Sunday, December 2, 2012

"What French Women Know"

   I finally found out why I've felt so screwed up my whole life, and it's totally not my fault:  I should have been born French! Debra Ollivier explains it all in her book "What French Women Know about love, sex, and other matters of the heart and mind." I am so relieved, there's hope for me to un-screw up myself after all by doing what French women do.
   And Ollivier makes it sound so simple, like I should have known these things all along. For instance, in the chapter on men, she breaks down the French women's basic philosophy as:  have fun flirting without expecting it to lead somewhere; don't expect your man to think and act like a woman, leave that to your chick friends; and celebrate vive la différence (long live the difference) between the sexes and stop treating men as if they are of a different species. My fave quote of the section was from Marguerite Duras, "You have to love men a lot. A lot, a lot. Otherwise they are simply unbearable." You said a mouthful there, French sister. But come to think about it, when men feel loved and appreciated, they are much easier to get along with and more fun to be around. The same goes for women. See what I mean? These are pretty simple concepts, but not so simple to put into action when the American woman is constantly being schooled on statistics and how-tos about "the opposite sex" and making it in "a man's world." No wonder we feel like enemies. No wonder the songs goes:  American woman, get away from me, American woman, mama let me be. Men are probably scared to death of us. The French woman's way to enjoy life with men instead of merely coexisting with the enemy sounds like so much more fun, I'm going to give it a try and see if it works on American men.
   Ms. Ollivier also unravels the mystery of leaving mystery in relationships, which I translated as "leave show and tell in grade school because if you show and tell everything, you and your partner will be bored, bored, bored." Just another way we Anglos have been misled into believing true intimacy comes only with full disclosure and access. From now on, I will be Ms. Mysterious and cultivate the "seductive virtues of the inner life," and my life buddy DMan might think he found himself a whole new (French) woman. Or he'll think I'm crazy, but he's used to that.
   Here is a soupçon (taste) of tasty morsels from other chapters:
RULES -- infinitely more fun to be broken than bound by, in both love and fashion.
PERFECTION -- perfectly unattainable and zero fun to pursue in matters of the heart as well as life in general; enjoy happiness but don't make that the only acceptable way to feel; accept your physical imperfections and play them to the hilt (my American take on this is "turn your big ass into your biggest asset à la JLo"); and if all else fails, pull a Rhett Butler (who wasn't French but definitely should have been) and don't give a damn what anyone else thinks.
NATURE -- age happens, c'est la vie (such is life); it's better (and Frencher) to focus on the brevity of time and the immediacy of pleasure before they both slip away while you were spending all your time and energy fighting Mother Nature and losing anyway.
ART DE VIVRE (the art of living) -- knowing the beaucoup différence between making a living and having a life; getting the knack of letting your hair down French-style; and breaking the code of the bourgeoisie (see below).
BODY -- "growing up laissez-faire (unconcerned, nonjudgmental) about the body and the real reason (many, but not all) French women don't get fat."

   This quote from page 218 sums up some of my new French attitude:

"Saying that you've broken the codes of the bourgeoisie is another way of saying you don't care about doing things the 'right way'; it's French-speak for suggesting that you don't believe in the virtues of the 'perfect couple' or the perfect house, that you choose the sometimes messy attributes of letting go over the 'denial of life' that de Beauvoir evoked. It's a way of suggesting that the world can stop, that you don't have to strategize or supersize your life, that you don't have to make the bed and you can press that Snooze button. In short, it's a way of Not Giving a Damn in the grandest sense of the term -- a way of paying homage to the brevity of time and the immediacy of pleasure, come what may."

Sign me up, Debra. Any philosophy that says I get extra sleep and get not to make the bed is très bien (very good) with me.

   Loved the book! My only complaints are Ms. Ollivier gets a bit too quotey (but I did learn beaucoup things about famous people I'd never even heard of) and made me go Google-gaga looking up words she didn't translate (hence the translations in parentheses I provided to save you Google time). But the book was excellent and caused me to ponder many aspects of living and being a woman that I always took for granted as "that's just the way it is." I'm still proud to be an American, despite how screwed up my Americanness has made me, but I'm going to incorporate "What French Women Know" into my life and lighten up a lot, a lot. So look out DMan, you're about to be "Frenched" in a way you've never been frenched before! 
   Au revoir!