Together again: Jeanne-Aelia Desparmet-Hart in New York and moi in Paris (or, in the two cases, just outside the big cities).
Every Monday, as those of you who are familiar with our partnership and our series, Transatlantic Parallel, we tell you about our experiences — the good, the bad and the unfortunate — coping with the cultural challenges of living on opposite sides of the Atlantic.
Each week we choose our topics for debate and then set to it. We never communicate with each other from that moment forward. We share our points of view with you at the same moment we reveal our positions on the subjects to each other: in our posts. You will find hers at the divinely sophisticated blog Through the French Eye of Design.
Today’s Line-up Includes:
1.) Flowers. (Who could imagine there might be a controversy on this subject, n’est-ce pas? You’ll see.)
2.) Tipping, whether you wish to or not.
3.) Fidelity. (Yes, we’ve dared to dabble in that debacle.)
Flowers: Flair or Faux Pas?
One would think it impossible to give flowers improperly or at an inopportune moment. One would be wrong.
Many of you know and abide by the flower giving rules and regulations for dinner parties, but for the purposes of review Jeanne-Aelia and I decided to address the issue once again. (Also it gives us an opportunity to put pretty posies on our posts. I haven’t seen hers as yet, but I can only assume she’s done something sumptuous.)
Out of all the sometimes complicated rules of etiquette in France, this one is quite simple.
1.) Never walk through the door and hand your hostess a bouquet. No matter how absolutely divine the offering, no matter if it came from the chicest florist in all of France; it’s not the moment. Your timing couldn’t be worse. Your hostess is giving a dinner party (remember[?] that’s why you’re there), she does not have a moment to arrange or probably even the place to put your fantastic flowers. She has already planned her bouquets and placed them well in advance of your arrival.
General advice: Don’t annoy your hostess. (And if you give her roses from your garden, make certain all thorns are removed.)
2.) Depending upon the size of the dinner party, the formality, whether the hostess is assisted by a household staff, flowers should be sent the day before the soirée so that she can arrange them at her leisure and give them pride of place if she so desires. For a smaller dinner or a household with help, flowers could be sent early the morning of the party.
If you’re at a loss for an appropriate gift in this context, a box — the more beautiful and expensive the better — of chocolates are always appreciated. Usually they will be opened and shared when the coffee is served in the salon.
(Painting by De Scott Evans.)
A Few Tips on Tipping
When in France, note the words, Service Compris, on your check whether for a tasse de café or a grand diner. Translation: Whether you were treated like a slug or a sophisticate, you will be giving your waiter 15 percent of l’addition.
You can reward good service, but you cannot punish bad service the way one can in the United States for example. At times this can be extremely frustrating because as many of you may know we are sometimes not treated with the respect and courtesy we so rightly deserve in this country.
(All I can say is it’s a good thing there is no service charge in certain Parisian boutiques, if you catch my drift.)
If one is overwhelmed by the gentillesse and efficacy of the service, one should always add more to the service compris. For a moderately priced meal, leave about five Euros, for an extravagant affair (or a particularly pleasant experience) a reward of an additional 10, and if you’re feeling magnanimous, 15 percent more. My feeling is a sublime dinner, perhaps even romantic, which also provides an occasion to dress-up, where every detail is perfect, the experience is worth every centime because ultimately one is paying for a memory. Memories like these are priceless and pay for themselves over and over in the recounting.
The Burning Issue: Whose Affairs Are They — Ours or Theirs?
Before plunging, actually warily wading, into the murky, mucky miasma of marital fidelity let me take a stand: I’m all for it. Personally, I couldn’t live without it. It would break my heart.
However — wait, wait hear me out — having lived in France for two decades has given nuance to my fierce outrage on the subject.
Recently I’ve read many blogs in which women whom I highly admire have talked about the lack of moral character and arrogance of entitlement rampant in the public displays of deplorable behavior on the part of many American politicians and one golfer. Fine. No one can dispute these facts.
The French think we’re being ridiculous, bordering on the laughable. Furthermore they maintain the private lives of public figures are private affairs, even if they entail affairs. If they in no way interfere with the affairs of state, we do not have an inalienable right to know.
When Bill Clinton was in the throes of his international embarrassment, as the sole American amidst all our French friends I was the target of non-stop questions about why everyone was so worked up over his misdemeanor and his public flogging in the court of impeachment. The only explanation I could offer was that we hold our leaders and “heros” to high standards. We expect them to have a superior moral code and be examples of unimpeachable behavior. We do not expect them to lie to us, to trick us (to make fools of us?).
Still, no one understood. What they did get was Hillary staying with him. At no moment did they see her decision as a reflection of personal ambition, but rather a perfectly normal, though extremely unpleasant, response to an unfortunate situation. In other words, the reaction of an intelligent woman.
I’ve had this conversation many, many times over the years and most of my French women friends, with the notable exception of one who has a solid, loving marriage, believe men should be forgiven for “unimportant” dalliances because the family, what has been built as a couple and the affection that remains between them is the foundation of a marriage and an affair cannot be the explosion that will destroy everything that has been created together. And, there are the women who say: “I don’t want to know. If I don’t ‘know’ I do not have to do anything.”
These are not women who, economically speaking, need to stay with a spouse who strays.
I swore when I started this blog I would never discuss politics or religion, but let me just say this, which I consider apolitical: I don’t want to hear anyone’s sordid sob story. On that point, I agree with the French. It’s humiliating not just for the wives and families but for the country. These are the types of news stories the press around the world love to gobble up and spit out over and over and over.