Monday, March 8, 2010

Transatlantic Parallel

Until I met Jeanne-Aelia Desparmet-Hart, Lundi was my least favorite day of the week, however since we've constructed our Transatlantic Parallel partnership -- I love Mondays (!)

Briefly, for those of you unfamiliar with our weekly exchanges, this is what transpires: Jeanne-Aelia, creator of the divinely chic blog, Through the French Eye of Design, lives outside New York City; I live outside Paris. That puts us in the unique sociological position of studying up-close and personal the habits and habitats of those whose culture may not necessarily mirror our own.  And this is where we tell you about our adventures --  the frustrations, the faux pas and the fun.

Each of our "conversations" includes three subjects we choose together, followed by a total blackout until we see each other's post the same moment you do.

Today's Line-Up Includes:

1.) Knives and forks (and you think this isn't complicated?).

2.) Who's sexy? Or, what's sexy? Or, what's all the fuss about one button?

3.) If punctuality is the politeness of kings, why are the French always late for everything?

The Hot Button Issue

My feeling is that Frenchwomen of all ages are inherently more sensuous (or sexy if you like) than the rest of us. 

Rarely have I had the impression their sensuality is anything other than natural. Skirts are tighter, jackets hug their curves, heels are higher, hair swings freely, they smell delicious, and then there's the button.

Where those of us "Anglo-Saxons" button-up, a French woman loosens the one just above her cleavage. It's effortless, sensual and never vulgar.

And beneath they are no doubt wearing the world's most luscious lingerie, but they only give us a hint, a peek, a whisper of that innate aura of mystery they project.

It seems to me it isn't a decision the way it is for us -- up, up, up and out -- ultimately all artifice and effort making most of us look as if we're not comfortable in our skin. 

I've avoided talking about Hollywood because it has nothing to do with real life. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I have never seen a trashy, revealing picture of a French actress on the street. Yes, they will drop their clothes for a photo shoot in a fashion magazine faster, I think, than their peers from other countries, but I'm convinced that's proof positive of the fact they are comfortable with their bodies, bien dans leur peau.

See what Ines de la Fressange has done? And my favorite news anchor of all time (except maybe Diane Sawyer), Claire Chazal? She does the weekend nouvelles and I love her casual chic, her makeup and hair. Often she is completely undercover, but she oozes sex appeal. Oh, yes, she has a great voice, not quite husky, but almost.

(Ed. Note: What in the world has Roberto Cavalli done? Scary.)

Stop, Stop, Don't Even Think About It (!)

Put that slice of pizza down this minute (!) You're in France, remember? 

You name it and the French eat it with a fork, or a fork and knife or a fork and spoon.

A small list: bacon, French fries, apples and pears when served at table -- peeled, sliced and eaten with a fork -- many sandwiches. Ice cream is consumed with a fork although most hostesses provide a spoon and a fork so you are not forced to lick the plate or bowl at the point when the fork becomes useless. 

I've been told en famille or perhaps in a picnic situation, i.e. at table in someone's garden as opposed to sitting on grass in a field, if the hostess picks up a fry in her well-manicured fingers, it's a signal that the rest of us may do likewise.

I certainly hope Jeanne-Aelia will weigh in with more precision on this.

Curiously, very often the French eat asparagus with their fingers, dipping delicately into the vinaigrette. My-Reason-For-Living-In-France and I were having lunch one day at Brasserie Lipp where we spied a young woman eating her asparagus in the previously mentioned manner. I need your complete attention and imagination engaged now: it bordered on the obscene and everyone in the restaurant was riveted on her every languorous, laboriously slow gesture. 

Whatever You Do, Do Not Arrive On Time

Louis XVIII (1755-1824 and king of France from 1814 until his death) famously said: "L'exactitude est la politesse des rois."

Obviously standards have slipped since the good old days of the monarchy.

If one is invited to a dinner for 8 p.m. do not, repeat do not, ring the bell, tap on the door or knock the knocker at the appointed hour. 

Jeanne-Aelia may have a historical or culturally based explanation for this custom, I do not. I do however have the benefit of my experience. At a grand black-tie dinner in Paris given for some event or other during the ready-to-wear collections, an American friend and I arrived right on the dot (this was waaaay back when). 

We spent the next 45 minutes drinking with the charming waiters. By the time the other invitees arrived we were on our third flute. We did have a particularly lovely evening however. . .

Even when one is invited chez des amis, the window of convenance is minimum 15 minutes after the hour and up to 25-ish. Supposedly 30 minutes is a bit much, although I've never been to a dinner where at least some stragglers showed up at half-past the hour.


Jeanne-Aelia Desparmet-Hart said...

Letitia, again a great way to look at our "sujets" and such a fabulous way to write it all. Always impressed! I am not sure I ever ate ice cream with a fork? I might have missed that lesson... I did grow up mostly out of France...bravo ma chere amie.

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

Bonjour ma belle,

Oh how I enjoy your views and tips on being in the presence of the French; I work with some French people here at our immersion school, and I just love them. What a difference, however, in the way we approach life! I LOVE IT ALL.

Bon lundi, Anita

Duchesse said...

