SHOUTS & MURMURS
VIVE LA FRANCE
by Paul Rudnick MARCH 26, 2012
I am Marie-Céline Dundelle, and I do not need a book contract to reveal that French women are superior in all matters. Our secret lies in an attitude toward life, a point of view that I can only call Frenchy. For example, let us discuss weight loss. The American woman obsesses over every calorie and sit-up, while in France we do not even have a word for fat. If a woman is obese, we simply call her American. Whenever my friend Jeanne-Hélène has gained a few pounds, I will say to her, “Jeanne-Hélène, you are hiding at least two Americans under your skirt, and your upper arms are looking, how you say, very Ohio.”
To maintain my figure, I eat only half portions of any food, always arranging it on my plate in the shape of a semicolon. For exercise, at least once a day I approach a total stranger and slap him. And late each afternoon I read a paragraph of any work of acclaimed American literary fiction, which makes me vomit.
As for family life, Americans are far too concerned with a child’s self-esteem and accomplishments. The French woman knows that to build a child’s inner strength it is best either to completely ignore the child or to belittle him. As I was giving birth to my daughter, I refused to put down my copy of French Vogue. When it was over, I turned to my husband and remarked, “I have just had an unusually large bowel movement that will never be as attractive as me.” During my son’s thirteenth-birthday party, I ordered him to remove all his clothing, and I told the assembled guests, “You see? That is why we raised him as a girl.” My wisdom can be traced to the influence of my own mother. When I was five years old, I asked her, “What is love?” She took my small, flowerlike face in her slender hands and replied, “What do I look like, Yoda?”
Although we French are renowned for our sophistication in matters of romance, French men have a reputation for being cads. Americans will point a finger at Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who is indeed a portly, repugnant fellow and a man who has been accused of assaulting women. When asked about Strauss-Kahn’s participation in orgies, his lawyer stated that Strauss-Kahn may have been unaware that the women involved were prostitutes because they were naked. Yet Strauss-Kahn’s wife has stood by him, for a simple reason: because she has married a French man, at least she will never have to say, “My name is Mrs. Newt Gingrich.”
The French woman is known for being effortlessly chic. I have, in fact, offered tutorials on elegance to American women. I will hand an American an Hermès scarf and ask her to tie it somewhere on her body, anywhere but around her neck. A French woman might use the scarf to secure a ponytail, or she’ll knot it loosely around the strap of her Chanel handbag. Sadly, most of my American pupils either use the scarf as a makeshift sling or eat it. I have attempted to counsel many American women against overdressing. I told one woman, “I’m going to turn my back, and I want you to take off three things.” A moment later, when I faced her, the woman had removed her teeth, one of her eyes, and an Ace bandage.
French culture remains unmatched. Our films include rollicking farces, searing documentaries, and quietly explosive investigations of family life. In these films, to avoid vulgarity, nothing happens, and none of the actors’ faces ever move. French filmmaking has recently reached a peak with the almost entirely silent Oscar-winning movie “The Artist.” Truecinéastes say that the ultimate French film will be a still photograph of a dead mime.
The French woman has given so much to the world. Marie Antoinette alone has inspired books, movies, operas, and the hair style and perspective of Donald Trump. Our current First Lady, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, is not only a role model but an ex-model. But the most glorious and eternal symbol of French womanhood is, of course, Joan of Arc, because she was a cigarette. ♦
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