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The French Are Not Like You & Me (Long)

post #1 of 44
Thread Starter 
I know, the original expression was applied to the rich. A while back I read a book about an Australian that moves to Paris. The book is Almost French by Sarah Turnbull. She marries a Frenchman and this book details her adjustment to life in Paris. Chapter 10 deals with the contrast between these two individuals approach to presenting themselves in public: "One of the consequences of this pervasive beauty in Paris is that it makes leaving your front door feel like you're stepping onto a stage. It calls for dressing up. Just like actors in a play, the pressure is on those who live here to look the part. Perhaps my most revealing lesson in French dress standards occurs one Saturday morning soon after moving into Paris. Rushing to the bakery to get a baguette and croissants, I chuck on an old shapeless jumper and my warmup pants, which I'd rediscovered at the bottom of a wardrobe when we were packing up our place at Levallois. Catching sight of me, Fredric looks appalled. 'Warmup pants?' He's never seen me wearing them before. 'Whats wrong with that? I'm only going to the bakery.' There is a second's pause. Frederic's eyes implore me. Finally, he manages to speak. 'But it's not nice for the baker.'" .... later, in the same chapter: ""For a long time, dress remains an issue between us. Underpinning Frederic's reaction to warmup pants is a concept that to me is totally foreign: looking scruffy is selfish. Not only do you look like a slob, but you let down the whole city. In Paris, failure to dress up leads to instant ostracism." ... still later: "In France, vanity is not a vice. Rigorous self-maintenance is imbued from birth--it's a mark of self-pride." "Men are expected to pay close attention to their apperances as well. The loaded phrase ' se mettre en valeur' is used all the time. It means 'to make the most of yourself'. This is not something the French do when they feel like it: they do it every day. Sloppiness in appearance is considered a fatal disease. Once it takes hold, you're on an irreversible downhill slide. You've committed the unforgivable. You've let yourself go." This is part of what got me back on track with dressing nicer for the office, even though I'm in the midst of a casual dress code. Sure, I have to endure the endless remarks about having a job interview or questions asking if I'm attending a funeral. Wearing a sport coat and tie in a sea of blue jeans does not make me feel superior to my colleagues. It does make me feel good about myself. I hope it does not impart an attitude to my colleagues that I am snooty, because that is not the intent. Heck, wearing nice clothes even improves my posture, which is notoriously stooped. When decked out, the clothes make me stand up straight. Since reading this chapter, I can't even go to the hardware store on Saturday without shaving. Not because it would "not be nice" for the handy, hardware man, but because it now signals to me that I've "let myself go".
post #2 of 44
Is this book from the 19e century? It is amazing to see how much people can have prejudices/fantasies about Paris and French. Or may be people in US dress worse than what I thought.??? I see a lots of guys in the subway going to work wearing a poor suit, light socks and loafers. So...
post #3 of 44
Quote:
I see a lots of guys in the subway going to work wearing a poor suit, light socks and loafers. So...
From what I can tell the book doesn't say that the French have high standards, just that they have, well, standards. So poor suit may be keeping ones appearances, etc. Plus, old E., remember that you are now the best dressed man in Paris now that Ken has departed?
post #4 of 44
Ernest - a bad suit and loafers, sadly, might be considered dressy in many American cities. Thanks for this post, it would not kill Americans to dress decently when they go out. Ernest, while I will forever love to tease you about brown, crocodile and numerous things in a lighthearted and joking way I must say - your written English has improved dramatically in a year. Bravo.
post #5 of 44
My girlfriend spent 6 months in Paris about 3 or 4 years ago, attending some art school exchange program. She seemed surprised that those cliches about French fashion and romantic men seemed completely false. She has many stories about the lack of personal hygiene both in women and men, the poor standard of dress she noticed in both sexes, and what she describes as an almost complete lack of concern about personal appearance among the majority. I mean it really made an impact on her. She came back talking about how we put too much emphasis on appearance in the US, and how her French friends criticized our culture for that, and how relaxed everything seemed there - much more natural and laid-back, so to speak. She spent her time exclusively in Paris. Mind you, I am only speaking about what she said to me, I have no personal experience. But were she to read this thread, I am sure she would heavily disagree with the author's statement. Every time she speaks of Paris, she describes the interesting paradox between French high fashion and the dressing habits and attitudes she witnessed among Parisians. She was quite enamored of its casual atmosphere, and what she calls a very sublime sense of personal and cultural refinement that transcended mere appearance or dress. As she has said to me many times, "In France, women can make a bathrobe look great. They just know how to carry themselves mentally, rather than relying on expensive clothing." The irony is that it seems to have had little impact on her spending habits.
post #6 of 44
[quote]
Quote:
Originally Posted by ernest,Feb. 11 2005,18:56
Plus, old E., remember that you are now the best dressed man in Paris now that Ken has departed?
For 8 days in Paris, I took: (a) a Chester Barrie double breasted gray suit, (b) a Fallon & Harvey bespoke charcoal chalk stripe suit, © a Norman Hilton dark grey flannel suit, (d) a Chester Barrie navy double breasted blazer (left it behind; Ernest is taking care of it for me) (e) a Kiton cashmere plaid sport coat, (f) 3 pairs of trousers, (g) 10 dress shirts, (h) 16 ties, (1) 4 pairs of dress shoes (Cleverly,EG, Grenson and Alden), (j) Burberry heavyweight lined trenchcoat, (k) two cashmere sweater shirts (l) one red vest (had not worn for years; tosssed it when saw moth holes) (l) one cashmere/silk scarf, two pairs of gloves, underwear, socks, handkerchiefs, belts, braces, etc. I only bought 2 pairs of shoes there. This is well-dressed? KenCPollock/jerrysfriend
post #7 of 44
Quote:
Originally Posted by linux_pro
My girlfriend spent 6 months in Paris about 3 or 4 years ago, attending some art school exchange program.