Button: I have learned, undo that button! A deeper V flatters all women. Candace Bergen said, when she was in France (and married to Louis Malle) that she simply could not summon the allure of French women so she stuck with her classic California girl look and wore American sportswear.

Forks: After decades of living in a country where people handle cutlery like Europeans, I still "eat American" or sometimes a strange hybrid. Eating a banana with a knife and fork will always look weird to me.

Punctuality: In social situations here (with an international crowd, many French) one arrives least 15 min late so the hosts have a buffer for their preparation. 30 min. is the outer limit. If people arrive on time I have seen them sitting in their car, outside the house. In business it is on time to the dot.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Speaking as a hostess, I do hate it when guest show up on the dot. About fifteen minutes later is just right.

And funnily enough, asparagus is the one thing I would Have to eat with a fork!

Buttons are tricky. I do think it's more flattering to leave that one crucial button undone, unless of course, the sisters cannot be contained. If you get my meaning. Of course, I do wear turtlenecks a lot.

hostess of the humble bungalow said...

In my line of work we have a dress code...especially for the young girls at cleavage or spaghetti I must be buttoned up, not down. I'll save that look for after work...and add a stack of pearls at my neck....and I will attempt to eat my asparagus slowly using my fingers....but a fork in ice cream, NON!

metscan said...

An enjoyable post once again. Being European, I find the American way of eating with hands or only with a fork brutal, ugh! To my horror, these manners have landed here too, due to the massive number of hamburger and pizza places. ( I´m always amazed how crowded those places are, Doesn´t anyone eat at home anymore?) Here in Scandinavia, I believe it is the custom to arrive approx. at the time invited, 15 minutes delay only on special occasions. Although it would be s o nice to receive the flowers in advance or the day after, we must be prepared with a lot of vases without a clue where to place them.

BigLittleWolf said...

French women are sexier... with the exception of those of us who have the good sense to learn from them!

As for knife and fork with pizza? Mais oui! However else can you eat anything?

Morgane said...

i love button undone : i'm lucky to have tiny "ones" so i can leave 2 or 3 button down without being vulgar héhé!
i'm always eating with a fork and knife : except for the icecream : never seen that before ! I can't eat apergus with my hand : always make me feel like a nasty girl !
and for the late habbit : no way in my home , daddy was a marine ! never being late is a rule at home !
have a nice week my dear

FIONA said...

The only thing worse than guests who show up On-The-Dot are the ones who show up EARLY.

We hosted a dinner party and one guest was 30 min early. I was still in my sweats and was cleaning the glass on the front door.

From then on, the shades were drawn on the front doors on hour before the appointed time, and I ignore the doorbell until 5 min before.

My children order asparagus sans sauce at restaurants just so they can eat it with their hands. :-)

The Shiny Pebble said...

I am from Brazil and even though we are known to be laid back, at my home guests were expected to arrive no later than 20 minutes. I have been living in the States longer than anywhere else and am married to an American whose parents become VERY uncomfortable if their guests are not punctual... something to do with the timing of the food being served.

myletterstoemily said...

you were remarkably similar on
your takes on the three subjects.

great lessons for us boring
housemoppets. :)

The Daily Connoisseur said...

Love these three topics! I think those French women look great! I can't imagine some of our more formidable American news casters with a button undone but there you go... for the French- I think it looks marvelous. Also I never used to eat things like pizza and burgers with a knife and fork until I married a Brit... and now- it's the norm! xo

materfamilias said...

Sorry, but you know that pizza tastes better eaten with the fingers, it just does! While I defer to more "proper" European manners when traveling there, I can't help but think there are more ways of being sensuous than unbuttoning that crucial top button -- and, as your young asparagus-eater demonstrated, sometimes that includes eating sans, cutlery, lol. . .

Sara Louise said...

Claire Chazal has become my favorite news anchor as well, even if I don't always understand what she's reporting (my French is still catching up). I adore her effortless chic look, elegant, and understated. She's lovely :-)

Anonymous said...

Eh bien ! Catherine it looks you are a fan of the Franch customs and fashion .
You have many supporters .
By the way do you speak a bit of french ?
Michel ( fauquet of Xanga)

Semi Expat said...

Most interesting and agree that your newsreader is far more chic/laid back and discreetly sexy than any in UK or here in Australia. Another wonderful Monday post from you! Thank you.

Bonjour Madame said...

I loved all three topics covered. I never noticed the button technique but will take more notice now. It's very subtle.

*currently very glad I ate my frites with a fork while in Paris*

I think here in business or meeting a friend it is considered polite to be on time, but I agree, showing up for a party right on time is not preferred.

Metropolitan Mum said...

Haha. I just finished my pizza. The English way :)

Note: I think Mr Cavalli has a little secret he shares with Mr Armani...

Marsi said...

Ines, my girl-crush Ines. She is such a dream. Have you ever seen her "Little Diaries" on the Roger Vivier website?

I could eat pizza with utensils (and have), but sorry, burgers are strictly finger food.

I would've loved to watch that woman eating her asparugus while the entire world hits the pause button ....

Speaking of buttons, the "hot button" can be dicey for women of a certain age if they haven't cared for their neck and chest as they have their face.

Good stuff, Tish!


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