A stranger complimented me and I liked it

My seduction routine somehow lacks in subtlety

My seduction routine somehow lacks in subtlety

I once had a little chat with the cheese seller at the French Market, and he made an interesting comment about the differences in the way French and British women react to compliments.

I haven’t mentioned it before but the goat’s cheese I bought last time was so tough and pungent I would have needed a stronger stomach than I possessed to actually enjoy it, so I was in serious need of a nice gentler alternative to wash away the memory of dead goat from my taste buds. The cheese seller and I somehow got into what I was doing in England; I told him that I was a personal assistant before having my daughter and he said: ‘How is it that all the PAs are such pretty women?’ I thanked him, all the time thinking what a nice man he was (I’m easily pleased like that), and he then responded with: ‘you’re not going to blush now, are you?’ and went on to state that most English women blush and become awkward when he compliments them, whereas French women just take it in their stride.

As this awkwardness between the sexes, especially around compliments, is something I have also observed, we discussed a bit what the reasons for this could be. Here are my personal thoughts; I’m going to try to not just speak in generalities but it is hard with a subject like this, so do chip in in the comments if you think I’m way off-line.

What English women view as sexism, French women often see as their due. French women don’t tend to think that receiving a compliment is objectifying. That’s not to say it is never the case; I have had enough experience of being on the other end of a lecherous comment to recognize the difference, but I don’t assume that every compliment is a come-on. I just don’t get uncomfortable if I get complimented by a man, be he a friend or a stranger. Not that I get lots or anything, but you know what, I have received a heck of a lot more of them in France. It’s possible that French women are better at taking compliments from men because they have more practice. Despite the liberation of women in the 60s and more equality in the workplace, when it comes to relationships between men and women, old-fashioned stereotypes still abound. Women play coy and hard to get and men pursue them. Lucy Wadham in her book the Secret Life of France, puts it much better:

(…)the reason I notice this low-level hostility (between the genders) in Britain is because I do not encounter it in the place where I live. In France, the war between the sexes simply never got off the ground. Somehow social evolution has brought about changes to the status of women without ever giving men the impression that they were losing something in the process. French women also happen to be very attached to the particular privileges that have always gone with being a woman (…). While they are just as eager to secure their social and political rights as their British sisters, they do not wish to give up the experience of being loved for their beauty, sexual power, mystique or indeed any other of the often illusory qualities for which they are admired.

I know that many women find it offensive and demeaning if they get whistled at in the street, that they resent being singled-out for their physical attributes in that way or with compliments. Some dislike it if a man holds the door for them or shows any sign of treating them differently to men. I get that. As for me, I am tired of being offended. Maybe it is part of my upbringing. I have been whistled at in the street since I was a teenager. I am not a model by any stretch of the imagination, as you can see from the gorgeous picture above yet I have been given flowers by strangers, been kissed on the hand, and more in a similar vein.

What I do know is that we all view the world through the lenses of our life experience, and some of it might have been very bad. It is therefore to be expected that many women will be very uncomfortable with a man speaking to them in that way. The French cheese seller laughed when I suggested that some women might think he was coming on to them. He was an older man and a grand-father, he said, why would they think that? Maybe because there are plenty of lecherous older grand-fathers about but in this particular case, that is not the impression he gave me at all. I thought he was just a good-natured cheese seller with a healthy dose of Gallic charm. He said that he will notice whether a woman has nice hands, beautiful eyes or well dressed and he will just say so with no after thought.

The only conclusion I can come to is that when it comes to male/female relationships, the French and the British are very different and whilst neither may necessarily be right or wrong, the why and how are more complicated than saying all French men are chauvinistic and British women are stuck-up. What do you think?

8 thoughts on “A stranger complimented me and I liked it

  1. I wouldn’t put street whistlings and a man holding a door for a woman in the same family . The first one is often rude or coarse, even for the French, the latest can be courteous politeness from a gentleman to a lady . Only Anglo-Saxon females can associate both in the same trip .
    And this shows a big difference, that started in the last century in some parts of the world, but didn’t exist before .
    There are people in France who can compliment a female with no after thought . I’m one of them, and your cheese seller probably too . When a lady has something beautiful, eyes, dress, perfume or whatever I can happen to say it, even with women who don’t inspire me at all for further relationship . Just like when we were kids . A little girl is spontaneously happy when she is complimented, why killing this human innocent pleasure ? The fact you can be in danger in India must not prevent from tripping in India .
    And there’s also another source of that difference : in France, inter-sexes relationship is partly colored by ” complicité” . A light flirting is ubiquitous a bit everywhere, and we play it as a nice game of life, another old human pleasure, a game of life that can sometimes become a game of love in happy circumstances . This little humoristic fkirting can be, when attracted, a painless way of probing the lady’s feelings .
    To put it simply, in France women and men enjoy some fun with each other, from degree one to 100 degrees . No need to deprive ourselves of any level of possible fun, a free fun, when pleasure and cash can be hard to find beside .

    • My thoughts exactly, you are spot on, especially the thing about flirting; it can be a light casual pleasure to be enjoyed as a natural part of life without there being any expectation of anything further. Being scared of the other sex can be so detrimental.

  2. Valerie says:

    I’m sure you DO get complimented a lot – makes sense – you are beautiful!! I don’t know a thing about French or British women, but I do know how I feel when *I* get complimented. As long as I don’t get a creepy vibe from the person (which I hardly ever do), I accept it graciously. Whether it’s about my appearance, the behavior of one of my children, or the taste of one of my recipes, I realize the person is appreciating something, so why be anything but gracious? 🙂

    • Why be anything but gracious? I agree, that’s what I hope to convey too. It’s much easier to do online than in person, though, don’t you think? After years in England, I’ve come to realise how rare it is that strangers talk to each other at all, let alone to compliment each other, so I can be quite taken aback when it happens. Whereas when I step across the Channel, my entire stance significantly relaxes when it comes to casual interactions and I am much more likely to engage in light banter/flirting.

      • If I saw your photo with no indication I would think you’re French . For sure you were a little girl, then a teen-ager in France, so you’ve learnt the basics everyone of us carries all life long regarding inter sexes interactions .
        But I feel the need to add a thing concerning French music . I’ve no idea which kind of people you deal with, but first : me and the people I’ve been with all my life always played and loved American and English bands, at home or in parties . Only the average “blaireaux” listened to French “variétés” by that time . And two : the level of French bands has drastically changed in the last 30 years . I mean the kind of bands people like us listen to . Again, I wonder whom you go around with . Sure a wedding is the very occasion for hearing popular heavy dumnesses . But, sh.. ! Everywhere I go, people’s homes, bars, festivals or concerts, I hear French music that a music lover can appreciate nowadays ..

      • Valerie says:

        Compliments on physical appearance aren’t very common here, but people do tend to talk a lot about children and other things that aren’t quite as personal as appearance.
        That’s sad that you have found strangers rarely talk to each other there. :/ Smartphones certainly don’t help, do they? People talk a good amount here but screens are slowly changing that, unfortunately.
        I find it’s a little easier to give/receive compliments online because I don’t have to worry about my facial expression (lol), but I don’t hesitate IRL either. 😉

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