m extremely grateful).  We live in a country that allows us to go after our dreams and do work that we love.  Not every French woman gets to pursue her passion in the workplace, so thank goodness she has time outside of the office for pleasure.

On the other hand, with our protestant work ethic, we seem to always be in pursuit of something – more happiness, health and wealth – making it extremely difficult to slow down and savor life.

As an entrepreneurial woman, I love my work and can get lost in whatever project I’m working on.  I adore my clients, so spending time with them is a great pleasure.  And, I love the freedom that running my own company affords me, so it doesn’t seem to be a problem.

However, deep down, I know it can be.  I can’t fool life, and neither can you. Spending hours on the computer, neglecting our families and home, and most importantly, abandoning ourselves, we forget one key principle: our work is simply a means to live a beautiful life.

After speaking with many of my French girlfriends, I realize that most French people aren’t spending hours on Facebook, perusing books on how to make their life better or pressuring themselves to be, do and have more.  Perhaps, it’s because they live in a society where they can’t or maybe they just don’t want to.  As my French friend, Catherine, once said, “Life is too short for so much self-induced pressure.”

During my first visit to France, I remember feeling like life suddenly made sense – the way people dined, walked, presented themselves to the world, loved, lived.    Beauty and leisure were sought out each day, not when you reached some non-existent finish line.

While in France, I wasn’t living in time scarcity.  For the first time, it felt like time was on my side.   I bottled that feeling and set the intention to recreate that French essence back at home in the States.

Il était difficile pour moi.  Being an ambitious and driven woman, I kept getting sucked back into the vortex of working madness.

However, over time, I’ve learned to live in my own world where pleasure and play are a priority.  I let go of feeling that I was behind when everyone around me seemed to be so far ahead.  I stopped caring about what others are doing in their businesses, and focused on what works for me and my life.  I even take sabbaticals like the French to renew and recharge.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I want to create, grow and inspire.  I have desires that I absolutely love seeing come to fruition.  However, I do not want to be that girl who never enjoyed what she had because she was always in hot pursuit of the next thing.

Anglo-Saxons have perfected making a living, but the French girl has perfected creating a life!

I want to do both!

In all honesty, I’m still learning what this looks like for me. I don’t think it’s something you perfect, but constantly strive for.

However, I’ve noticed when everyone is stressed and talking about how busy they are, I pour myself a glass of wine, take a deep breath and remind myself that there is no hurry.  Right now is pretty damn good!

What about you?

As always, I want to hear from you.  Which side do you air on?  Are you more of a Frenchie when it comes to your work life? Or are you the driven, ambitious American woman who’s always striving for the next big thing?  Or, maybe you’re a bit of both.

There is no right or wrong.  There’s only what’s working and what’s not!

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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With a Light Heart,

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18 Responses to French Feminine Secret: Work to Live

  1. Hey Tonya,

    It’s so refreshing to read your blog posts! You have an elegant way to put your words together – it’s always both poetic and moving to read your lines. It feels like getting a sneak peek at your secret thoughts and it’s quite fascinating.

    I think what I appreciate the most about your posts is that it makes me wonder if I agree with what you are saying. Being in France and having been raised + having a personality that tends to blend with other people’s culture (mostly for the sake of harmony) rather than noticing whatever is different between me and others, it’s challenging for me to remove myself from the big picture and look at my life and lifestyle and say: hey, is Tonya’s vision really describing what is going on in my life? Isn’t she exaggerating?

    And shockingly, you have a very accurate vision of the French lifestyle – especially when it comes to work. The American economy is very different from the French one and allows a dynamic among the population, especially the new, rising generation of women entrepreneurs, that is not currently equalled I feel anywhere else in the world.

    So eventually, it sure is awesome to see how your posts allow to dig deeper and question my own choices and lifestyle. The comparision that you make helps to realize how enriching it can be to explore further and find a balance between both cultures.

    I hope to join one of your future programs 🙂

    Bon Voyage!

    – Patty

    P.S: I loved the little lunch story! I’m so forwarding this to all my friends and family, they will love it 🙂

    • Patty,

      I Love when a French lady stops by and offers her perspective. In writing about another culture, it’s always difficult to generalize, because women in any given country are different with varying dreams and desires. However, when it comes to the French, it seems that women do possess a different outlook on life based on the their traditions and upbringing. I also know that some French women (and men) are frustrated by the traditions that the country holds onto so tightly that makes it difficult for them to grasps the opportunities that we have in our country. This is the reason why I want to explore the best of both worlds – a country that developed the term joie de vive alongside the country where dreams really do come true. At the end of the day, I want to know that I (and every woman) enjoyed my life to its fullest. There’s something to be learned from both cultures. And, as you know, I am absolutely in love with your country! And, I’d love for you to join me on a future adventure!

      Bisou Mon Amie!

  2. Hey Tonya – I read your posts with a big smile on my face because just this morning my husband and I were discussing how it seems like we are always rushing…it’s a never ending cycle of runnig to here and there and everywhere. Being that he was born and raised in Haiti and I went to school there for a while we know the difference – we didn’t rush! Work is from 8 to 4 Mon – Thurs and on Fridays everything (except for banks) is closed by 2, schools are closed at Noon on Fridays. We just have more time for leisure as opposed to here in the States. Haiti was colonized by the French so I guess we did get most of our traditions from them.

