Tuesday, August 25, 2009

What Do THEY Think of US? Part III

You may be reading the last chapter in the "What Do THEY Think of Us?" series although it's possible one more is on the horizon. Two women I've been wanting to interview are taking interminably long vacances.  Viva la France.

Overall this week even the criticisms they site seem almost charming. I think "too much enthusiasm" is infinitely more desirable then measured, controlled restraint.

Let me introduce you to the respondents: Caty, a former Air France stewardess who works on and off in a friend's boutique; Caro, a doctor in pharmacy; Françoise, a real estate agent, devotée of all things Marithé + François Girbaud and one of the first people I met when we moved to France; Catherine, an English teacher at the lycee in the village next to ours and Caroline, a practicing endocrinologist and researcher.

And the answers are:

Caty: I find Americans charming, particularly in first encounters. But I think it's part of their cultural politesse, which is to say I think it's superficial, yet pleasant.

American women seem far more liberated than Frenchwomen, particularly in their relationships with men. But is that such a great idea? I'm not sure. I don't know whose fault it is but from our point of view we Latins like the games of charm and seduction, that little romantic dance between a man and a woman. Before we go too far with a man we believe he must 'deserve us,' we're special.

Caro: 'Tea time' is just plain annoying. It's another mini meal to prepare, I think it's a waste of time. (That must sound terrible, non?)

I hate English pharmacies. They sell everything, nothing is arranged properly and there is never anyone to offer advice, spend a moment talking with you. I've heard American pharmacies are exactly the same.

Françoise: Everything is all or nothing in the United States. When a woman is on a regime she'll go from eating everything in sight to nothing at all. We constantly watch our weight and for the most part few Frenchwomen have the yoyo problem.

If an American starts a new sport at 40 she'll practically kill herself on the first day.

I love the way they dress when actually participating in sports, but frankly can't they keep their sport clothes for sports and change into something else when they go out?  Generally I think casual has turned into n'importe quoi -- a petit effort wouldn't hurt.  And then when they get dressed-up for some big event, it can be too much. Less is more.

Oh yes, vitamins. Americans take them by the fist-full. I have French friends who live in the States and they do exactly the same thing. In fact, so do I. Every time they visit I give them a long alphabetical list from A to zinc. I really do think vitamin E has helped my skin. . .

Catherine:  I've had more experiences and friendships with the British. I find them easy-going, respectful. They are particularly tolerant and accepting of other ideas and ways of life. They come off as cool, but I think they have a fire inside. They're the opposite of Italians.

They're positive and faithful in friendships. The single criticism I have is they don't make much of an effort to speak a complete sentence in French. They figure everyone speaks English so why bother.

The British love French cooking. My friends are constantly asking me for recipes.

I think neither the British or the Americans in general care much about clothes.

And finally it seems to me Americans are more intellectual and care more about studies and education.

Caroline:  I work with Americans and find the way the women in my profession dress is so strict and uniform-like that it's almost shocking for me. Those suits -- complete imitations of a man's except for the skirt. Why? I couldn't believe it when a colleague told me she was obliged to wear pantyhose in the summer. What's that all about?

I don't understand why women can't be feminine and professional at the same time. Where's the contradiction?

From my experience career women think about nothing but work, work, work. Recently one came here to collaborate with me and we worked from seven in the morning until 11 at night for two weeks. (I have a life outside work, a husband and three children and I don't like sacrificing time with them when it's not absolutely necessary.) On her last weekend she shopped, shopped, shopped. She didn't ask me for addresses or ideas, just what time the boutiques open. I assume she planned to shop the same way she works.

All in all I find the English less strict on pretty much every level. 


Bonjour Madame said...

This interview session was fantastic! Finally vindication that the ill fitting business suit is not chic. I've always hated those with a passion. I also totally agree with the all or nothing comment. Sometimes I think we struggle here about who we are, going to extremes sometimes to figure it all out, whereas the French just know. They go about their day in moderation and ease and it's repeated every day. There is no wild swing from one behavior to the next new obsession. To me, that is being an adult and I think the French do it better.

knitpurl said...

Bravo to Francoise, I agree with her comments especially on vitamins (so true and yes to vit. E!) and dressing up when leaving ones home. Change begins with one person.

As Bonjour Madame wrote above, "the French do it better" -- in many ways. Great interviews overall.

annecychic said...


