The French have their beautiful little phrases to sum up life lessons. A beloved style that somehow cannot be replicated unless your passport is from France. Their mannered customs that fail to crumble in a fast-paced world. It’s all intertwined, how life can follow a joie de vivre approach.
Americans have a tendency to try too hard. We purchase an abundance of things we don’t really need. Test health fads that don’t seem to work. Fall into the influence of marketing manipulation. The French aren’t as quick to change their storefronts. They market by connecting to the supplier who grows the food, sliding soil speckled produce into a reusable bag well before it was trendy.
The French find time to enjoy and reflect, which is important considering what’s involved in all the buttoning and tying when getting dressed in tailored clothing, beautifying their meals with inventive sauces, and setting a table that could stage an Old Master painting.
Mimi Bleu of Belle Inspiration, a delightful magazine (which I happen to contribute to) and imaginative nook in the online world that interprets Paris through an American’s eyes. Mimi married a Parisian but her romantic sensibility doesn’t end there, she treats each day as an adventure and shares her city explorations with those who want to taste a sample. Mimi breaks down French living into three important segments, as follows:
“The food markets are serious business here in France. Living in Paris, or even during your stay, you’ll soon get to know your local fromagerie, butcherie, patisserie and the all-important boulangerie for your fresh baguettes, croissants and sweet treats,” says Mimi.
Passport to France? Bonjour
“The food vendors take pride in their products and will gladly share their freshest picks, or even the perfect recipe for the veal chop you purchased. The key is to always (did I say always?) greet them with ‘Bonjour.’ In fact, this is the golden key to open all of France – cafés, boutiques, offices–you name it, bonjour is the way to start to friendlier service. And don’t forget to leave with a merci, au revoir,” she says.
“French flea markets, or marché aux puces, are truly a window into Frenchness. Again, bonjour is your key and an opening to better negotiations. The big market at Saint-Ouen (Clignancourt) is an endless display of anything you can imagine in every price range–so everyone leaves happy,” says Mimi.
“Smaller brocantes (popup flea markets) and vide-greniers (attic sales, the French version of a neighborhood garage sale) pop up all over the Paris arrondissements each month. These are a fun way to get some great deals in a relaxed atmosphere to strike up a conversation with the vendors. Don’t forget that bonjour!”
“French interior décor has many faces and styles. Today’s modern touches make sure there’s not too much gilt or heaviness. True French décor is never overdone. It’s all about subtlety…and fresh flowers,” she says.
“Authentic French pieces are almost always unpainted (except in the south of France where you’ll find more of that style), the natural beauty of the wood shines through. It seems to have two distinct looks: Traditional French period pieces from top to bottom or as I like to call it, ‘Eclectic French,'” says Mimi.
“Visiting my traditional French friends draws an image of true French home décor and it does still include marble-topped commodes, Louis XV a fauteuils and ornate gold frames are still surrounding oil paintings. Eclectic French is more modern, it works with touches of gilt and the classic French lines but the period pieces are calmed with modern touches. A glass coffee table in front of a carved settee. Modern lucite chairs slide under a dark wood dining table. An elaborate gilted mirror inherited from grandmother’s living fireplace sits atop a mid-century piece,” she says.
“Pieces passed down from generation to generation keeps the past alive and the French appreciate heritage. There’s a bit of a movement to move away from all that charm and beauty, to replace it with IKEA–quelle dommage! Fortunately, there are still many who insist on keeping those grand armoires, cachepots and gilted sconces.”
Two recently published illustrated books capture glimpses of French living. France Inspiration du Jour is a travelogue by artist Rae Dunn where the reader has a deviant feeling of sneaking a glimpse into her personal diary. Her watercolors bring to mind a fashion page that illustrates pieces on what to wear to a polo match. There are dreamy renderings of tea towels, roadways, a lot of food and the beauty found in a simple teacup. Or despite eating enough figs to warrant an Oompa Loompa cleanse she till has not tired of the fruit.
With a cover designed in airmail colors and iconic city monuments, Say Bonjour to the Lady features authors Florence Mars and Pauline Leveque sketches on the difference in child rearing between New York and Paris.
Covering such topics as school and holidays, the authors poke fun of both parenting methods in metropolitan life. There is a Manhattan home overrun with kid things aside an elegant Parisian dwelling void of any sign of children. At the beach an American toddler is seated beneath a beach umbrella, dressed in protected clothing, Swimmies and sunscreen, while the French child plays along the coast in the nude.
The French make us question our ways. If a trip the country is not in the plan, you can always take note of their customs with a bit of mind travel.
Belle Inspiration Magazine
Reprinted from France: Inspiration du Jour by Rae Dunn, published by Chronicle Books 2017.
Reprinted from Say Bonjour to the Lady. Copyright © 2017 by Florence Mars and Pauline Lévêque. Illustrations copyright © 2017 by Pauline Lévêque. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.