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“Le Flirting” in France: The Art of Seduction

Dave Bloom

Soon after arriving in Paris, I was approached by an older man at a cafe. With my blond hair and toothy grin, I was clearly a foreigner and at 29, a still-prime target. He asked if he could join me. “Actually, I am engaged,” I said, a fact I was very excited about just weeks after becoming betrothed.

But zees is nuh-sing in France,” he replied with a sly grin. Nothing? I was shocked.

Thomas Mueller / Celine Willard

I had, of course, heard how forward French men could be. Tales of infidelity in France are legendary and I naively assumed I had encountered a world-class lothario. But I knew nothing then about the French art of la seduction and how what might seem like a come-on to a young American can actually be a benign and entertaining part of the game of life à la Française.

Kallie Brynn

I soon realized that flirting in France is central to the way men and women relate to each other. Good natured flirtation is expected and welcomed, assuming one follows the rules of discretion and good taste, bien sûr.

After nearly four years in Paris, here are a few things I’ve learned.

Flirting is fun: Men and women here view “le flirting” as a normal and deeply enjoyable part of daily life. It is a skill to be deployed in all situations – from casual supermarket encounters to exchanges with grumpy fonctionnaires – that can often assist in getting what you want. It can be as simple as holding eye contact for an extra beat or receiving a discreet nod of approval on the street. Much of it centers around light-hearted banter – the ability to engage in witty repartee and deliver a smart remark at just the right moment. Once mastered, the Parisian game of flirtation can be yet one more pleasure added to the day.

Gael Sagueton

The French admire beauty: French women work hard to look attractive and expect that men will notice (although they may or may not return their attention). Men, for their part, feel it’s their job to admire women and to express their appreciation – and not just to women under thirty. As one male French friend put it, “I meet eyes with a woman to acknowledge her beauty, whether it is present or past. If the look is returned, it may be appropriate to speak, but that is never taken for granted.”

Not just for singles: Single American men and women flirt at parties, bars and clubs (and online and via text, so I’ve heard.) Married people do not flirt at all unless they’re scumbags who routinely cheat (or want to cheat) on their spouses, right?

Dave Bloom

Not so in Paris. At a dinner party a few years ago, I watched a French friend flirt openly with my husband. We were seated with a large group and all enjoying multiple verres de vin. I watched (glared?) across the table as she laughed at his jokes, touched his arm, even talked about how “beau” he is. Hmm.

Being a loyal gentleman (often unaware of his own charms), he was flattered by her attention but claimed not to really notice. “Flirting with me?” he said when we got home. “No waaaay….” It was only later, after coming to understand the French, that I realized her gestures were quite harmless – a normal part of male/female rapport.

Dave Bloom

As time goes on, I figure, why not enjoy a little attention and appreciation from a stranger? That little frisson of pleasure that comes from a playful exchange can enhance the joy of daily life and even add a spark to your own relationship.

Provided it doesn’t go too far (unless that’s the point, of course) I say, vive le flirting. As a French friend explained it, “The French are always trying to seduce everyone. It’s just for ‘le fun!'”

 

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Written by Paige Bradley Frost

Paige Bradley FrostPaige Bradley Frost, a Los Angeles native, moved back to Paris with her young family in 2011 after first living and getting married there in 2000. A lover of French style and cuisine, she spends her days scouting and writing about the city's gems when not chasing after her two young children. Her articles about parenting, culture and lifestyle have appeared on NYTimes.com, the Huffington Post and various other publications. She blogs about her Paris experiences at http://parisdejavu.blogspot.com.

Website: Paris Deja Vu

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Posted in Parisian Living | 18 Comments »

18 Responses to ““Le Flirting” in France: The Art of Seduction”

  • Kiki says:

    BRAVO
    Mme Zimmie and Courtney – two very beautiful replies :)
    Kiki (female)
    [stating this as thought Courtney was a woman until I started reading and also because I am often addressed as a HE by people who don't know me personally]

  • Courtney says:

    Thank you, Paige. I enjoyed this information. I am a Texan male, and struggle with the “beat her over the head” style of flirtation I was raised in. I desire finesse, in myself and the subject of my attention. It is nice to see there is a group of fellow humans that can go through their day appreciating not only the physical beauty and the social stimulation, but also the right of each individual to choose how far the interaction will go. And regardless of how far it goes, the most important part was that the results of the simple original “flirt” (the first action to acknowledge each others awareness of each other) is worth it, in itself. What an evolved group, compared to where I come from.

  • As an American in France, I have to say that I’m not now, nor have I ever been bothered by the flirtatious nature which seems to pervade the society. The way I see it, my husband is only mine because he chooses to be so. If I had to guard him that closely, then it would seem to me that there was a foundational problem afoot. Conversely, the last person I would be concerned about “stealing” him would be my best friend. If I ever pondered such a notion, she certainly wouldn’t be my ‘best’, let alone my friend. Lastly, the concept of “stealing”, (precisely why I’ve put it in quotes…). We’re talking France here. It is highly unlikely that anyone we’re referencing is being “stolen”. If they go- methinks it was by choice, and not likely a forced coercion by some French femme-fatale. Naturally, this is only my opinion, and I am a stranger in a strange land- so please take with a grain of salt. Kasia- I’ve just ordered the book, based on your recommendation.
    Best to you all!

  • wemeetparis says:

    love this post! as a californian in paris, i can definitely appreciate the amount of awkwardness felt during one of those forward french man situations – it’s just not quite the same at home. but, it does have some advantages…having a bad hair day or hate your outfit? a little “bonjour” can always put a smile on your face. “yes girl, you’ve still got it!”

