Photo: Screenshot via Etam/YouTube
They have style, a job, often many children and a figure to die for: with such a formidable reputation, no wonder the prospect of matching Frenchwomen on their home turf is a terrifying prospect for most British women.But one is determined to help dispel the myth of the perfect Gallic female while showing British and other English-speaking expatriates how to avoid the faux pas that can lead to embarrassment or humiliation in potentially hostile French territory.
Always turn up late, take a crash course in politics and never take a compliment as a come-on: these are just some of the crucial tips listed on Géraldine Lepère’s website Comme une Française (Like a Frenchwoman).
British women are subjected to a constant torrent of books and articles telling them how the French do it better. First came French Women Don’t Get Fat; now another, French Children Don’t Throw Food, invites us to marvel at their parenting skills.
“Our reputation is such that they get the impression they’re doing it all wrong,” said 27-year-old Miss Lepère from Grenoble.
“We daunt them, so I break down the clichés and explain without taboos our codes – ones we don’t even know we have.”
Take an invitation to dinner, where arriving on time in France is a cardinal sin.
“You British are so punctual, but in France if you arrive bang on time you are likely to be met by someone without make-up and an uncooked dinner,” she said.
She advises her foreign friends to be 15 to 20 minutes late, but no more as this would be “impolite”.
The non-initiated should also brush up on current affairs as the French love to debate, she added.
British women, and perhaps even more, American women, must also learn to take compliments in their stride, and not as a come-on, or worse, sexual harassment.
“How many foreign married women are thunderstruck to hear their French friend’s husband tell them: ‘You look ravishing this evening,’?” she asked.
“We flirt all the time. If a man in the street tells you: ‘You are very pretty mademoiselle’, this doesn’t mean he wants to sleep with you, it just means he thinks you are attractive so he tells you.
“My advice is say: ‘Thank you’, take it as a free pick-me-up, like a sunny day.”
Miss Lepère decided to launch her website, and new online course, Your Vie en Rose, after struggling with cultural misunderstandings during two years living and working in Leeds.
While she said people were very “warm and open”, she was foxed by tea break conversations revolving around TV and popular culture, and shocked to see her colleagues go out with miniskirts in sub-zero temperatures and drink her under the table.
Her first breakthrough was joining them at their Friday lunchtime pub outings, she said.
She realised many of the women among the 150,000-odd British expatriates in France must have been through similar issues.
Pamela Druckerman, American author of French Children Don’t Throw Food, said she felt daunted by Frenchwomen upon arrival in Paris.
“10 years later, I still feel totally daunted. I’m still the fattest women in every cafe I go into – and I’m not overweight for the record,” she told the Daily Telegraph.
While the theory of “how French women tie their scarves and or seduce their husbands” is well documented, the practice was harder, she said.
As a few pointers, she said expect friendships to grow far more slowly than in the UK or US and above all, be discreet.
“In France, thoughts and sensuality and mystery are supposed to be bubbling up inside you and not quite coming out.
“I was used to is the When Harry Met Sally model of being adorable; your childhood, your neuroses, your failures and your boyfriend troubles all come out all of the time. I just don’t think that’s adorable to French people, who view it as sloppy and a little uncouth.”
The French way, she said was to “maintain mystery in your relationships and slowly reveal yourself like a blooming flower. It’s is a very smart, pragmatic and playful idea that is very appealing to foreign women.”
Miss Lepère admitted French women do have high standards, saying her personal role model was Inès de la Fressange, the sophisticated 50-something fashion icon and businesswoman.
But she said you need not be an uber chic expert on poetry or literature to fit in. Even a stab at a few stock phrases like “comment allez-vous” can break the ice.
“French women are like coconuts, often cold and hard on the exterior but once you crack the shell, it’s easier and easier to get to know them,” she said.
“If you start going towards them, you’ll find they love foreign culture and the British have a very good reputation in France.”
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