  3. I have been really enjoying your philosophy Tonya as it relates to much of what I believe about how to live life, but in my case I call it The Art of Convivial Living. That whole present moment is key. I spent four months in San Miguel de Allende (Central Mexico) and experienced so much happiness and fulfillment. I started my days at noon, let the sunlight and sound of birds awake me each day, I walked everywhere, enjoyed wonderful food and company; I simply took in life all around me. It changed me. And just last week, I took another sabbatical for the week and spent the time writing, enjoying great music, in a beautiful house all to myself, and even had myself a few dance breaks to music by my fave Spanish artist, Bebe. I felt the difference in my body and mood. Your message is perfect and much needed for the Western woman. I often face the challenge of balancing my achieving/ambitious self with my convivial nature of wanting to be as present as can be. I can definitely appreciate all of your reminders and shared wisdom on the matter. Thanks for doing what you do. It inspires me.

  4. Hi Tonya,
    I am a stay at home mom to four children under age 12. Before kids I owned a gourmet sandwich cafe. I am now hoping to launch a website sharing a joyful creative living lifestyle. Your blog posts are always so fun and inspiring. When my kids get in school next week my mission is to clear my closets of frumpy mom clothes and splurge on some pretty lingerie. I am also taking time to sip tea in the afternoons, and bought a tube of NARS Mayflower. Thanks for your French inspiration.
    Kathy Anne

  5. These are my sentiments exactly!!! Life is so full of beautiful experiences, amazing views, and wonderful tastes and smells. We are here on this earth to experience all of it–as much as we possibly can in our life. I had my first trip to Paris last year and it was one of the highlights of my whole life. I’m building a now that will encompass more trips to Paris and France–among all the other beautiful places on the earth. Thank you for validating my own beliefs.

  6. Tanya, thanks for this post. I always take a deep breath when I stop by to read something from you because it always features the inevitable reminder to slow down and be in the moment. I can get swept up in the ambition game, and especially the comparison game, and make myself a little nuts constantly striving and striving because I see people doing it faster – but at what cost? I am so on the pleasure train with you, and recognize that I have many small opportunities to keep practicing this principle. Thanks for the breath of fresh air you are! xoxo Melissa

  7. The other day I had a weekend day where I truly didn’t have anything I HAD to do (although an American-sized list of plenty still needing to be done) … so I lazed about a bit and I realized I felt guilty. That I have become SO used to working 7 days a week that I felt wrong for taking a day off. Like I was obligated to work non-stop b/c if my business isn’t 100% where I want it to be, how dare I stop? … Whoa! Red Flag that I definitely need to stop … and MORE OFTEN. A day off to just enjoy life should not feel like a rare extravagance. It should be part of a balanced life, otherwise, what’s the point?! … this post is a great reminder. 🙂

  8. Tonya, this is such a beautiful article. I made a pact with myself at the start of this year to make more time to slow down and relax, and, apart from a few stumbles, I’ve been doing that. But just reading your article makes me realise that I still have a little way to go! Some of the items on my to-do list for today can wait until tomorrow, while I make time for a very relaxed, leisurely lunch (while reading a special book!)…

  9. Hi Tonya!

    I DEVOURED this post. I totally relate to being all go, go, go all the time. Once I accomplish one thing, I move on to the next thing. I really struggle with savoring little moments. It can be hard to track that stuff when there is just SO much to do. And mindfulness can be an challenge sometimes. I am really gonna think about this. THANKS for the inspiration and the push.

    – Shenee

  10. Another lovely post, Tonya. I think my heart lies on foreign (French) soil in these matters, but I do find it hard not to get sucked into the working madness vortex you mentioned. I also loved, loved, loved the lines about feeling as if the world made sense (yes! I’ve had those moments, and come to think of it…many of them were abroad, though some also in Iowa or near the water 🙂 and that time was on your side. I want to enjoy the passage of time…and I also want to write meaningful, beautiful works, paint beautiful, soulful art, inspire, support, and encourage others…I don’t think those things have to be mutually exclusive…but if there still is are wrinkles that arise in my plans, they almost always tend to be around “money.” So many discoveries yet to be made…
    Looking forward to future posts, Tonya!

  11. Feeling left behind and not caring where others are in their business has been very hard for me. I’m reading all of your beautiful words and they are resonating deep inside me. XO

  12. Hi Tonya;

    You are hitting on EXACTLY what my husband and I have said ever since we moved from France to the US. I am Danish, he is American, and we met while both worked for Disneyland Paris. After almost 20 years in the US, we have exhausted ourselved living as Americans: 40 hours+ work week, neglecting being a family who enjoys life, having children whom we see at dinner, and then send to bed, etc. And it is just so unhealthy and unhappy. We want more than anything to incorporate ‘living French, but in the US”. Which is how I came upon your website. THANK YOU for refreshing my memory. Now the challenge is HOW to incorporate your delicious article into our lives here. But I am a dreamer and believer, and it will be done. Thank you for sharing your life and opionion.
    Mette

  13. Hello Tanya,

    I enjoy your blogs and appreciate your outlook so much. While having a home to run, two daughters, my husband, four legged children and three jobs, I always take a few minutes here and there to find the beauty in each day. If it’s a day that is more hectic than others, I still swing on the old wooden swing under the trees for a few minutes after feeding the horses, and before heading in to turn on the laptop. While fixing a meal I turn on a favorite song and dance around the kitchen, and stop for that extra moment to kiss my husband again before heading out to feed the animals in the evening. Even sitting on the deck with a glass of wine to watch the sun set on the mountains is rejuvenating. Helping a hummingbird after it hits the window, enjoying a rare date night, burying my face in my horses mane…all of these things (as my daughters say), make my heart smile. Thank you for always reminding us to see the beauty in everything.

    • Hey Melody!

      Thanks so much for stopping by!

      And, what you wrote describes the precious moments of our lives that truly make life worth living. You are a shining example my friend.

      And, on a different note, thanks for being a Aunt to Blue!

      – Tonya

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