As a single Mom of two teens, this is not the first time I’ve lived with a man. With almost half a century of life and decades of dish with girlfriends on both sides of the Atlantic behind me, I have identified some undeniable signs that there is a Frenchman in my house. He is not classically good looking, my Frenchman, but he has a magnetic attraction that pulls me in. I can’t quite describe it, and I’m not the only one — it’s why the French had to invent the expression je ne sais quoi. There are so many Frenchmen with that certain inexplicable charm that it has almost become a cliché, with quirky looking men like Serge Gainsbourg able to seduce gorgeous, intelligent ladies à la Jane Birkin. Living with a Frenchman is very much like marriage; for better and for worse.
1/ Bathroom clutter. The French are addicted to their lotions and potions. There are currently about a dozen bottles leaving water rings on the shelves, and only two or three of those are mine. When I complain about the disorder and suggest we open one product at a time, Mr French is horrified, “But, I must choose how I smell in the morning. How can you ask me to wear a citrus scent on a day that must be sandalwood, or patchouli?”
2/ A male voice declaring, “You’re not wearing that, are you?” And it is not just because I tend to dress like an awkward American. The last time I enjoyed a dîner des filles, my Parisienne friends ticked off a list of random accessories and styles husbands had banned from their wardrobes — from wedged heels and winter hats to nail polish, earrings and skinny jeans.
3/ Shopping as a couple. If he’s a Frenchman who cares what you wear, chances are he is not against the idea of spending some quality time shopping. The Journal des Femmes reports that 49% of French men consider shopping fun, while marketing firm Shoppercentric reports only 26% of British men have the same perspective.
4/ Seeing a ski trip on our calendar. His kids are too old to join us and mine are not interested, but there seems to be a law requiring families go skiing every year. The fact that I have come down from the Alps in an ambulance is not a deterrent; even my doctor strongly recommends I get back on the slopes.
5/ Our bookshelves are full of comics. The French consider graphic novels the 9th art, right up there with painting, theater and literature. On Saturdays the comics sections of local bookstores are full of people aged 3 to 103 crouching in corners flipping through the pages of their favorite bande dessinée.
6/ I’m constantly blushing. All those stereotypes I developed while watching Pepe Le Pew on Sunday mornings are true. From my butcher to my baker to the man I live with, Frenchmen are incurable flirts, happy to kill time with bouquets of charming complements for every occasion.
7/ We stay Dressed at home, with a capital D, as in proper pants and a button-up shirt. Even on Sundays, lounging around in a time worn t-shirt and a pair of sweats is rather unthinkable. There is a certain discipline to Parisian lifestyle that can make being comfortable, ironically uncomfortable, like the one time you take out the trash in your slippers and have to spend the next three days assuring the concierge, butcher and most of your neighbors that no, you were not ill last Sunday, you were simply too lazy to put on a pair of shoes.
8/ The scent of shoe wax. Sunday is shoe-shine day in Parisian homes. While French men only do 20% of domestic chores, this is one task many claim to enjoy. From the most successful CEO to the harried grocery delivery man, the week starts with bright, shiny shoes they have insisted on polishing themselves. Dirty, scuffed shoes can be professional suicide, as L’Express news magazine warns job hunters, “Don’t forget to shine your shoes and check the heels, employers are watching!”
9/ A constant demand for bread with dinner. It doesn’t matter what’s on the menu, even if it’s pasta, bread is expected to be on the table, or it’s just not a meal.
10/ Mr French is always “looking for me,” which is the direct translation of “il me cherche.” Of course, I am sitting right next to him, so I am clearly not lost, but in a country where philosophy is an important part of the high school curriculum, dinner conversations often turn into formal debates, with each party taking a side and defending it passionately. As an Anglo-Saxon, I tend to avoid heated confrontations with my partner, but in France it is a sign of a strong relationship, so Mr French has to make an extra effort to “find” me. Disparaging organic foods, supporting nuclear energy or Sunday store openings usually has me arguing heatedly before I realize that once again, he is merely trying to provoke me in a Gallic attempt to add a bit of spice to our delicious relationship.