Whether I was ready or not, whether I actually wanted them or not, I was about to learn two lessons. One would be a lesson in French style and the other in the French understanding of appropriateness. The sales assistant wouldn’t have had it any other way.
I’d come to the obvious conclusion that I could no longer live without a pair of flat heeled, ankle boots. I had found my dream pair, French of course, via the internet. Sadly, their price tag was higher than my education as an accountant would allow me to entertain. So I resolved to find a quality pair while I was in France. These boots would contain all the elements of the dream pair but at half the price. Finding these boots shouldn’t be too difficult to achieve. I told myself this with no confidence whatsoever.
It turns out that it wasn’t too difficult to track down boots that met my criteria. My research method of choice is widely known as window shopping. And it didn’t take me long to realise that there were numerous pairs of boots that met my requirements. It seemed my checklist of ultra flat heel, low key hardware and supple leather would easily be ticked off. It even appeared that my budget expectations could be met.
One chilly evening I entered a store whose window displayed the highest number of likely prospects. My travelling companions (namely, Scotty and our son) were happily occupied by photography, so I knew I had ample time. I was warmly greeted by the sales assistants. And I was buoyed by the fact that one of them spoke excellent English. It’s not that we wouldn’t have managed the transaction with my stilted French. It’s just that the staff may well have needed a stiff drink afterwards.
We discussed my requirements and selected the potential candidates for me to try. I obediently removed my existing footwear while the assistant tracked down the boots.
And that’s when we came to the issue of my socks. And the beginning of my lesson in French style.
The Beginning Of A Lesson In French Style And Standards
I always dress with care while I’m France. Always. I enjoy our travels far more when I’m not worrying that my clothing choices are under constant French scrutiny . (For the record, I fully understand that they probably pay no attention to my clothing choices. Yet, there’s always a lingering doubt that they might).
So, on that particular day, the day I was planning to purchase boots, I was wearing my best black socks. Brand new. Extra fine Australian merino. Warm and soft, great for walking. I’d worked out long before that quality socks are worth the investment if you want to walk like you need to in France.
As it transpired however, my best socks were not quite up to scratch. A little too thick perhaps? Or maybe they were a tiny bit too wooly? Whatever the problem was, my socks simply did not please the sales assistant.
The lovely young woman must have asked me a five times if I wanted to change my socks. Not in an impolite fashion of course. She was trying to help me in my quest to secure quality French footwear. And she wanted me to select my new boots while wearing appropriate socks. Socks that were finer and a little more refined, a blend of cashmere and silk perhaps? I don’t know, and unfortunately I didn’t think to ask.
Instead I explained that I was happy to try on the boots wearing my own socks. I was planning to wear the new boots with my existing socks, so it made sense, at least in my mind, to try them on together.
She looked at me with genuine concern. Via her warm brown eyes, a woman in her early thirties confirmed every word I’d ever read about French. Their need for things to be appropriate was summed up in a glance. And it spoke volumes about their sense of properness and their love of quality.
It did not matter to her that no one would ever see my socks except me, and potentially Scott. In France, it seems that socks are akin to lingerie. It doesn’t matter if no-one but you ever sees them. It is not about impressing anyone. It’s about ensuring that the garments closest to your skin are of a high enough standard to underpin your whole look.
I pulled on boot after boot, attempting to keep the offensive socks hidden from sight. Despite her clear misgivings about my choices, the attendant rose to the challenge. She helped me to select a perfect pair of boots, boots that matched every on of my criteria.
Boots that lasted me for years and reminded me time and time again of the importance of standards.
Have you ever found yourself learning a surprise lesson in French style? I’d love for you to share your experience in the comments section below.
And until next time – au revoir.