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?


A Year In The Life of Little Girl

I cannot believe that yesterday was Little Girl’s first birthday. Everybody tells you that years fly by when you have kids and they are not wrong!

The baby months have been incredibly precious and I have loved almost every minute of it. This, watching a baby turn into a little person in a matter of months, has at times felt like a momentous scientific experiment in which I was a mere spectator. The truth is, there is a part of me that let out a huge sigh of relief when I realised that she was going to learn new things and grow up without needing as much direction from me as I first thought. As a parent, you either really don’t have a clue what you’re doing, or have vague ideas of what you would like to do with your child, and I personally found it reassuring to know that she would learn to crawl, walk, talk, etc with only a bit of encouragement from me; that most babies instinctively learn these things.

And so here we are. I give you 12 months of Little Girl:

What a difference 12 months make!

To celebrate her birthday, we decided to have a picnic in the garden and invite friends and family rather than focus it on the children. So Saturday was as much about us having survived the first year as it was about her turning a milestone, and it was a relaxed (but heaving) affair. I figured that we would have plenty more opportunities for kids’ parties in the future and that she wouldn’t remember any of it anyway… I know, I’m a terrible parent!

In Britain, children’s parties are pretty full on: halls are hired, clowns and bouncy castles are bought in and party bags are given to each child; these bags tend to contain a piece of cake and a present. And here I was thinking the cake was going to be the highlight! Whilst I want my daughter to enjoy her parties, I feel intimidated by the cost and the work-intensive quality of English parties and I am reluctant to bow down to pressure to conform. I can always do it differently and blame it on being French! I do recall it being more easy-going in France, although it was such a long time ago it may well have changed since then. I went to a number of parties where the afternoon consisted of cake, face painting and playing hide-and-seek whilst the parents sat in the garden enjoying a cold glass of wine, and that sounds more like my kind of party if I’m honest!

In any case, it was a fantastic day. For one thing, it was the first day of good weather since May so we could sit in the garden, which was just as well because I had done a general invite on Facebook and loads of people came! Kids played in the garden and were given a small bag of Haribo sweets. We ate jacket potatoes with lots of fillings and more cake than is healthy. We had briefly toyed with the idea of a barbecue, but had the weather been bad, it would have been a disaster.

Then there was the cake. My plan was to make a chocolate cake filled with cherry jam and buttercream. This is the first attempt:

Cake Fail

On the list of cooking failures, this one had: a foolish attempt to double the recipe, a tin with no bottom and cheap chocolate. The result was a horrible goo swimming in butter and splattered at the bottom of the oven.

The second attempt used this amazing chocolate cake recipe and the buttercream from this one, swapping the vanilla essence with light cherry juice. At 11pm, the cake was finally cooked and the end result on the day was pretty good considering my lack of skills in the icing department.

Chocolate Birthday Cake
Need to practice handwriting a bit more
girl and chocolate cake
More cake! Now!



And so it was that Little Girl was one year old.

Listography – 5 Reasons I Know I’m…

Today’s Listography is so full of possibilities, I want it to be a recurring one. Kate Takes 5 went with 5 Reasons I Know I’m… a Mother in celebration of Mother’s Day, but you can add anything you want. So today, I give you 5 Reasons I Know I’m French living in the UK.

French tricolour flag, the "Tricolore"
Image via Wikipedia
  1. I don’t stop wearing long sleeves and jumpers until it’s over 20 degrees Celsius MINIMUM. Just because the sun is out doesn’t mean it’s warm. Why Brits suddenly behave like it’s August in the South of France and wear short sleeves and shorts in the middle of February is beyond me.
  2. Whilst we are in the subject of the weather, summer starts in June, not April. Next time I hear someone say summer has started and is basing it on the fact that we’ve had a couple of sunny days and there’s a little warmth in the air, I’m going to get a bit stabby. Global warming might be messing things up a bit but there is such a thing as seasons. If you are confused as to what a season is, here’s the definition.
  3. I rant in my head every time I hit the vegetable aisle of the supermarket because of the individually wrapped avocados, potatoes in plastic bags, pre-cut onions (why, WHY?) and anaemic orange-coloured tomatoes that don’t smell of anything. It’s unnatural, is all.
  4. I spend an inordinate amount of my time thinking about cheese.
  5. After nearly 14 years in the UK, I still forget which side of the road to look at before crossing so now I look everywhere. After 14 years, I have to do the same in France. Yes I am that confused.