10 ways to bring France into your life

Since my husband and I’ve decided to skip a year before returning to France—which has nothing to do with the fear of getting blown up and everything to do with paying down our mortgage—I’ve been more desperate than usual to get my France Fix. As a result I’ve spent a good deal of time researching how to feel like you’re in France when you’re not, and and I’m happy to present to you my ten foolproof ways of feeling like you’re in France until the happy day when you can actually be there.

26668996Eat French. This might be my favorite. Eating comme les françaises is more than just marcarons and brioche (as lovely as they both are.) Eating French is a way of eating. The French have a ritualistic attitude toward eating. They believe that taking the time to set a pretty table and stylishly presenting the food is nearly as important as the food itself.

Dress French. Simple, elegant, never trendy, always vogue. I remember my mother telling me when I was young that even shop girlsScreen Shot 2016-02-20 at 12.53.45 PM in Paris dressed beautifully because they would save their money to buy one single thing of value—like a gorgeous belt or an Hermés scarf—and that one thing would boost the look of any outfit they wore with it. While this link to une femme d’un certain âge  is a favorite French fashion site for French women “of a certain age,” I do believe that true French style is timeless and much of what the blogger purports would work for any age.

Read French. I don’t mean the language here. I mean English language magazines and newsletters about France. Or come to that, books that “take” you there. Examples would be any of the Maggie Newberry Mysteries of course, but also A Paris Apartment, or David Lebovitz’s The Sweet Life in Paris. Trust me, you’ll feel like you were just there!

Talk French. Join a language club, preferably in your town (as opposed to online) so you can fumble your way through conversations in preparation for the happy day when you do it for real in France. There’s nothing that says someday I’ll go back like falling asleep to the sounds of French phrases floating through your head.

Act FrScreen Shot 2016-02-20 at 12.48.58 PMench. Check out this video since it pretty much tells it all.

Walk French. A recent magazine article I read compared two women’s lifestyles—one a Parisian and one an American—for one month. The American worked out like a maniac, depended on processed and fast food and semi-starved herself to stay slim. The French woman kept her weight down by exercising organically (as it happened naturally in her day) and by preparing three meals a day and not snacking. So for example, instead of beginning her day on the elliptical like the American did, the Parisian walked twenty blocks to her office. She waved hello to the people along the way, stopped and picked up a baguette to add to her lunch and enjoyed the weather no matter what it was. Lo and behold the article revealed that both the American gym-rat and the Parisian ended up at the same weight. But the American was grumpy and stressed out while the Parisian tended to have a more upbeat outlook on life.

Kiss French. I’m not sure this works here but I couldn’t resist.

Hear French I once got hooked on Patrick Bruel during a summer I spent hanging out at UCLA many years ago. For that whole summer, I felt an unmistakable aura of Frenchness because of the music I was listening to. Whether it’s music or audio tapes and podcasts—or listening to the news in French—even if you don’t understand what they’re saying, it will make you feel like you’re there. (Come to think of it, that’s usually how I feel when I’m there—not understanding a word of what’s being spoken around me. Hmmmm. Best get back to those French language tapes.)

61WHnlZzQHLSee French Watch a movie—either in French with English subtitles or Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. Either one will do the trick in ninety minutes or less.

Smell French Let’s face it: France, as a country, smells amazing. Close your eyes and imagine walking by the front door of any boulangerie in Paris (and they’re on practically every street corner). Does anything smell better than pastries? Plus, Paris is the only city I’ve been to where I do a double take with the women I pass on the sidewalk because no self-respecting Frenchwoman goes outside without wearing perfume.

Lavender! Buy it by the bags and put it everywhere! Pillows, lingerie drawers, your purse...

Lavender! Buy it by the bags and put it everywhere! Pillows, lingerie drawers, your purse…

The cafés smell of fresh brewed coffee, and all of Provence is redolent with the scent of lavender. To pull it off here in the States, just bury your nose in a lavender sachet (or grow your own in a pot!) before squirting on a blast of Chanel No. 5. You’ll enjoy the feeling of being in France all day long.

I hope these ten things made you feel a little more like you were in France but if you want to ramp it up a notch you can move on to ordering chocolates from Patrick Roger, overnighting stationery from Gilbert Jeune, or just going ahead and putting down the deposit on that Aix or Nice or Paris apartment rental for next year. What the heck. You know you’re going to do it eventually.

