Flickr, Damien []Damien Roue

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.

Flickr, GeomangioFabiana

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.

Flickr, serrechevalierSerre-Chevalier

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.


Flickr, Vassilis SpiliotopoulosGueorgui (top left); Bart Heird (top right); Vassilis Spiliotopoulos

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!”

Baguettes Erica BermanErica Berman

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.

Flickr, nelson.oliveiraNelson Oliveira

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Written by Sylvia Sabes for the HiP Paris Blog. Looking for a fabulous vacation rental in Paris, London, Provence, or Tuscany? Check out Haven in Paris.


Sylvia Sabes

Sylvia tells stories through images and words. She has worked as a Creative Director for international ad campaigns like Cartier and LOreal, and as a National Award winning Polaroid photographer. She writes and shoots all things Paris and beyond… She lives in Paris and the French Basque Region.


  1. While some of these traits can be charming, I’m happy to be living in Paris with an Italian man! 😉

  2. My Frenchman never comes down for breakfast without taking a shower and being fully dressed. He loves his bread so much he is, in fact, at this very moment baking some. He adores arguing . . . and he never tells who he voted for. That is a huge ‘non non’ for the French apparently! – Erica

  3. I spent a week in Paris with the Moroccan Millionaire, who was not French but who had gone to college in Paris and had gotten his PhD there as well.

    He polished his shoes every day:

  4. Hi Lynn,
    And merci! Its a bit daunting to talk about cultural differences; trying to separate the clichés from personal experiences, and not confusing them with local customs. Here’s hoping tomorrow’s grasse matinée includes breakfast in bed!

  5. Hi Maria,
    My Mr French would be shocked to hear that. He showers every day, some times twice. I think you got very unlucky, I haven’t run into that issue here since the 80’s, when there was a simultaneous metro strike and a heat wave!

  6. Hi Diane, Point well taken, and a great idea for another piece; when Parisans forget they’re not the center of the world!
    Cheers. S

  7. Perfectly analysed and described Sylvia. And I can say that this applies in “non-traditional” French-American marriages too!

  8. Haha, what a great article! I definitely recognize some of these in my own French husband, namely nos. 4 (but then again, we live in the Alps so not going skiing every single year would feel like a crime and an affront to the bounties of French geography), 5, 7 and 9 (yes, what is up with having bread with pasta and potatoes!! I find this so strange as well….but also so very French!).

  9. J’ai eu un petit ami français, il aimait lire des bandes dessinées, j’ai pensé qu’il était enfant. ja! et bon, c’ est la vie!!

    Suis Cecilia, je suis Argentine.

  10. While some of these things are certainly true, I’m not sure if these will apply to men outside of Paris. When I dated a Breton, there were certainly lots of days when we didn’t get out of our t-shirts and sweat pants the entire day!

  11. I was in Paris last June and French men over all are beautifully dressed, with perfect scruffy hair and amazing shoes. Fabulous suits, well tailored, but I will never understand why 90% of them when I got near them have horrible under arm odor. Is there a cultural thing, not to wear deodorant or aniipersperant….on both flights to and from Paris I sat next to a Frenchman and it was undeniably offensive.

  12. Nailed it! The only difference in our home is that Sundays are for grasse matinée, and for shoe-shining and ironing (for him!). And sweats except when I’m doing last minute shopping for the week…

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