Cherchez la femme

dog_shoeAccording to my passport, I am French. Along with some vital statistics (sex: female; height: 157 cm; eyes: brown), it reveals a few home truths about me. Like the fact that I wasn’t born in this country.

My accent’s pretty fair. On a good day, I could probably pass as a native French speaker. Yet if I had any yen to be a spy, my career would be brief. A lacune (gap) in my vocabulary, a gender bender in grammar or hesitation over numbers would quickly reveal my secret: I’m not from here.

(Did you know that the French count on their fingers with the thumb first while we Anglos start with the index?)

But my cover would be blown before I even got that far. You see, I don’t look like a French woman.

In the words of my mother-in-law: “Tu n’as pas une tête pour être française.” Indeed. Neither my head nor any other part of my anatomy fits the mold of la femme française. Too pale, too heavy. Not fine of bone or tanned of skin.

I don’t dress like a Frenchwoman either. Mostly because French clothes don’t tend to fit me well (they are made for a narrower, longer frame); also, I can’t stand feeling cramped and constrained in my clothing. For me, it’s comfort first, elegance second. That means no tight waists, torturous heels or lacey underpinnings. I’m a white cotton kinda girl. By French standards, I am frumpy.

A Frenchwoman will wear a thong as a badge of femininity, regardless of how uncomfortable it is or whether her derrière is truly worthy of display. And, after all, pourquoi pas? It’s just not for me.

Once you get past the how-do-you do’s, I don’t really sound like a French woman. It’s not just mistakes in the language – it’s more a manner of speaking. I am simply too direct. In the time-honored tradition learned at my father’s knee, I tend to call a spade a spade. And I ask a lot of questions. Frenchwomen are generally much more discreet. Not to mention soft spoken. And perhaps not quite as fond as I am of foul language.

I also enjoy alcohol more than the average Frenchwoman. Not just wine but a fair bit of beer. Preferring hops to champagne bubbles is a pretty good clue I’m not pure souche.

And here is the ultimate giveaway: I can’t (read won’t) use an iron. Except for emergency touch-ups involving wrinkles deeper than the ones on my face.

My mother-in-law (who, by the way, has not discovered Google translate or this blog) once informed me that she would be incapable of sleeping on sheets that hadn’t been ironed. Hmph. Wonder how she manages a full night’s sleep on ours?

Frenchwomen are raised to wield an iron. The majority of households don’t possess clothes dryers, so ironing is how they finish drying their clothes. It also ensures the pristine, crisp appearance for which they are renowned.

It seems that every week brings a new tome promising the beauty and lifestyle secrets of the illusive Frenchwoman. Here’s the latest for those who want to know how to look chic. But frankly, I’m a little tired of reading about how Frenchwomen don’t get fat. (Apparently I’m not alone – according to this editorial from Vanity Fair.)

The fact is, it’s a lot of work being a Frenchwoman. Most of the ones I know do work, rather hard, whether at home or at an outside job, in most cases both. With very little help from les messieurs.

And that’s another reason I’m not a real Frenchwoman*. Ours is an equal-opportunity household.

* With apologies to certain French female friends who are every bit as much of an exception to the rules as yours truly!


  1. Maison Bentley Style · November 4, 2013

    You did make me laugh! And quite frankly, I rather the like the sound of you than piece of French perfection! xxx

    • MELewis · November 4, 2013

      Merci! I won’t make any fashion pages but I do like that Gore Vidal quote – ‘Style is knowing who you are…and not giving a damn.’

  2. Wife After Death · November 5, 2013

    I found this too when I lived in France. I drink like a bloke, swear like a navvy. Fortunately they all treated me like a funny little pet monkey – they kinda liked me, but didn’t understand where I was coming from. Incidentally, regarding the ironing, I tend to use my hair straighteners if a piece of clothing REALLY needs going over. But sheets??? Tu te fous de moi! Big bises. X

    • MELewis · November 5, 2013

      A funny little pet monkey, love it! That’s exactly how I still feel at times. Also love the trick with the hair straightener…you are a woman after my own heart. Tchin tchin!

  3. Viviane · May 31, 2016

    Hi, I’m a French woman and I now nderstand why I can’t fit in. Well, I learnt to not care over time, and had some clue about what was “wrong with me” but your article sheds even more light on how demanding it is to be and behave as people expect me to. The mstery being why I never felt like a French woman, though. Thank you very much.

    • MELewis · June 2, 2016

      Glad to learn this spoke to you! Perhaps there are more different models of French woman than I imagined. Merci! 😉

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