I have never claimed my Frenchness as a badge of honor, but I discovered I had a secret weapon when I left Paris in 2000 to live abroad. In South Korea, everything French (the people, the language, the food and wine, the fashion…) was very popular. People found our accent ‘cute’. Our fractured English, riddled with faux-amis and accompanied by the Gallic shrug was seen as charming and quaint.
In Hong Kong, the French had unfair competition: the Brits. Just kidding. Although we French got less ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ (and I had to adjust to that new, demoted reality) in the Pearl of the Orient, a nice outfit and a short haircut did the trick. My skirt was a Marks and Spencer knock-off and my necklace from the local market? No worries! “You wear it so well…you’re French.” Same for the pixie cut. I often heard only a Frenchwoman could go that short…the one comment that still puzzles me to this day.
In Riyadh, the educated Saudis I encountered loved France and some of them spoke French flawlessly. I soon got the nickname of ‘the hostess with the mostest’. I prepared a mixed salad and suddenly, I was the new up and coming celebrity chef. My cheese platter was wonderful, my fish sublime. I remember shaking my head in disbelief, telling my husband I could serve a can of tuna and get rave reviews… because I’m French. (I never have, may all my guests be reassured). I was told I could eat what I wanted (‘because you’re French and French women don’t get fat’), I would look good in a trash bag and more.
I live in New York now, where everything French is slightly overrated in my opinion. From the “French cleaners” and the “French Coiffeur” to the fancy, expensive restaurants. And although it happens less, I still get the one compliment that makes me pause and wonder. At a dinner party last year, I was wearing a black outfit and a bold, big leopard pattern necklace. That necklace was the talk of the night. “It was on sale, at H&M” I said. Our host had a moment of hesitation before he added “Yes, maybe, but you wear it so well… you’re French.”
So, let me embrace the mythical glory but also the stark reality of my Frenchness. My accent might be cute, I might be a fashion icon and the next celebrity chef, but I am a French woman and I am getting fat.
Have a lovely day,