Have beret, will travel: the day I learned to be French
British women in search of their Gallic side have a new online guide to help them. But did it work on English rose Charlotte Philby?
Friday 30 November 2012
Never drink wine before or after a meal. Only with food, and certainly never in mid-afternoon. “In France you can spot foreigners in a cafe because they’re the ones who drink wine at 5 o’clock. You will look like an alcoholic, so don’t do that.”
Start more arguments – about anything. “On a weekend, find a friend, sit on your sofa and talk about subjects you do not agree on. Debate is very French.”
These are just two of the tips from a new web service aimed at British women who crave a certain je ne sais quoi. Your Vie En Rose promises to help anxious Anglos channel the perfect French mix of haughty and chic through a six-week course from cultural life coach Géraldine Lepère.
“How about we do this together? I’ll show you just how to be at home in France. You’ll be just like a friend coming over to my place,” she explains, flashing a winning smile in the introductory film on the site’s home page. Except that this particular invitation will set you back €397(£322).
Your Vie En Rose was devised as an interactive morale-boosting course for British women moving to France, but also claims to “enrich the lives” of those living in the UK.
The course, online tutorials and Skype dates with your new best friend and mentor, was launched two months ago. It is divided into six modules with topics covered including “how to avoid throttling the shop assistant” and “how to go to the gynaceologist in France”. It already has 600 subscribers to a weekly web seminar.
Lepère, 27, is an engineering graduate. She lived in Leeds for two years before returning to Grenoble where she now works for the Red Cross. Your Vie en Rose follows on from lucrative self-help books promising to help British women re-imagine ourselves in the image of our Gallic sisters, including Women Don’t Get Fat, French Children Don’t Throw Food and What French Women Know.
Putting aside my reservations about the wisdom of trying to become someone else, I decide to follow the rules for one day. “The difference between French women and British women,” Lepère explains, “is that between the peach and the coconut. British women are like a peach. It’s easy to go through the skin, and making friends with them is easier at the beginning, but then if want to get really close you have to push a bit harder. We are coconuts, hard to get through the skin then we are soft and it gets very easy.”
The image of the French woman as an aloof, chain-smoking stick insect, she adds, is misjudged: “People think we are very sophisticated, very cold and we don’t get on very well with each other, is a myth.” But there are a few things, she adds, that we could learn from our European sisters.
In order to emulate the French way, she suggests, my eating habits would be a good place to start. “We have huge respect for food made with natural ingredients. There are lots of rules around food: Eat morning, noon, evening. If you go to a restaurant they would never serve you food at 4pm because this is not when food is eaten. If you respect these timings and cook from organic vegetables, it can improve your health and you will not be eating crisps. We do not eat crisps,” she states. Never? “Non.”
These words reverberate around my head when I get my first screen-break since breakfast at 6pm. Somehow, between picking finishing work, picking up my child, cleaning the house and taking a couple of breaths, the prospect of hand-tossed kale and organic beef stew dissolve into beans on toast. Followed by several gallons of wine.
Then there are clothes. “French fashion is about fabrics – silk, wool, nice cotton – and it’s about the cut.” As with food, she says, it is “quality not quantity”. By the time I’ve located a shirt not covered in toddler snot under a volcanic eruption of polyester, I’ve forgotten what it was I was looking for.
And socialising? “On Saturday night we don’t go dancing. Try debating instead,” Lepère suggests. “Spend three hours with a bottle of wine and some real French cheese – Beaufort. We don’t eat Brie.” A thrilling prospect, except that all my friends are either getting hammered or lying in a darkened room attempting to block out their offsprings’ wailings. Which leaves my husband. Two bottles of wine in, I’m bloated and crying.
Failing all that, Lepère lets slip, just remember French women admire us as much as we admire them. Huh? “Oh yes, she says. You English are so fashionable, and your accents are super-cute.”
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