Home Sweet Maison

As my Instagram followers already know, I’ve been devouring a new book, Home Sweet Maison: The French Art of Making a Home by Danielle Postel-Vinay. It is amazing!

Postel-Vinay walks the reader room by room (beginning with l’entree) to single out the little touches in each room that help give it that French mystique.  Note this isn’t “French Farmhouse” or “Shabby Chic” or “Parisian Modern” or any particular style at all. Instead it focuses on the purpose of the room and how the French tend to make it their own.

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Spending Out

A few weeks back I was listening to the audio CD of Gretchen Rubin’s Happier at Home which details her efforts to change her home / environment in order to increase her happiness levels (I should note that this is a sequel to Rubin’s original book The Happiness Project). While the book is definitely worth a read for all its parts, one concept in particular jumped out at me: “Spending Out”.

As Rubin describes on her website:

[By] spending out, I mean to stop hoarding, to trust in abundance.

She describes re-using razor blades too often, keeping toothbrushes too long and just in general “making do” with things that are worn, stained or broken when there are better alternatives.

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Learning the Language: Part Trois

I’ve written about a couple different approaches to learning French: French in 10 Minutes a Day audio CDs and DuoLingo.  Both have their advantages and disadvantages, but neither will suffice if you want to become truly comfortable with the language. I decided to go to the best source available: Alliance Francaise.  From their website:

The Alliance Française is the place to learn and immerse yourself in all things French.

I looked up my city and sure enough there was a local chapter.

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Learning the Language: Part Deux

I wrote last week about my initial foray into learning French, via the impressive and useful audiobook French in 10 Minutes a Day.  Despite its excellent introduction to the language, there are some limitations.  The series is designed for the casual traveler and thus focuses on words that tend to relate to travel.  More importantly, though, the series is strictly in present-tense.  This makes sense for travel — you are, after all, more concerned with ensuring you can understand simple instructions and make your own needs known — but it would be very difficult to have an actual conversation.

Thus after completing the series, I began using the free smart-phone app DuoLingo.

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Learning the Language: Part Un

As mentioned in my About page, The Mister and I are toying with the idea of spending a year in France. Even if that doesn’t materialize, however, we will certainly be vacationing there frequently — our next trip to Paris comes up in June as a matter of fact. Therefore it only makes sense to learn the language to whatever degree possible for me.

I qualify this statement because I truly suck at languages (e.g. I’ve lived in the American Southwest for decades and only know the slightest bit of written Spanish, forget spoken). Having always been a quick learner in every other aspect of my life, it pains me to the core to feel so … well, stupid. Unsurprisingly, I tend to give up quickly.  Knowing this, I’ve resigned myself to accepting my limitations and continuing to learn despite the inevitable frustrations.

That said, I began my journey with an audio CD series that I LOVELOVELOVE:  French in 10 Minutes a Day.

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Tea for Two (or more)

In an effort to keep my expenses low while maintaining a social life, I came up with the idea of throwing a tea party.  Hosted at my house with tea and a few snacks, it would be relatively low cost, low stress and still be able to catch up with friends.

The beauty of the tea party is that it can be scaled up or down to serve your needs:

  • half a dozen guests (or more!) or a simple tea à deux
  • casual dress, slightly fancy attire or themed vintage
  • a few cookies and finger sandwiches or petit fours, scones, soups, quiches and a large cake

For my first tea party, I kept things simple by inviting just two girlfriends (with a dress-up/vintagey theme) and limiting food to a couple scones (cut into smaller mini-scones), a few macaroons and a small fruit tart, along with several different variety of teas (avec some adorable tea infusers).

The table was dressed with a white cloth and some flowers along with some silver serving pieces I inherited from my grandmother while my girlfriends and I dressed in vintage-inspired outfits.  With Glenn Miller playing in the background, we had an absolute ball!

Based on the positive feedback, I’ve decided to keep this as a fun Girl’s Day activity going forward. It’s fun to dress up and play hostess, and definitely less expensive than going out!

For more ideas on hosting a tea party of your own, visit:

 

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.

La Vie Paris

So what exactly does “La Vie Paris” mean?

My intent is for it to translate as “The Paris Life” although to be fair I’ve probably mangled the phrase inexcusably.  To me however, La Vie Paris encompasses more than red lipstick and red wine. Rather it is a mindset, a way of life that impacts my behavior and even my way of thinking.

In my head, La Vie Paris is:

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Top Francophile Books

Over the past several years Francophilia has become all the rage with scores of books written about how to eat, dress and act like a French woman.  Bearing in mind that these books tend to use an archetype as the basis for their advice, following are my favorites of the lot thus far:

Readers will undoubtedly note that I have not included the classic that arguably launched the genre, French Women Don’t Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano.  I have not picked it up yet but I did read her book French Women Don’t Get Facelifts. To be honest, it wasn’t particularly life-changing to me so I’m in no hurry to get the original.

What are your favorite Francophile-inspired books and other media?