No Wonder French Women Are Such A Mystery...

Cecile in San Francisco
 

We are walking contradictions. Lucky for us, these contradictions have been contributing to the sense of mystery French women continue to inspire around the world.

What really is feeding the enigma? A few thoughts...

Our educational system is cartesian, which means that it favors logic and maths. In fact, students who specialize in scientific subjects are considered the school elite, whereas literary studies are viewed as the poor man's choice. (I was of the latter)
- Maths are hammered into our brains, yet we are taught to follow our hearts at all times, including when we have historically risen in emotional displays and fiery revolutions.
- Our society values logic above all but we speak a complex language with more exceptions than there are rules.
- We make heart-driven decisions and have knee-jerk reactions, and often justify them with a nonchalant "c'est comme ça" (it's what it is), which does not begin to explain anything.

Take that, logic!

It is our (often unconscious) mission to embody femininity and infuse it into daily life.
- We were taught by generations of women who defined themselves through unbridled femininity and burnt their bras to proclaim their freedom.
- They were themselves raised by generations of women who called femininity never wearing skirts above the knee and abiding by strict etiquette rules.

Aren't strict etiquette rules severely unsexy?

We want women and men to be equal in rights. Yes we do! And we still also very much want the ancestral rituals of chivalry in our lives and love. Translation: give us equal pay AND hold the door for us, you fool!

You can see how that would be confusing.

The experience of food tops our pleasure chain (it possibly even ranks above sex). We're taught epicurian ways from birth. Eating is a sacred ritual, food is divine intervention that cannot be explained... yet we are taught the art of the table military style:

Don’t put your elbows on the table.

Sit straight.

Don’t start eating before everyone else.

Don’t finish eating before everyone else.

No you may not leave the table, dinner isn't over.

Don't interrupt the adults while they're talking.

Never help yourself first without being expressly told to.

And never ever mow down everything on your plate including the edible ornaments. It's so unladylike... "Fais pas ci, fais pas ça" (don't do this, don't do that).

Tempered happiness and discontent are the only emotions we allow ourselves to express in public. We shall not exhibit the obscurity of our doubts, unveil our fears, or let our spirits raise in ecstasy. People could see us! Showing too much is either too vulgar or too vulnerable. We are emotional prudes with pride and principles. Except, of course, when it comes to displaying our love and affection in public and swallowing each other's tongue with gluttony. Now THAT's OK.

We're bullied into critical thinking and often mocked for thinking the way we do.

We are damned if we do and damned if we don't.

Ever considered that maybe that mysterious air of "je ne sais quoi" the world envies us is just us having a million thoughts we wouldn't dare share? What would people think? We just don't want to get into a lengthy debate, so we keep it to ourselves...

And keep on smoking.

 

Words: Cécile Charlot.