I have to agree with Caty about "cultural politesse." An American family was renting the house next to my sister's house. In a sincere gesture, she said "I'd like to invite you for dinner" and the American woman said, "We should invite you over to swim." The differnce? My sister actually did invite them to dinner, but the pool invitation never happened. My sister said this 'politesse' is typical of Americans.

Marsi said...

Another grand post, Tish! I love your polls the very most ... well, except for the ones with Edith's illustrations, and the ones describing how to create 20 different outfits with one distinctive piece of clothing, and the ones updating us on the latest Paris street style, and the ones with ... well, I suppose you get the picture. ;o)

Please tell Francoise that the American healthcare system is such an expensive mess that the reason we take so many vitamins is not to get sick and go broke!!

Marsi said...

I can't find the posting where we were talking about soup and homemade chicken stock, so I'll post this here and hope for the best.

YOU can make chicken stock, Tish. It's so simple! You don't even have to make the chicken yourself, if you don't want to. Just buy a chicken from the rotisserie and after you take the meat off of it, put the carcass in a large pot, cover it with water to one inch above the carcass, add 1 tsp. of salt and two bay leaves, and simmer for two hours. Take the bones and loose gunk out of the pot, put the cover on the pot, and place the whole thing on a dishtowel on a shelf in your fridge. Get your beauty sleep. The next day (or the next-next day, it doesn't really matter), skim off that solidified chicken fat ("schmaltz," as the Members of the Tribe in my husband's family call it), then take a mesh strainer, line it with a double layer of cheesecloth, and strain the chicken stock through it into a huge bowl. Nice clean stock! Then you can freeze it gallon-sized Ziploc bags, and voila! You always have chicken stock on hand. I usually get about 12 cups of stock out of one bird.

My little secret -- which I'll tell you, Tish, because we're friends now -- is to roast (or buy) TWO birds at a time. Double your pleasure, double your fun -- but not really double your work. Isn't it marvelous?

It really is super-easy. Ask any of your cook friends; they'll confirm it.

P.S. Oh, boo on Martha. I have selective memory about her and always manage to forget what a petty tyrant I know she is. Did you meet her before she went to prison? I had hoped that maybe that broke some of her arrogance, but perhaps not. I do like that she accepted her sentencing without filing an appeal and served time without bellyaching about it or thinking she was too good to go through with it. Can't really think of any men convicted of high-finance crimes (who'd committed much worse than she) who just sucked it up and accepted their fate. And I do admire how EVEN THOUGH her ENTIRE FAMILY HATES HER, she nonetheless gave me a whole lot of ideas about how to make holidays and every day with my own family a little more special and personal.

I would be afraid to hear your story about her, Tish, because I feel like I've gotten so much good, quality-of-life stuff from her for almost two decades that I'd probably have a breakdown if I heard how bad she is. But I do know, in my heart of hearts, that her problem is not that she just has a stick up her butt (which she does, actually), but that she's also pretty dreadful. I know she's probably like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse all rolled into one, but I cling to the good she's done me.


Marsi said...

P.M.S. Maybe I SHOULD blog. I mean, look at how long that comment is!

knitpurl said...

Note to Marsi -- write that BLOG!!! You have so much to say, just like our dear friend Tish.

Bonjour Madame said...

Yes, Marsi...you should blog :)

erina said...

May I add my voice to all the Marsi fans? Please consider a blog! I'm actually disappointed when Tish gifts us with all her fabulous observations and peeks into her French world, and I don't see Marsi's name amongst the comments.

tishjett@yahoo.com said...


Thank you and I certainly agree with you. When I don't see "Marsi" in the comments I want to figure out how to get her telephone number and ask her what she didn't like.

Then I have a little conversation with myself: "Marsi has a life and better things to do." But still. . .

celiajuno said...

I have really enjoyed this series and I hope that this will not be your last. I think Catherine's comment about not speaking a complete sentence in French is so true and it makes me sad. When I travel to another country I always make an effort to learn basic phrases and simple questions. I may not be fluent but at least I have tried, I think people appreciate the effort.

tishjett@yahoo.com said...


I think it's the least we can do when we visit other countries. If a two-year-old can learn: "please, thank-you, hello and good-bye"-- why can't we?

I'm sure you charm everyone you meet. It never fails I've found, people are always pleased and more than willing to help someone when they care enough to try to say a couple of words in their language.

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