So did it help? Did I move you one step closer to feeling like you were in France? Do I need to do ten more steps? Because I think I can manage that…

In case you didn’t get enough, check out my French Store page for more ideas to make you feel like you’re in France!

A calorie is a calorie—but thankfully not in Paris

Food is everywhere in Paris. Even here.

Food is everywhere in Paris. Even here.

It’s true Paris is a moveable feast and I’m living testimony to that since I’ve moved it right into my 1950s American suburban house and parked it on the chair beside me as I type. It clearly takes some time to flush the sweet smells and sights of Paris from your brain—or at least it does for me. The photos from our Christmas trip save my screen and take me back there in a flash and to make matters worse, I’m finishing up my latest novel which takes place in Paris so trying to come up for air is just not going to be possible for awhile.

Having said that, I wanted to talk about an amazing feature of travel to Paris that I’ve always been thrilled exists and that is the fact that you can go there—eat everything they have available to eat in the entire city—and not gain a pound.

A whole shop full of chocolate!

A whole shop full of chocolate! This store was nearly a block long. It was FULL of people, too!

Now I’m not so bad that I plan my trip  around French food shops and bakeries and the like although I did ditch my son and husband one afternoon as they headed toward the Arc de Triomphe (huh, been there, photographed that) to race over to Fauchon’s for a mind-swirling self-tour of the cakes and canapés and hams and macarons and buche de noels and oh! did I mention the hand made chocolates? They were laid out in row after dizzying row in different shades and shapes and such subtle flavors and spices—each with the promise to totally change your life with just one bite. I watched the Fauchon ladies—like angels bestowing gifts—plucking each delectable morsel one by one from its line of army chocolate brothers and placing them in big white tissue-lined boxes as patrons selected “this one and oh! that one and maybe two of those!”

I ate these every single day I was in Paris.

I ate macarons every single day I was in Paris. I think I ate this tart, too, now that I think about it.

I know it comes as no surprise to anyone that Paris is about food (well, really all of France.) But knowing it and seeing it are so different. The care and respect and appreciation that the French treat their food makes anyone want to slow down and savor and relish their dinner. We are such different animals, the French and the Americans. Never in a million years could they have invented the fast food restaurant. And while it’s true they do have fast food  in France, I’m convinced mostly tourists go there when they’re too worn out from choosing and discerning, marveling and being transported to culinary nirvana. (Hey, like anything else, it’s tiring day in and day out.)

I can't remember if this was breakfast or just a midmorning snack...

I can’t remember if this was breakfast or just a midmorning snack…

It’s not really a French paradox along the lines of eating all the butter and foie gras you want and not succumbing to heart disease at the rates Americans do, but it is still a delightful state of things that you can eat yourself into oblivion in Paris and not gain weight because the city is such a wonderful walking city. I spent one day the week after Christmas shopping on the rue de Rivoli, Les Halles, the Galleries Lafayette all by myself. I noted to my son and husband later at dinner that, as many times as I’ve been to Paris in my life, this  was the first day I was alone without my parents, a friend or my husband. I found the experience one of the most intensely perfect of my life. I also astounded myself by checking my pedometer when I got back to the apartment and realized I had walked over fifteen miles that day (and I wasn’t done. Our evening restaurant was deep in the Latin Quarter.) As I walked, I couldn’t help but compare my exertion to the ten thousand steps I try to clock in on my daily round back in Atlanta.

My birthday meal. Chateau briand with pommes frites.

My birthday meal. Chateau briand with pommes frites.

While not exactly loathsome, I can’t say I look forward to my walk as the high point of my day. 10,000 steps is right at five miles. I couldn’t help but think how easy it would be to walk five miles a day if you were striding down the Quai de St-Michel under the shadow of Notre Dame Cathedral.

In any case, I am back to the real world of trying to artificially create a calorie burn while I labor to concoct food that’s delightful to eat. It’s all so much easier in Paris. Eating and walking are organic to how one lives there. And when you try it on for size for a bit (oh! the macarons!) and find that you do not pay a price for the pleasure later, well, it’s enough to make you realize what Hemingway really meant by a movable feast.

  By the by, if you struggle to keep yourself slim while forcing yourself to eat “diet” food, you might find my book The French Women’s Diet  helpful. I wrote it when I came to the point where I refused to give up bread or chocolate, when I figured I was old enough to know the favorite foods of mine that I wasn’t going to eschew any longer, and when I was determined  to stay a size six in the process—all by eating like the French only doing it here in the States. If you get the book and try it, I’d love to hear from you!