In a hierarchy of compliments that I would like to receive, being told I looked French would be close to the top. Naturally I am not picky; I am truly grateful for any compliment I get. Unsurprisingly I am
seldom never told that I look French. I could cling to the deluded belief that this is due to my pale Celtic colouring but in truth it has more do with the fact that I lack the myriad of attributes that looking French implies; I am not super slim, über chic or drenched in enigmatic mystique.
I am a Francophile and Paris is one of my favourite cities; I adore Paris but not in a-love is-blind-fashion. I am aware of the dark shadows that flit across the City of Light and conscious that its fractured history of bloody revolution and Nazi occupation will have affected deeply the psyche of the city and its inhabitants. However who (including moi) would not like to live in this monumentally beautifully place.
One of the things I usually do when I am in Paris, for more than a few days, is to buy and read one of the many books which chronicle the real-life experiences of outsiders who came to live in France. W H Smith on the Rue de Rivoli has a large section devoted to this genre. Due to baggage weight restrictions I discard the books before heading homeward. The only one I have re-bought on my return, because I enjoyed it so much, is ‘Almost French’ by Sarah Turnbull.
Sarah is an Australian journalist who, when she was backpacking around Europe, met (and later married) a Paris-based French lawyer called Frédéric. ‘Almost French’ is a warm, funny and tender chronicle of Sarah’s trials and tribulations as she struggles to come to terms with a different culture, to learn a new language, to fathom the initial unfriendly attitudes of Frédéric’s friends, and to find work as a free-lance journalist. It’s a well written easy read and I would highly recommend it if you have an interest in cracking the tribal codes that the French (or at least a certain strata of French society) live by.
Towards the end of the book Sarah recounts how an American tourist startled her, when she was walking down the Rue Montorgueil, by taking her photograph. He said to his wife ‘she’s so Parisian’, Sarah says she felt ecstatic. Briefly. The tourist then added ‘such a cuute dog-ie’ . The oh- so perfectly chic Parisian being photographed was Sarah’s West Highland terrier Maddie. I think I will have to accept that no amount of stripey Breton tops, little black dresses or ropes of pearls are going to make me look French. I could of course go for *the look* by association; this would involve acquiring a ruinously expensive small dog and paying the equally ruinously expensive bills for his/her de luxe grooming. A little drastic methinks!