You can learn the easy way or the hard way. Personally, I’m always a fan of finding the easy way.
People watching is one my very favourite things to do in France – and one of the simplest ways I’ve found to learn about the French people.
Whether we are in the big cities or the smallest villages, I can – and do – spend hours everyday watching the locals go about their day. From my selected vantage point – usually a café or a bar – I can take in so much.
I’m equally content watching women, men, children, waiters. And the dogs provide an ever passing stream of entertainment. In all honesty, I’m really not fussy about who makes up the passing parade.
Via the very simple act of watching alone, I’ve learned so much. About the people, the culture and the way they live their lives.
The Secrets Of French Women
Now we all know that French women have a brand that’s hard to beat. They are renowned the world over for their ‘je ne sais quoi’ – that ‘special something’, that ‘I don’t know what’. And whenever I come to France, I’m on the lookout for ‘their secret’. I’ve got to tell you, my desire to understand brings a real focus to my people watching experience.
Rereading that it sounds a bit creepy, but it’s true. I want to pick up all the details. How the women carry themselves, where they shop, what they wear and how they interact. Now don’t get me wrong, I fully comprehend that there is a fair bit of myth that makes up the brand of French women but my endless watching tells me there is also more than a grain of truth to the story.
This Visit – Here’s What I’ve Observed So Far
- French women have excellent posture. They really do hold themselves well. No slouching, no shuffling. Some of them even seem to have a little bounce in their step – but all them walk quickly and with purpose. I’ve come to the conclusion that their good posture is one of that the things that makes French women seem quite ageless. And their speed probably has something to do with their slim figures.
- Apart from mascara, sometimes a smear of lipstick and occasionally a lick of eyeliner, it’s virtually impossible to tell if they are wearing make-up or not. Seriously, I’ve become like a stalker when it comes to trying to solve this make-up/no make-up mystery. I know, I know – I’m being kind of creepy again – but it’s just that so much is written about the French woman’s commitment to skin care and her light hand with make-up, I just had to verify it for myself. What I can share is that if they are wearing make-up, they apply it very deftly! They all look so good, I have to believe there is a little enhancement going on. But there is nothing full, heavy or mask-like about any make-up they might be wearing.
The Biggest Secret
But the biggest thing I’ve been noticing on this trip is the confidence of French women. It really is a different confidence to that of the women in Australia, Asia and other places I’ve visited. There is a self assuredness to the women here. I’ve watched closely. They don’t seem to care what anyone else thinks which, whether we care to admit it or not, is very different to how women react in other places.
I was fascinated by one woman the other evening.
She was maybe ten years older than me, dressed in pale jeans, a jade jacket and the cutest shoes. She stopped into a bar for a single glass of white wine and a cigarette. It seemed that she was truly enjoying being on her own, taking in the atmosphere, not hiding behind her phone or technology. She didn’t appear at all self conscious, and if she was worried about what anyone might have thought about her being alone, drinking wine and smoking in the late afternoon she did not show it one little bit. This woman genuinely appeared to be loving her life.
This phenomenon of confidence appears to start at a very young age. Teenage girls of all shapes and sizes grace French streets and all of them appear very comfortable with themselves. It was amusing to watch these girls calling the shots with the young men who trailed along behind them. So different to the girls at home, hanging around hoping for the boys to notice them.
So Now That I Know This, What Will I Do Differently?
It is one thing to learn all of this through my incessant people watching – but education is only of value when it is actually applied. Things I’ll be trying when I get home include:
- Well, although I don’t wear stacks already, first up I’ll be toning down my make-up. I’ve already ramped up my skin care regime, thanks to some new purchases in a Parisian pharmacy (more on that later) and I’ll be taking steps to go for a more natural look. Luckily for me, I’ll head home to the Australian summer which might be a little more forgiving. It’s interesting how even writing that sentence makes me wonder how I will feel with even less make-up. I’ll have to let you know how I go.
- I’m going to watch my posture. Scott takes a lot of ‘surprise’ photos of me, so I know my posture isn’t too bad…it’s not often he catches me slouching – but there is always room for improvement. I’m also going to try walking with a bit more purpose…I tend to be a bit of an ambler. And the extra exercise I’ll get certainly can’t hurt me.
