Today is the final segment in the four-part series on “What They Think of Us.” Throughout certain themes resonated over and over in their responses.
One: Americans are friendly and approachable in casual, passing encounters leading one to believe a relationship has been launched, but more often than not a “goodbye” echos behind the warm “hello,” i.e. no follow-through.
Two: The British hold back their enthusiasm, but tend to be true friends over the long haul, with follow-up and invitations.
Three: Maybe striving to be a Super Woman isn’t such a good idea after all.
In closing, this is what they said:
Anne-Françoise (whom you’ve met before, my other best friend): I have the impression that the slightest effort to make a table beautiful, for example, is not worth the time for American women. Food is served, everyone rushes through the meal and that’s one chore finished for the day.
How much time does it take to put a tiny bouquet of flowers on the table, maybe even candles in the winter, use cloth napkins — you can find ones today that don’t need to be ironed — and placemats if that’s easier? Meals are sacred, they should nourish the body, the soul and unite the family with all their stories of their day.
Yannick (the grandmother who writes the summer journals with her grandchildren and teaches them how to make quilts): Frenchwomen are, I think, more jealous than Anglo-Saxon women and are constantly watching one another to make sure they’re doing ‘what is proper’ and judging their behavior.
I often play golf with three men, which is great fun, and I’ve had friends criticize me for this. My next door neighbor even told me she didn’t understand how my husband would allow me to be in public with three men. Then she mentioned the part about, ‘how about their wives, what do they think?’ I mean really. I don’t think that would ever happen in the United States or Britain.
I also believe many Frenchwomen are contantly striving to look better than the ‘competition’ whereas I think Americans in particular don’t worry about such nonsense.
Elizabeth (coiffeuse, who has several English, Irish and American clients): Anglo-Saxon women don’t seem to evolve their look as they age. They wear too much makeup, their hair is sprayed, unmovable into place. It’s sort of scary.
Another thing, they do not discipline their children. They let them run wild. I have a basket of bonbons in the salon, French children take one, the others take one and then throw a tantrum until they get two or three or more and the mothers always give in. I don’t understand. Why would the mother rather have peace than raise her children properly?
Estelle (Aurore’s twin sister and a nurse, married to a doctor, considering going back to work after her third child goes to school full-time): I know more about Americans than the British, but I don’t like the British food I’ve seen and eaten.
American women are interesting to me because I think they are such a contradiction which must make their lives extremely complicated. At first examination one thinks: She’s independent, a super woman, she has it all. Then you realize she works all the time, is in constant stress mode and her family always seems to get the least quality time from her. Everything that has to do with the home and the family is expedited in the most efficient manner possible.
(Ed. Note: At this point her youngest child fell into the toilet forcing us to abruptly abort the interview.)
Next day: I think American society demands much too much from women. They haven’t figured out how to balance their lives and I think this takes a terrible toll on their minds and bodies. I’ve heard a lot of women are reassessing their lives to decide what they think is important for them and their families, not what they see on TV shows, magazines or any other outside pressure.
Alexandra (my-reason-for-living-in-France’s niece, a doctor and mother of three daughters between the ages of 23 and 13): I find Anglo-Saxons more natural, direct and pragmatic than we are. A Frenchwoman can spend hours — days — mulling over a question, a problem or even whether she is going to buy a certain product.
It’s perhaps because of that direct, pragmatic approach to life that she is not seduced by seduction the way we are. Or the seduction is less subtle; I don’t know.
It’s always games with us. I know they can be fun sometimes, but I don’t like the idea of being obliged to take the longest route to where one is going in the simplest of situations.
I think Frenchwomen in general are more narcissistic than Americans.
One thing I admire enormously is when an American woman believes in something, there is no holding her back. We constantly pose questions: what if this, what if that — I prefer the plunge ahead attitude and see what happens. Our natural esprit to criticize is often paralyzing and it can also be extremely boring.
Edith: I forgot to mention, Americans have gorgeous hair.
Caty: . . . and teeth.
(Ed. Note: Last two comments are a result of cocktails around a swimming pool.)