How To Be Parisian
How To Fair L'Amore
The French – stereotypically, at least – approach love as a form of warfare, but sensual warfare. “C’est toujours la tendre guerre,” as Jacques Brel (actually Belgian) once sang. It is a game of intricate enchantment and deception, involving moves and counter-moves, insurgencies and counter-insurgencies, guerrilla campaigns and collateral damage. And, famously, extra-marital affairs. This is the nation that invented the cinq à sept, where Caroline Maigret, author of How To Be Parisian, advises women to keep their lovers on their toes by having an affair with their own husbands.
It can be infuriating, bewildering even, especially if you’re used to an easy platonic interplay between the sexes and “Bof!” is the all-purpose response to discovered intrigue. However, it can also be thrilling, a bit like being part of Les Liaisons Dangereuses. And it’s also quite egalitarian. No nation has produced so many famous lovers who were so prodigiously ugly: Cyrano de Bergerac, Messrs Gainsbourg, Jean-Paul Sartre, Gérard Depardieu, erm, Michel Houellebecq. It suggests that la seductionfor the French is as much a matter of the mind as it is of the body and heart.
Don’t say: “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir?” (Too brusque.)
Do say: “On n’est heureux que par l’amour,” to quote Les Liaisons Dangereuses.
How To Dejeuner
Over the course of our own empirical studies, each of us might conclude that Italian, or Japanese, or Korean food is the best. A Frenchman would not need to conduct an empirical study because French cuisine is the proof of its own superiority. If there is debate, it is more to do with the relative merits of Époisses and Vacherin cheeses, or the best boulangerie in Paris, or the degree to which the andouillette sausage (tripe-stuffed intestine) should pong of its origins. French cuisine has enough richness and variety to be a world in, and of, itself.
The thing to admire in all this is how deeply la bouffe is embedded in the national consciousness. The Parisian lunchtime remains an institution. A day in the office finds room for a two-hour lunch, deals are signed over a bottle of St Émilion and 35 hours is quite enough for a working week. Dare we point out that French national productivity is much higher than British or American?
Don’t say: “I’ll just eat at my desk, thanks.”
Do say: “Ami, remplis mon verre.” (“Fill us up, mate.”)
How To Do Les Vacances
The main thing we can learn from the French attitude to vacationing is that they can’t get enough of it. You can go on holiday on Monday mornings, Wednesday afternoons, lunchtimes even. Sous les pavés, la plage (underneath the pavement is the beach) ran the famous slogan of May 1968. Where there are two public holidays in a row it is de rigueur to faire le pont, in other words, “make the bridge” and take off all days in between. And you must certainly shut up shop for the whole of August, depriving all the tourists of the choicest restaurants and emporia.
Which is not to say that the French are an idle people – non. A holiday may be an excuse to cycle up Mont Ventoux in Lycra. It may be time to teach your two-year-old how to ski in Chamonix, so that foreign pretenders will always feel a little inadequate as they whizz past them. It may be time to explore Corsica, or kayak through the Dordogne, or work your way around each vineyard in the Côte de Nuits. Or simply to contemplate the clear blue skies of Provence, rosé in hand. Reflection is hard work.
Don’t say: “Oh, I’m just doing mini-breaks this year.”
Do say: “See you in September.”
How To Exhibit Panache
Panache is a display of impudent, unanswerable brilliance; va-va-voom in modern parlance. As Edmond Rostand’s hero Cyrano de Bergerac exclaims, “There is something still that will always be mine, and when I go to God’s presence, there I will doff it and sweep the heavenly pavement with a gesture: something I’ll take unstained out of this world... my panache.” Panache is more peacocking than mere flair. De Bergerac was a brilliant swordsman with mad poetry skills, but his panache was embodied in his enormous nose. The Juventus and Les Bleus midfielder Paul Pogba does something similar with his continually evolving cockatoo of hair. He dignifies it by being such a classy footballer.
Panache also has the quality of enigma. It is Rimbaud changing the face of French poetry as a schoolboy, scandalising Paris with his gay affair with fellow poet Paul Verlaine, before giving it all up at 21 to become a gun-runner in Abyssinia. It is Belmondo’s defiant last stand in À Bout De Souffle. It is Zinedine Zidane’s headbutt in the 2006 World Cup final, praised by the philosopher Jean-Philippe Toussaint (also Belgian) as “a decisive, brutal, prosaic, novelistic act... where beauty and blackness, violence and passion, come into contact”.
Don’t say: “I’m terribly sorry, would you mind, there’s a good fellow, sorry sorry, thanks, sorry.”
Do say: “En garde!”
How To Fair La Fete
There was a time when the world laughed at the French for their terrible pop music and their French-exchange dance moves, Johnny Hallyday and a singing baby. How we laughed! They may have had visionary painters and smouldering philosophers, but rock’n’roll was the domain of les anglo-saxons.
Pas encore. From Daft Punk to Phoenix, Justice to Sébastien Tellier, French musicians have been responsible for some of the choicest party soundtracks of the past decade. One of the world’s most highly decorated DJs – David Guetta, naturellement – is French, while Mosey (aka Mr Pierre Sarkozy) has proved that even ex-presidents’ sons can send Ibiza wild. Meanwhile, we’ve revisited French pop history and come to a disquieting conclusion: “Bonnie And Clyde” by Gainsbourg and Ms Brigitte Bardot is objectively the coolest sound anyone has ever made.
The key to French party-cool, it turns out, is to embrace a certain naffness. Don’t try to be too cool for school. Think the “One More Time” video. Think Guetta’s lounge at Ibiza’s airport. Think French-exchange dance moves.
Don’t say: “I think I’ll sit this one out. ”
Do say: “J’ai la pêche!” (I have the peach; ie, I am super-excited right now.)