Book Review: How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are

I’ve recently discovered my local library offers a wide variety of ebooks and audiobooks and I’ve been working my way through my Francophile wish list ever since.  My most recent download was one that had been haunting my list forever:  How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are by Anne Berest, Audrey Diwan, Caroline de Maigret and Sophie Mas. Imagine my delight to locate it within my library’s electronic stacks!

I was sadly disappointed.

The book can best be described as a collection of advice you might receive from the Carrie Bradshaw character in Sex and the City.  Tidbits that perhaps to some women seem charmingly quirky struck me instead as high-maintenance mind-games.  To wit:

“The Pariesienne already knows what she must think: the opposite of what you think, no matter what.”

In another scene, a woman on a first date immediately dismisses the gentleman from further consideration — even going so far as to begin planning her early exit from the venue — because he ordered the same entree as she did.

Pro tip: This is not charming. This is not quirky. This is a douchebag move, ladies.

If you were to use How to be Parisian Wherever You Are as your sole guide, you’d be forced to conclude that the Parisian woman is, as they say, a hot mess:

  • Emotionally unstable: “She can feel a sudden surge of sorrow or even hope for no reason at all….She doesn’t feel like talking and stays in her bedroom until the sun has set.”
  • Chaotic: “Disorder – and lots of it. A disorder so normal it may even become, through repetition, a new form of order”
  • Disingenuous: “The Parisienne lets the phone ring…she feigns surprise upon hearing his voice…she asks if she can call him back in five minutes…”.  One chapter even has the title “How to Make Him Think You Have a Lover.” Seriously? What is this — The Rules circa 1995?
  • Entitled: “[S]he leaves her car wherever she wants and acts like there’s valet parking, but feels persecuted whenever she gets a ticket.”
  • Inconsiderate: “People will no doubt be waiting for her at work…”
  • Insecure: “A Parisienne never hires a babysitter who is too pretty…”

And it goes on.

I wanted to like this book, I really did. It’s considered a classic within Francophile circles.  But as I described in La Vie Paris, my view of the French Woman / Parisienne archetype is aspirational: someone who embodies the qualities that I want to bring out in myself.  How to be Parisian Wherever You Are instead reads as a cautionary tale.  On the Hot/Crazy Matrix, the “Parisienne” would need a Hot axis score of 10+ to make up for the time, money, emotional energy and psychiatric treatment you’d need in order to endure such a self-absorbed and haphazard individual.

It’s possible the authors deliberately approached the subject tongue-in-cheek, intentionally skewering the French Woman paradigm with a more realistic (albeit exaggerated) slant.  If so, mea culpa.  I simply did not see the humor in it — although to be fair, I never enjoyed watching Carrie Bradshaw either.

TL;DR: Read How to be Parisian Wherever You Are for its entertainment value but DO NOT try this at home.

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