- In terms of the confidence thing, I think my I’ve become more and more confident the older I’ve got. Sometimes I wonder if I just care less than I used to! But to challenge myself, I’m going to stop on the way home one night at a busy bar and order myself a wine (thanks, but I’ll skip the cigarette). I won’t be allowed to play with my phone or laptop – the test will be around how comfortable I am in my own skin doing exactly what I want to do. As with the make-up, I promise to let you know how I go.
Are you a people watcher like me? What lessons have you learned – if any – from watching people on the streets? People watcher or not, do you have any insights into the secrets of French women? I know. So many questions. But I’d love for you to share your thoughts in the comments section below.
And until next time – au revoir.
9 thoughts on “The Secrets Of French Women”
I love people-watching, whether it’s the old guys playing pétanque, the moms and kids at the park (I’ll never forget the time an elegantly dressed Parisienne, confronted by her kid’s Nutella-covered hands, grabbed the hands and licked one and then the other), shoppers at the market, passersby in front of a café.
Once a friend and I watched for the ugly people who weren’t ugly. That’s to say, it’s easy to turn heads when you’re young and good-looking. But there were lots of people who had what the Italians call bella figura–lots of style and elegance despite being bald, pot-bellied or both (men AND women!). Much of it came down to posture and attitude. Confidence. And quality clothes. Nothing that would grab attention, but you could see the quality by the way the garments fit and hung.
Sorry for taking so long to respond Catherine – we’ve been struggling for Internet coverage. All good now though! I wish I’d seen the Nutella incident- it must have been priceless. And I love your idea of looking for a diverse range of people- a new game for Scotty and I to play.
I like all these observations, however, the woman with the wine and the cigarette…sorry i don’t think her smoking is glamorous or elegant. But certainly, dining alone and being comfortable with it is, is elegant.
Hi Jane, I agree with your thoughts on the cigarettes- not something I’m personally keen on. But it was interesting that the woman who had me so fascinated didn’t seem to care what anyone thought about her smoking …and that’s the bit that got me thinking about confidence in general.
I think that before many women can become comfortable in their own skins, they have to be educated and raised differently. I personally believe self-confidence often (usually) has to fly in the face of a lot of criticism from the outside, no matter *what* you do. Doing what you like requires a sense of real independence. Are we raising girls who feel independent? Are we raising girls who feel like their opinion (up to a point; it’s never wise to tolerate rudeness) counts? I think you have to have a somewhat different culture to begin with, to reliably raise strong children. For the adult, transferring the kind of confidence you see on a trip into daily behavior is realistic only if your life is structured in such a way that others’ opinions are less important to you than your own. Consider that the more you have to lose, the less likely it is you will be able to behave exactly as you want, particularly if you are not a city dweller, where anonymity allows a lot more personal freedom.
Thank you so much for such a thoughtful comment Alison. In turn, you really got me thinking. I definitely agree with your thoughts that we need to start raising girls differently and that this starts at at cultural level. I know in Australia we pay lip service to some of this stuff but the real life examples wouldn’t necessarily allow them to grow up with sort of confidence we’ve been witnessing here.
This is a very interesting post. I agree wholeheartedly that French women seem to have an amazing and unparalleled confidence – but more than one French friend has contradicted that impression and assured me that French women are no more confident than American women, but that there is a French ‘attitude’ that girls pick up at a very young age to mask any lack of confidence that (again according to my friends) plagues most French women. The ‘attitude’ is more bravado than confidence, in a society where ‘good enough’ is not really a concept.
This is not to say that all French women lack confidence, of course, but the image does not necessarily reflect the reality.
The ‘attitude’ is posture, direct gaze, a tilt of the head, the ‘moue’/pout, a comfortable stride. French women tend not to have the fussy accessories that detract from a powerful image, and that helps, too, as well as the fact that most French women are more likely than we are to be slim – and I think that we equate that with confidence, also. Also unlike most Americans, French women do not fuss with their clothing, tugging on a skirt, adjusting a collar, and all of the other things that we do that detract from a confident image.
In reality, I think that French women are a bit less confident than they appear, and American women a bit more confident than we appear.
Thank you, thank you, thank you for this insight Alisa. I must admit that as I’ve been watching I’ve been wondering from time to time if I’m viewing a very excellent display of “Faking It Til You Make It”. Perhaps I have been to a certain extent. I agree entirely with your points about the lack of fussing – I do think this adds to the image of confidence – I might add ‘fuss less’ to the list of things I will try once I get back home. Thanks again for sharing your insight.