Back together again. My fab-u-lous partner, Jeanne-Aelia Desparmet-Hart, creator of the gorgeous blog Through the French Eye of Design, has returned from her voyage.
We shall now recommence our collaboration.
For those of you unaware of our weekly “conversation” in Transatlantic Parallel, we choose three subjects to examine from our special points of view: Jeanne-Aelia, la femme française married to an American and moi, la femme américaine, married to a Frenchman.
We compare our experiences including what over the years has surprised, seduced and occasionally shocked us about the manners, modes and mores of our adopted countries.
We whiz off numerous e-mails until we come up with our weekly favorites. When we select our itinerary we sign off and all communication is halted until we simultaneously post our opinions.
Today’s line-up includes:
1.) When perfect isn’t always parfait.
2.) The great plate debate.
3.) La merveilleuse pharmacie française.
Just Add: A Dash of Daring and a Soupçon of Insouciance
You see, for me those are the elements that equal style, individuality, elegance, panache. Perfection in dressing and decorating is — let’s be frank — boring. Each element may be pricey or priceless and assembled by an expert, but somehow something is missing, the human element — personality.
A perfect score on a test is fine, but who wants to live in the sterile world of the perfect outfit, the perfectly decorated home, right down to “personal” collections that aren’t personal at all although they may be perfect.
I am convinced no one does perfect imperfection the way the French do. It’s the difference let’s say between “Architectural Digest” and “Cote Ouest” and “Cote Sud” magazines in their choices of dwellings and design. One seems off-putting and cold– not an unplumped cushion in sight, nor a book out of alignment on the coffee table, the others warm, lived in, inviting.
For me, Ines de la Fressange is the incarnation parfait of everything that is perfect about natural, nonchalant French style. Whether in a gown, jeans, a skirt and sweater — anything at all — she makes the clothes her own. She is never overly “done” never “too-too.”
She is one of a kind. That would be my idea of perfection.
Not Even Haricots Verts
My friend and nutritionist, Claire, is fond of lecturing on the subject of à volonté or “all you can eat,” if you will. Just about every regime in France lists green beens, spinach, lettuce and a few other inoffensive vegetables under the à volonté category.
She says: “I do not care what food we’re talking about. We are not animals. No one should be given permission to eat all they wish of anything, ever. It doesn’t make sense. It’s not a question of calories, it’s a question of intelligence.”
As you can see, Claire gets quite worked up when one of her patients asks for the magic list of foods you can stuff yourself with until you drop over in a satiated stupor.
Let’s cross the Atlantic shall we? Imagine a French person who understands the concept of portion control, often starting a meal with a small appetizer and moving slowly along into the next course or courses seeing a sign that screams: “All You Can Eat!”
It probably wouldn’t translate, the concept that is. For an American it translates, “I’m going to eat my money’s worth even if they have to roll me out of here.”
An average French dinner plate is about 10 inches in diameter, while an average American plate is between 11 and 12 inches. (This is an independent study by moi meme which by definition may be open to error.)
An honest-to-goodness study does prove that people are more satisfied with less food when it is served on a smaller plate than a smaller portion on a large one, i.e. an eight inch salad plate versus the 12 inch dinner size.
At dinner parties in France one normally serves oneself which means you are in control of the portion. It is considered extremely bad manners to heap a plate with food.
The Wonderful World of French Pharmacies
A French pharmacy, no my French pharmacy, is one of my favorite places.
It is not a self-service mecca for everything from milk and cookies to vitamins and hairspray. It is a haven of help and pleasure and conversation and miracle products and mysterious herbs and, and, well you get the idea.
My pharmacy is owned by Christine and Sophie, prior to them it was Delphine and Roger Daniel. We were and are on a first name basis. Christine and Sophie know all our secrets and they willingly share their own like the magic concoction of plants and herbs to ward off colds and flu last winter, the world’s best hand lotion, face cleanser, migraine remedies and more.
They often offer unsolicited advice like: “Do not drink that effervescent orange flavored drink late in the day or you won’t sleep at night.” Or, “tea with anise in it is a stimulant, do not consume at bedtime.”
They are part of my army of enablers. They do not stand behind their counters and point, they engage, they discuss, they direct; sometimes they discourage an unreasonable request or debunk an unreasonable expectation.
How often can one say a visit to the pharmacy is an experience, a pleasant pass time, another precious detail in the rich fabric of French culture?