Et/ou Madame


We get a lot of mail addressed to Monsieur ______ et/ou Madame.

I never thought of myself as an ‘and/or’ before I moved to France.

I kept my name when we got married, and this has mostly stuck. Although the French do have their own rules when it comes to names and married couples. Essentially you can do as you like but your spouse’s name will be used as the default when it comes to things like family, healthcare and taxes. Alternatively they will address you in full including both surnames and all given and middle names.

My husband’s family name, which for reasons of privacy I keep out of this blog, is not an easy one. Beau-père always joked that had it been Rothschild, I would have changed it. I think not.

Identity has always been extremely important to me. I yam what I yam, as Popeye the sailor man said. I don’t mind if you hate me. Just don’t ignore me.

But as a middle-aged woman, especially one with short hair and glasses, I find myself increasingly invisible. At the market, on the street, in public places. This will not do, so I stamp my foot and roll my accent around the r’s for effect. Usually once I open my mouth I get attention. Sometimes more than I bargain for.

When I saw the trailer for the film, Madame,  I knew I had to see it. I love Rossy de Palma, and the story of the maid who is invited to make up the numbers at the chi-chi Paris dinner party hosted by an American couple just resonates with me. She’s a woman who goes from being invisible (is there anyone less visible than a maid?) to standing out a bit more than she – or others – are comfortable with.

It’s just come out in France, although I see it was already released in Australia back in August. Maybe someone who understands international film distribution can explain that to me.

How about you: have you ever felt invisible?


  1. zipfslaw1 · November 23, 2017

    Oh, that looks like an AMAZING movie. Did you notice in the trailer that when he’s waiting for her in front of the movie theater, the film whose name is on the marquee is “L’homme invisible”?

    • MELewis · November 23, 2017

      I did not (unless subliminally…) Thanks for pointing out that little synchronicity. Let me know if you go and see it – it’s not out here yet!

  2. francetaste · November 23, 2017

    Legally, a woman’s name is the one she’s born with–she may use her husband’s name, but it isn’t “official.” However, it seems that even officialdom follows the custom.
    When we first came to France, the bank refused to put my name on the bank account, saying everyone on an account had to have the same last name. So the checks have M/Mme. Husband, and I just sign with my own name. Nobody has ever questioned it.
    As for being invisible, I am finding it to be liberating. I can walk down a street without being catcalled. I can smile without it being an invitation or come-on. The first steps toward becoming a little old lady.

    • MELewis · November 23, 2017

      Yes, that legal business vs custom is one of the idiosyncrasies of life here. As for the bank, we have the same nonsense, although I managed to get them to add my name to my credit card. Geesh! Agree with you on the upside of anonymity – I do find it liberating, at least until I need something. Here’s to little old ladies!

  3. Osyth · November 23, 2017

    And it is the law in France that if you divorce you must revert to your birth name. I never needed to be persuaded to give up my married name when that marriage ended and I do find it rather curious when women even want to share a name with someone they don’t like let alone love any more. The film was being touted on M6 last night and I will be queuing at le Nef the moment it arrives. It has my name on it (as well as yours 😉) … actually it has my married and my maiden names both of which I delight in x

    • MELewis · November 23, 2017

      Let me know what you think when you see it — I read a spoiler alert critique that quite piqued my curiosity but which I will spare you…my non-card-carrying feminist side thinks it makes sense but we must make up our own minds. Will be thinking of you when I see it. I love all my names, selves and past lives, but Madame? Not really me, never has been!

      • Osyth · November 23, 2017

        I will certainly let you know. I try to avoid reading reviews before I see a film (much easier said than done) for reasons of being put off. The cinema here is my joy and more so since I was sitting on my own a few months ago ready to watch Les Proies and struck up a conversation with a troop of 6 old ladies who co-opted me (even though I am junior to them all by a minimum of 20 and a maximum of 35 years) into their group. We meet on Saturday afternoons and they generally decide what we will see. It’s heartily good fun and they find it amusing that I have a still living husband 😉 After the film we take an Apéro and go our separate ways. I can guarantee they will seize on ‘Madame’ and I suspect there will be some stories of their own provoked by it ….

