“American women don’t know many things about themselves. They try to be right. You have to be yourself. But you have to know who you are.” Sonia Rykiel
No, I didn’t say that. It’s the famous French designer, Sonia.
At Barbara DeMarco Barrett’s “Pen on Fire Speaker Series,” I had the pleasure of listening to American author, Debra Ollivier, talk about her new book, What French Women Know. Ollivier, an American, married a French man and lived in the 19th arrondissement in Paris long enough to give her an amazing perspective on the differences between both cultures, and how women view love, sex and other matters of the heart and mind.
I have taken some snippets out of Ollivier’s book, What French Women Know, to show how well she describes the differences between American and French women. “When we American women aren’t busy trying to change ourselves, we’re often busy trying to change our men.” She mentions an American women’s magazine titled, “Can You Fix Him?” which drives her point across. This is not how French women think. They use emotional intelligence, in more subtle ways.
In another interesting example Ollivier quotes her French friend, Cecile. “Love is not a balance sheet….I did this for you; now you do that…love and sex don’t work that way… Living happily with men is about finding a way to achieve reciprocity and complementarity, not perfect 50-50 egalitarianism.”
One of the reasons American women may not be as happy as French women is that Americans strive for perfection. “French women generally don’t strive for exalted standards of happiness, neither do they strive for exalted standards of moral perfection,” Ollivier writes. Because most French women know who they are, “they often don’t give a damn what we think of them.” Ollivier says, “they don’t grow up with the cultural mandate to be liked.”
From having spent many years in France, I completely agree with this statement. I find myself translating phrases such as, “You did such a great job,” “I love your hair,” the way I would speak to friends in the U.S., into French, and it often comes across as completely phony. Often there’s an awkward silence, and I remember, this is not how French women speak to one another. I have to try to become the “French” woman in France, and the “American” woman in the U.S.
I found the examples Ollivier gives in her book fascinating. I’m curious what comments or questions you have regarding the differences between women of different cultures.