Tuesday, August 18, 2009

What Do THEY Think of US? Part II

In this, the second in what may perhaps evolve into a three part series of off-the-cuff surveys with Frenchwomen on what they think of us, their responses go from the sublime to the slanderous.

I think a bit of context is order this time: I interviewed women from the ages of just-turned-40 to 91. It makes the responses more interesting than ever because their points-of-view cross three generations, including of course those who experienced World War II.  

Not everyone has been to the States, all have friends or acquaintances from and traveled through Great Britain. Many times impressions come from films, newspapers, magazines and books. No matter what informed their opinions they do not hesitate to expound upon them.

(Remember we're all clustered under the "Anglo-Saxon" umbrella for convenience.)

Here we go. . .

Benedicte: In my experience the English and Americans are hypocritical in business. They say one thing if it's to their advantage and if the situation changes so does their attitude. I don't see much loyalty toward their colleagues.

I do admire the way American women don't hesitate about getting divorced when they're not happy. Nobody does divorce better than Americans.

Mimi (never been to the U.S.):  Anglo-Saxons are most definitely not Latins. They have a rigor and a discipline we don't have.

I think America produces les belles femme, often un peu pulpeuse, which I think is very appealing.

For me there is a strange dichotomy, a sort of ambiguity with American women. It's essential for them to be married, yet they pride themselves on their individuality and independence and then fight all the harder for it inside their marriages. Strange.They're not comfortable unmarried and society I think further makes them feel that way.

I don't really believe in feminism, but I admire the way Anglo-Saxon women have fought so fiercely for their rights.

English women have a reserve we don't have, which I respect. They seem to revere tradition, which I think is important. As you know our relationship as a country is historically complex with Great Britain, but my personal encounters have been nothing but pleasant.

Josephine (91-years-old, visited the U.S. once and has had many English friends): None of them is sufficiently well-dressed. They simply don't have that French elegance we so admire. They're not soignée truthfully.

I'm an extremely open person so I always go toward others which has made for excellent contacts wherever I am.

Juliette (83-years-old, worked for decades in the U.S. and is now back in France): I find young American women far less polite than the young men.

As much as I loved living and working in the States I must say I never got over being shocked about America's obsession with money and how they measure and judge one's character by how much money they have or have recently acquired. It's dreadful.

Aurore (40, married to an American; they live in France):  Let me say up-front: I love Americans and in particular all of my husband's family. They are frank, say what they think and don't care or live their lives worrying about what other people think.

They're kind and generous. Sometimes one feels 'out of sight, out of mind' because many don't seem to be very good at staying in touch, but the minute we're all back together again it's as if we saw each other the day before. 

When we visit my husband's cousins they have such exuberance it's contagious. I think it's great the way families do sports together during the week or the entire family goes to watch a child's baseball game. 

The women pretty much wear whatever falls into their hands as long as they're comfortable. I was raised differently and although I have a sort of admiration for that attitude, it's not me at all. Maybe they're more comfortable in their skin than we are.

On the other hand, I think women in New York, for example, have that too perfect look as if they've spent hours on their hair, make-up, clothes. It seems artificial, a brittle facade.

In couples, even married couples, I feel and see a certain prudence, a reserve that we rarely see here.  One must be very careful with what might be construed as seductive innuendo, which we think of as fun and games -- no one is ever offended. I notice rarely after a certain age do couples hold hands walking down the street; touch one another in a gentle, affectionate way like a stroke on the cheek or a hand on the shoulder. And perhaps what surprised me the most was when I see couples sitting very properly at opposite ends of a sofa. 

Marie (has an English daughter-in-law whom she loves): It's simple, I adore the English and the Americans. If it weren't for them where would France be today? The courage, conviction and loyalty they showed toward us. How can anyone ever forget?

I love the individualism and esprit of independence that runs through their veins.

If I were to have one negative comment it would be: I detest the culture of money over all else -- the mentality of Wall Street and The City. It's tragic.


Marsi said...

"The women pretty much wear whatever falls into their hands as long as they're comfortable. I was raised differently and although I have a sort of admiration for that attitude, it's not me at all. MAYBE THEY'RE MORE COMFORTABLE IN THEIR SKIN THAN WE ARE." [Emphasis mine.]

Wow!!! I have never thought of it that way, Tish. I always wonder how so many American women can let themselves go or leave the house wearing the wrong clothes for their figures (or that look like sloppy pajamas). Maybe Aurore's figured it out: it just looks different from the FRENCH sense of "bien dans sa peau." And while it's not an expression of the comfort WE may not aspire to, perhaps it is, nonetheless, comfort in one's own skin?

I like that French women have a strong impression of our independence and high spirits. I think those are good qualities.

knitpurl said...

Loved Mimi's comments: her reference to "un peu pulpeuse" and trying to remain independent though married. Enjoyed all the responses from all the ages. Thanks Tish.

Bonjour Madame said...

These are all very interesting. I agree about feminism. I'm not a fan and I think it's led to all of the sloppy dressing, loud and obnoxious behavior, anger towards men. I really admire how French women aren't at war with their men. They let them be men and the women enjoy being women and celebrate their feminine nature. A lot of feminists are obsessed with equality and becoming more like men. Yuck.

I love the last comment. A lot of our ancestors fought in WWII and it's nice to know it is appreciated.

celiajuno said...

These posts have been very interesting to me. I have enjoyed reading them.

I think Mimi's comments about marriage are spot on. I have no friends who are unmarried and I often feel uncomfortable being single, especially as I am about to turn forty. I know many women who make comments to my aunt and mother about my being single. In the South, where I live, it is simply unacceptable.

I also agree that many American women just don't take the time to enjoy being a woman. It is sad really. Men and women are different why not celebrate that fact.

tishjett said...

Thank you all for YOUR very thoughtful comments.

Marsi, Aurore is the eldest daughter of an old friend -- who started very, very early having her six children. Aurore has a twin sister and I'll pose the same question to her. I don't know about the in one's own skin comfort levels, maybe it's true, but I still think our penchant toward sloppiness is a shame.

Yes, Carole, you loved the word so much -- as do I -- I decided not to translate it. All I can think of is a warm, ripe, juicy fruit that dribbles down the chin.

Stephanie, I believe Frenchwomen pull-off a sort of "silent feminism" and it seems to be highly effective.

I forgot to put in the post yesterday, which is a shame, when Marie and I finished our mini interview after aqua gym class, she stood up, leaned over, kissed me on the forehead and walked out the door. I had tears in my eyes.

Celiajuno, Mimi is single, which I didn't think was important to point out in the interviews. She just hit 50, has her own small public relations business, paints on the side, sings in a choir, throws perfect dinner parties in her gorgeous itsy, bitsy apartment in the 7th, has had many beaux over the years and leads a full, happy, busy life.

She is often surrounded by married couples and I can assure you many of them are unhappily married. She is free and independent.

She doesn't have a fortune to spend on herself and always, always looks unbelievably stylish.

I've known her for a long, long time and love being around her.

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