  • Paige says:

    Clearly a subject many of us feel passionate about! I based my observations in this post on my own experiences. Of course we all know exceptions to every rule and they no doubt exist in every culture! As I wrote in the post, flirting can be fun as long as we follow the rules of discretion and good taste. Thanks!

  • Barbarella says:

    Knowing an American in Paris married to a Frenchman in the throws of an ugly divorce*—she’s preparing to leave and never to set foot in France again if she can help it—I can tell you that she, like you, naively thought that this flirting, arm touching etc. etc. was just for “le fun,” right? WRONG. You don’t want to learn the hard way that the real “challenge” for a French woman is the thrill of the chase: if the target is already committed to another, and especially if they’re in love – “le fun” stakes go way up. They soar if she’s a) pretty and b) a foreigner. Swedes, Danes, Russians – they’re challenging too, but it is the American woman who really gets their blood going – we’re just a little too confident and free spirited for their smoking tight-asses and by God they’re going to make sure that smile is wiped off our faces. Harmless? Non. The men may play for fun but French women play for keeps.

    * adultery in France is a “faute” grounds for divorce–Yet ask any French person and they’ll say that’s “ridicule!”

  • Kiki says:

    The latest of this morning! Went to our local market where I chatted with ‚my‘ flower lady for a church decoration. Arrives a good looking man in his late forties, goes behind the ‘counter’, kisses the woman, charming, smiling, friendly, not taking any notice of us customers.
    After 30’’ I join in the banter, we discuss his recent haircut, and then the guy says that ‘now I have already seen and visited all my girl friends’…. He asks the seller to put away 3 orchid plants, all with no thought of having interrupted another transaction and certainly with no second thought about the flirting bit.
    It’s all very natural – he came, kissed and left (not)!
    I said to the woman; OK I think I shall pay now, I have other things to do and again, very naturally, the man steps back and ‘now’ waits his tour for his payment and some more flirting. There was NOTHING more in this short exchange than having a relaxed moment, no husband/wife thievery – it’s just a lovely sunny day and let’s make light of it!
    And now I won’t add any more comments to this burning theme :)

  • hopflower says:

    It can be harmless and is part of life with a lot of Europeans. It is charming and shows appreciation for the opposite sex. You do not need to take it seriously at all. Even the English do it. I know, I have relatives there. Lighten up and enjoy it. It is not meant to go that far!

    In fact, American women do not have a good rep in Europe because they are often thought of as husband stealers. A bit judgmental; but the divorce rate here is high, you must admit.

  • Paige says:

    Anyone have a favorite flirting story to share? Or maybe a tip on how to be a better flirt a la Parisienne? I know for me, it’s an on-going education. Thanks for your comments!

  • Kiki says:

    This seems to be a theme of some interest… :)

    As I am subscribed to getting the comments, I just wanted to add that usually, in order to any interaction leading to another, there has to be a ‘readiness’ on both sides. It’s also what I often feel about break-ups amongst people I know; you can ‘only’ fall for somebody else, when you’re not totally content (call it happy, fulfilled, whatever) in your present relationship.

    I do believe that a light flirt IS harmless and everybody concerned knows that you have any other intentions than sharing a few compliments, a laugh and a feel-good moment.
    Don’t we ALL crave some nice words from others, a compliment, a smile, an admiring look? Come on, be honest – you do too!

  • So funny — I have so many memories of feeling like prey for some random French man. Unless Olivier Martinez is up for it, I’m gone! ;-)

    xox

  • Paige says:

    Looks like we’re in agreement that flirting can be fun!

    Linda, I will say you’re not the first to tell me that perhaps the friend who flirted with my husband had more in mind than simple flirting…In any event, it’s certainly part of life here and as with everything in France, it’s best to know “the rules!”

  • Linda says:

    I have to disagree that a French woman flirting with your boyfriend or husband is harmless. I learned quite a while ago to not trust French women around my man. They will go after him if they can. It’s not uncommon for a woman to “take” the boyfriend of her best friend. I agree that it is a nice feeling to be flirted with by French men and have often felt “maybe I’m not so bad after all!”.

  • Kasia Dietz says:

    This art of ‘harmless flirting’ in France is certainly part of the culture. (It makes us Americans look a bit prudish!)

    If you desire more insights into why this goes on to this degree, I highly recommend the book ‘La Seduction’ by Elaine Sciolino. VERY eye-opening!

  • Kiki says:

    so true… :) I’m a bit of a casual flirter too but I would never go any further than just that; be kind, be nice, smile, crack a joke, and go on, living your own life. Hero Husband knows this side of me and doesn’t object because it is harmless and if men don’t get the lightness of it, I am VERY quick to put things right.

  • Lynn says:

    The timing of this article couldn’t be more perfect. I got to Paris a few months ago and am living with my French boyfriend. This weekend a pretty woman paused by our table while we were en terrasse (she was with friends), said something casual directed at my boyfriend while she rifled through her purse at the next table maybe looking for keys, and then sashayed on. He told me she’d been looking at him before when he walked by her table. I said “French women aren’t that forward, are they?” and he responded that they enjoy a challenge. It bothered me because I was right there and, frankly, because she was a leggy, stylish Parisian woman. But in the end I convinced myself that it was nothing, just a cultural gap between Americans and the French that I will cross with time!

  • Karena says:

    I for one think that flirting can keep you youthful and interesting!! The French have this down, and it is harmless, and makes the other person feel good about themselves as well!

    Xoxo

    Karena
    Art by Karena

    I hope you will come and join my Giveaway from Interieurs!

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