She seemed surprised that those cliches about French fashion and romantic men seemed completely false. She has many stories about the lack of personal hygiene both in women and men, the poor standard of dress she noticed in both sexes, and what she describes as an almost complete lack of concern about personal appearance among the majority. I mean it really made an impact on her. She came back talking about how we put too much emphasis on appearance in the US, and how her French friends criticized our culture for that, and how relaxed everything seemed there - much more natural and laid-back, so to speak. She spent her time exclusively in Paris. Mind you, I am only speaking about what she said to me, I have no personal experience. But were she to read this thread, I am sure she would heavily disagree with the author's statement. Every time she speaks of Paris, she describes the interesting paradox between French high fashion and the dressing habits and attitudes she witnessed among Parisians. She was quite enamored of its casual atmosphere, and what she calls a very sublime sense of personal and cultural refinement that transcended mere appearance or dress. As she has said to me many times, "In France, women can make a bathrobe look great. They just know how to carry themselves mentally, rather than relying on expensive clothing." The irony is that it seems to have had little impact on her spending habits.

Certainly art school french would dress different than the standard ones... also if you go to the popular arrondissements, that are full of foreigners and also where students use to live, you'd not see much elegance...
post #8 of 44
Yes, I guess that among many young French, the trend is to "dress down", maybe as a "rebellion" against the "establishment". However, when I think of the French I have met, people with a "medium-high" cultural level, I always had the impression that they dressed well and cared about their appearance. Now, I am talking about grown-up people.
post #9 of 44
Interesting thread revival.

Obviously I don't know Linux_Pro's girlfriend. However, after having spent a bit of time in Paris, I would say her comments are as much an insight on US practices as anything else.

In the US, people can be expensively dressed in nice clothing or a sweat suit, and that is what matters for the most part. For many young people, those are the options -- either you wear a nice suit and tie or nice dress or you wear brand-name flip-flops, a t-shirt and sweat pants or shorts. There's nothing wrong with this dichotomy in the US.

In France, there is no such dichotomy -- the flip-flops are slovenly, as is the t-shirt and sweat pants or shorts. Period. You also don't need to wear the expensive suit or dress. But somewhere in the middle is appreciated at all times. As the first author put it, it's not nice for the baker.

It reminds me of the way Americans approach sales people. Either we want to be kindly and helpfully waited on if it's somewhere nice -- think of the obsequious Nordstrom sales people. Otherwise, we want the silent automoton at the grocery store. In France, you can't get away with that. The baker is to greeted, smiled at, and thanked. They would expect our wordless handing over of a $20 bill and then silently leaving to be quite rude.
post #10 of 44
The Italians also place much emphasis on a certain personal presentation.
post #11 of 44
Wow, a blast from the past. Reviving threads with Ernest, Horace... what's next, wheatgrass enemas?
post #12 of 44
What????

Never mind. Forget I asked. Sometimes, it's better to be "young."
post #13 of 44
I'll add this to the pot: in the US, I tend to feel more anonymous (which can be a good thing), whereas in France, you tend to develop relationships with all the small store owners very quickly. Personal presentation, as Labelking worded it, then matters more.

Sometimes, my local Trader Joes' make me feel like home, with people commenting on what you buy, asking you how you plan to prepare this or that. I dress up when I go to Trader Joe's.
post #14 of 44
I had an unintended layover in Paris a month ago (coming home from Rome) and was stuck sans baggage for a night. First time there, hadn't heard the language in a year or so, but I was wearing a coat and slacks. Tried to speak French but only Italian came out, followed by an fumbled apology. I was surprised by how friendly and accomodating everyone was. I think had I not made the effort I might have had a different reception.
post #15 of 44
Why is there so much random necroposting?
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