American women seek out their inner French girl

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The Independent Online

Washington may still be in a foul mood with Paris but American women are apparently still fascinated by - and envious of - the chic and poise of their French sisters.

A "how to" book, intended to help American women to discover their confident, sexy, stylish inner selves, is selling well in the United States, despite talk of boycotts and angry gestures, such as the renaming of French fries as freedom fries.

Entre Nous: A Woman's Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl was published in May at the height of the French-bashing boom. To the amusement of the French media, it has been a success, selling 20,000 copies in the United States in three months.

"It seems that woman is not only the future of man but also the future of Franco-American relations," wrote Guy Baret in the daily newspaper Le Figaro.

The author, Debra Ollivier, a Californian who spent 10 years living in France married to a French man, says her intention is not to teach American women how to adopt the trappings of French feminine style. Au contraire. She wanted to go beyond the stereotyped Brigitte Bardot or Catherine Deneuve image and explain why so many French women - of differing shapes, sizes and backgrounds - had a self-confidence and happiness that elude many women in America.

"I wanted, specifically, to describe the collective values and mindset that unite them - that way-of-being or essence that defines not the stereotypical French woman, but the archetypal one: her incredible sense of self-possession. The sensual satisfaction and tactile pleasure she experiences in the seemingly mundane. Her discretion. Her languorous relationship to time. Her focus on quality, not quantity. Her preference for authenticity."

Ms Ollivier says that American women are too obsessed with "making a living"; French women are determined to "have a life".

This may seem rather glib to many feminist-minded French women, who envy some of the achievements of their American sisters. France still lags behind other European countries, let alone the US, in the promotion of women to senior political and business positions. But Ms Ollivier insists they have held on to some of the essentials of womanhood that have been lost on the other side of the Atlantic.

"She is that part of us that's free - and not bound up by the joyless strings of Anglo-Saxon guilt and Puritan morality. She's that part of us that knows what really matters in life (and seeks it)," Ms Ollivier writes. "She's that part in us ... that feels sexy for no apparent reason."

But when specific advice is given, the book seems to fall back on the stereotypes that it mocks.

How do French women stay so slender and good-looking, despite drinking, smoking and eating rich food?

Ms Ollivier says that the answer is to eat fresh, seasonal and high-quality food in moderation. Avoid diets and snacks. Take your time over dinner.

To achieve the understated, sexy French look, she counsels clever use of scent, in small quantities.

Style guide

Ms Ollivier says that a typical Frenchwoman's wardrobe would consist of the following:

* classic suit and coat with matching leather pumps

* couple of sweaters ­ cashmere and pure wool

* perfect-fitting black pants

* mid-length black pencil skirt

* fitted white blouse

* tall black leather boots

* couple of quality T-shirts in different cuts and colours

* tiny black cocktail dress

* designer walking shoes

* lots of scarves