      • MELewis · November 23, 2017

        Oh, I am envious! First of all that you have a local indie cinema (I have to drive 30 min’s minimum to get to anything decent!) and secondly that you have found a group of like-minded if senior advisers! Assuming they are English speakers? If not your French will be making huge leaps and what tales you will hear!

      • Osyth · November 23, 2017

        No – not a word of English and they are hugely tolerant of my ham and entirely oblivious to the help they are giving me. I should bottle them – particilarly the nontegenarian duo …. adorable! Very lucky with le Nef being on the doorstep … we get the good stuff and little of the dross (though I wouldn’t say none 😉 )

  4. memoirsofahusk · November 23, 2017

    Oh how I agree with you! I am who I am and just cannot understand why so many young women instantly change their – their – names on marriage. And as for being invisible, it has its pros and cons. Yes, nice not being bothered by wolf whistles etc, but I find it irritating the assumptions that are made about older women as opposed to older men. Small personal example: in a cafe, waitress talking about her boss standing nearby, ‘he’s so nice but he used to be in business, a really tough job, had to make people redundant, can you imagine that?’ ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘I was in business, I made people redundant, can you imagine that?’ She gawped as if I had told her I was a princess in disguise. Sigh. Older women =- mums, grans. Older men = former … Insert imagined job as applicable.

    • MELewis · November 23, 2017

      How quickly we become part of people’s stereotypes. But what joy to provoke that shocked facial expression, however fleeting…

  5. A new life in Lille · November 23, 2017

    That film looks good. I will keep an eye out for it. As for names, I am seriously considering changing my surname for one that I won’t need to spell every time I give it in France…

  6. coteetcampagne · November 23, 2017

    Since I passed my mid fifties Mel, the only people who smile at me now are very old French men

    • MELewis · November 23, 2017

      Some of whom are not bad, I’m sure? 😉

  7. eyelean · November 23, 2017

    I definitely kept my name when I got married and I feel like I did it at a time when bureaucratic machines and private companies finally had gotten used to that being a possibility—our bank never insisted on changing my name (though I waited over a year to tell them we’d gotten married—I mean did they really need to know?), and the CAF even fixed their automatic change pretty quickly. Socially, though, people are not used to it. I have trouble understanding why all young French women seem to change their names.

    • MELewis · November 24, 2017

      People say that it simplifies things to have one family name. I think France is both ahead and behind in terms of women’s rights – in theory, you are free to do as you like but in practice not! I imagine it’s quite different if you already have a joint bank account before you’re married. Lots of people ‘pax’ these days so I suppose they have to accept both names!

  8. acflory · November 24, 2017

    Toni Colette is Australian but I doubt that’s the reason it came out here so early. And yes, there should be a world-wide association of Invisible Women Of A Certain Age…IWACA?

    • MELewis · November 25, 2017

      That does sound like a club I’d actually have fun being a member of! As for Australia, I suspect it is a good market for testing ‘international’ films.

      • acflory · November 26, 2017

        Now there’s a thought. We’re kind of a hybrid between European tastes and American ones, with a dash of our own weird humour thrown in just for fun. 🙂

      • MELewis · November 26, 2017

        My thought exactly!

      • acflory · November 27, 2017

        lol – great minds. 🙂

  9. Mél@nie · November 27, 2017

    I love Rossy de Palma, too – tambien, olé! 🙂
    * * *
    @”have you ever felt invisible?” – nope… but I’d love to… 🙂

    • MELewis · November 28, 2017

      How interesting that you’ve never felt invisible… I must admit there is a cool feeling of being ‘incognito’ at times, but the thrill wears off quickly.

  10. poshbirdy · November 28, 2017

    I have continued to use both my (second) married and my maiden name for different areas of my life. I like that I am neither just one nor the other and it stops me from feeling trapped/obliged, etc.
    And yes, sometimes I feel invisible. Sometimes that’s fine, but it’s also wonderful to get chatted up occasionally (in a completely harmless way) and to know that I can still ‘pull’ !!

    • MELewis · November 29, 2017

      I know just what you mean about keeping parts separate — I feel entirely at ease being ‘Madame’ at times and just me at others. It is indeed liberating to embrace different facets of who we are. And the odd flirt? Oui!

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