In this, the second survey on the subject of “what they know that we don’t” the women quoted below are expats from Canada, South Africa, Germany, England, Portugal and Italy. All have lived here for decades and are fully integrated into French society. (Two arrived as children and therefore have no accents on their flawless French.)
The rules remained the same as in Part I: Since I use only first names they could be nasty or nice when extolling the virtues or damning the vices of les femmes françaises. You’ll see we have a bit of both.
This is what they told me:
Ella: They are far more realistic than we are. I think it’s a pity we were brought up believing in fairy stories, happy endings, princes on white horses and all the rest. They know better.
Oh yes, it’s not a cliche, they really can cook.
Victoria: No Frenchwoman hangs around her house in her pajamas all day. It’s unthinkable. When I take my children to school, every mother is dressed stylishly and has done her makeup. Of course I do too.
For a few years I worked for an American fashion company and I noticed the huge difference in the way the French and English girls dressed. The French were always smart while the English girls would show up in flip-flops, too short skirts and tops that bared unsightly flesh. Eventually a memo was sent out with a dress code.
Sometimes I do think Frenchwomen project a public image that doesn’t coincide with who they really are. Perhaps we all do in some ways to protect ourselves, but it seems more pronounced with them.
I think even though I don’t have an accent on my French I’m still considered ‘exotic’ which in a way I find very appealing.
Once a friendship is established, which can take quite some time, I think they are extremely loyal.
Helga: From the minute I started studying French in school I knew there was no other place in the world I wanted to live.
What do I think of Frenchwomen? I think they always look stylish no matter what they’re wearing and I have the impression they don’t often spend a great deal of money on their clothes. It’s just the way they put them together.
I think in general they’re optimistic. They have a sense of balance, of what is important, what is trivial and a waste of time.
Another quality I’ve found to be consistently present is their tolerance. They are accepting of various behaviors in their families and friends and perhaps in society in general that Anglo-Saxons tend to judge more harshly.
Maria: I smile all the time and when I arrived in France I realized Frenchwomen don’t smile that often. It made me feel strange and out of place. I don’t know whether it’s good or bad, but I do smile less now.
I was surprised by how much time it takes to make lasting friendships and to be invited into a French home. My family had an open-door policy. We were constantly inviting friends — old and new — for dinner, Sunday lunches, an aperitif. It’s very different here.
Elise: My experience has been — and it happened several times — Frenchwomen take advantage of others, they’re friendly when they need something and forget about you when you are no longer useful.
I think they’re controlling and manipulating in their relationships.
Suzanne: They have a serious non-involvement in anything outside of their own selves (!)
Their commitment to the ‘boff’ factor (translates sort of like “whatever. . .”) gives them a kind of toughness and a hard-hearted factor I quit envy.
Simone de Beauvoir, with all her talk about freedom. . . It was her greatest pain.
I don’t think I’d like to be a French woman.