It’s Monday and we all know what that means, Jeanne-Aelia Desparmet-Hart of the divine design blog Through the French Eye of Design and I embark on our Transatlantic conversation. It’s in parallel because she lives outside New York with her American husband and I live outside Paris with my French spouse.
Each week we choose three subjects to examine. No matter how long we’ve lived in our adopted lands, we still have the residue of our heritage and our culture. For those reasons we think it’s amusing to compare our points-of-view on the same subjects on each side of the ocean. Over the years we’ve been surprised, shocked and completely seduced by our experiences.
Today’s subjects will, I suspect, elicit similar reactions from many of you. These three are acutely culturally specific.
The Line-up Includes:
1.) Does yogurt taste better when you’re nude?
2.) When solidarity has nothing to do with communism.
3.) Life’s too short to work all the time.
Bien Dans Leur Peau — It’s As Simple As That
Yes, alright, I’ll not pretend to be the sophisticate in my early 20s when I first visited France. So, OK, I was surprised in the beginning, maybe even slightly shocked.
Every woman who has ever picked up a fashion magazine is accustomed to seeing nudity in editorial layouts and occasionally in ads, but these unclothed women are dressed with the covers of the publication; they’re completely and safely undercover. However when those same bodies are in our face on billboards, whirling kiosk ads and television commercials, we’re ummm, let’s say a tad taken aback au debut.
How quickly that changes. Just like a French child, I’ve been educated. I don’t notice the bodices falling to the waist, the bigger than life magazine covers with arms strategically placed,ads for Galeries Lafayette for heaven’s sake (the one at the top was on the wall of a metro station) and then the yogurt ad that I have to admit I couldn’t, and still can’t decide, whether I think was funny or annoying or insulting or whether I really don’t care one way or the other.
Scenerio: A woman walks in the door from work (we know this because she is dressed for success and if I remember correctly she had a briefcase) as her apartment door closes she starts stripping off her clothes until she arrives, naked as the day she was born (but probably infinitely more beautiful) at the refrigerator where she takes out a yogurt and eats it with a demure moan of pleasure. Somewhere in all that she picked up a spoon. I can’t recall every detail.
I have changed completely. I do not think of nudity in the way I once did. It is what it is. A body is a body. Period. The French are comfortable with their bodies. We all know every French woman sunbathes topless, no one stares, no one cares.
For me this is healthy.
We’re In This Together
As near as I can tell there is only one situation where the French practice complete complicity and solidarity. It’s us against them — the police.
Speeding is a national sport, slaloming successfully among the radar posts marks the difference between a pro and an amateur — one gets a ticket and loses precious points off his license and the other is too smart to get flashed.
I’ve been told that before long car trips the designated driver maps out the route with the radar locations clearly indicated. I find this hard to believe, but maybe it’s true. I have heard lengthly conversations about the latest “fuzz busters” and how long the owner anticipates they will be useful before the police catch up with their technology.
In this single situation, “solidarity” — a word the French use frequently, but apply rarely — is absolute. When they see a speed trap, a clutch of police, a radar set up, they frantically flash their headlights at on coming cars. The polite response is a quick flash back, as in “merci mon ami.”
(Jeanne-Aelia, while I’m thinking about it: Perhaps we should re-visit the subject of police. I’m amazed at how much French women hate them. We’ll talk. . .)
Vivent Les Vacances
It has been my great misfortune to have never held a real job in France. Yes, long-term freelance contracts, freelance in general, but to my eternal regret, not one paid vacation.
In this country where la joie de vivre and l’art de vivre are paramount, one needs that most precious of luxurious commodities: time. It’s not with two weeks vacation out of a 52 week year that one can partake in the good life.
I still have American friends who are horrified by the fact the French have five weeks of vacation each year. Then add to that 11 legal holidays and in many cases what is call the famous “pont” or bridge. One automatically writes off the month of August, nothing can be accomplished. One comes to accept it and work around it.
Here’s something you may not know. Forget about May. May has three legal holidays: May 1, Labor Day; May 8, Armistice and May 13, Ascension. Respectively, this year they fall on Saturday, Saturday and Thursday. This is how a pont works: you take off the days surrounding the legal holiday. They are usually cadeaux from your employer. Particularly exciting are holidays that fall on Thursdays, you can see why. Even though two turn-up on Saturdays in 2010, Friday will make a long weekend, but sadly, not a bridge. C’est la vie.
Some history: In 1936 vacations were two weeks; in 1956, three weeks; in 1969, four weeks and since 1982, five weeks. Children start school on Sept. 2; from Oct 24 to Nov. 5th they have the vacation of Toussaint followed by Christmas, Dec. 19th to Jan. 4; vacances de hiver, Feb. 20 to Mar. 8; spring vacation, April 17 to May 3 and finally summer, July 2 to Sept. 2.
Vive la France.