The summer is the perfect time to explore living the “French Way” and perhaps to even learn to continue that way of living throughout the year. Obviously, a whole country cannot all fit one mold, but it is most interesting to see how women in other cultures live their lives. I have found the following books on the French woman’s lifestyle and philosophy for living to be fun, positive, and insightful, and fresh with new ideas that can readily translate into the hectic life of the typical American woman.
In the New York Time’s besteller French Women Don’t Get Fat: the Secret to Eating for Pleasure, author Mireille Guiliano unravels her thoughts on why many French women enjoy the pleasures of rich, buttery foods like croissants and chocolates yet remain remarkably thin and shapely. Even in the ideas that are not new, she gives them an added twist. For instance, while she says eating in balance and portion size is key, it isn’t the only key; she shows that eating and recognizing the intrinsic pleasure of food is also critical in the endless quest for health and beauty.
Another factor is the quality of food. Continental French people, regardless of their economic status, believe in their right to enjoy high-quality, seasonal food. Mireille writes, “Outside of their ranks, the great majority of Americans are conditioned to demand and accept bland, processed, chemically-treated, generally unnatural foods, which through packaging and marketing have been made to seem wholesome. I have no doubt that any people made to eat this way would in time grow fat.”
She also discusses how French women make sure to have lots of “petit riens” or little daily pleasures because to enjoy those simple moments and little pleasures greatly increases our satisfaction with and enjoyment of life.
The French Women Don’t Get Fat Cookbook by Guiliano is primarily composed of recipes but each chapter is interspersed with her musings on food and life. The latter are especially helpful to someone who is new to eating well and in a healthy manner. Again, it is all about balance but also more importantly, it is about eating slowly and enjoying the pleasure of the food.
She recounts a powerful story of watching Americans waiting in line for 20 minutes to buy an overly sweet New York City cupcake that was then consumed in less than two minutes! She correctly notes how the pleasure and satisfaction had been lost. No wonder so many crave more; they inhaled the first one rather than slowing savoring it with a friend over delightful conversation. Just say no to fast food!
In French Women for All Seasons, Guiliano expands on her first book. One of the most poignant stories was her memory of summers in France as a child. She writes, “We were left to our own devices in the big garden. Midafternoon, one of our neighbors, Madame Regnaud, would often come with a new children’s book she was reading to her grandchildren, and she would read us a story or two in the shade on the terrace… Mamie would reappear… for the afternoon refreshment, not with a gouter (snack) but with glasses of lemonade she made fresh, mindful of our need for water, especially in the summer… Looking back, what strikes me most is how this scene resembles one from the 19th Century and how remote it seems from the 21st”.
Will the 21st Century child’s memory be filled with those of canned diet soda mindlessly consumed while playing the latest video game? Or will it be of fresh lemonade mindfully made from scratch while watching the clouds drift by?
In French Women Don’t Sleep Alone, author Jamie Cat Callahan offers tips to celebrate life. By integrating beauty, love, and romance into your daily life, the enjoyment and pleasure from any day is enhanced. Another continental pastime of the French is to talk about books, films, and politics. Being smart is considered sexy (in contrast to the cultural concept of the “dumb blonde”). The French, when dating and at social gatherings, focus on talking about books, films, and ideas rather than gossip or, even worse, confessionals on the status and history of their life.
Debra Ollivier’s Entre Nous: a Woman’s Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl is another fun book with much wisdom. She writes, “nothing is more unfashionable than political apathy”. Books and films are as integral to a French woman’s life as is entertaining. Ollivier says that the French love to party especially in the dinner and cocktail party scenes. At parties, someone attending is more likely to be introduced based on something they have been reading or do as a hobby rather than by their profession. There is also an emphasis on the human experience rather than on the trappings of a holiday or a dinner party.
Ollivier also claims that French women do not multitask. She writes, “Multitask what? What’s the point? Why in the world would you want to be all things to all people, and do it all at once?” She advocates giving everything in life its due. Slow down and honor whatever task is before you. Celebrate life including every moment of it.
For additional celebration, be sure to also browse our French cookbooks and French films. A few highlights include:
The Provence Cookbook by Patricia Wells: Entice your taste buds with recipes that reflect the high-quality, seasonal bounties of Provence.
Parisian Home Cooking: Conversations, Recipes and Tips from the Cooks and Food Merchants of Paris by Michael Roberts: After years of shopping and cooking in Paris, Roberts compiles the best recipes and ideas for the home cook.
The Last Metro starring Catherine Deneuve, Gerard Depardieu, and Jean Poiret is a film about a Jewish director who is forced to hide in the basement of his theater during the Nazi occupation. His wife continues to star in his latest production. Tensions increase when his wife begins to fall in love with her leading man.
The Dinner Game starring Thierry Lhermitte and Jacques Villeret is a film about a host who decides to play a game to see who could bring the biggest idiot to a dinner party. He never imagined the comedic outcome.
Amelie starring Audrey Tautou and Mathiew Kassovitz was nominated for five Academy Awards including Best Original Screenplay. After Amelie makes a surprising discovery that drastically changes her life, she dedicates herself to helping others to find happiness in unexpected ways.
Les bons moments de la vie!
Ann Marie is the Library Director for the Oliver Wolcott Library and definitely believes in celebrating the little things.