How to be French
They're better looking, better at cooking and they're even better at football. To celebrate Bastille Day, Katie Byrne spoke to some natives to find out how you can get that 'je ne sais quoi' in your life
According to received wisdom, French people work just 35 hours a week, have a liberal attitude towards extramarital sex and somehow don't get fat, depite eating croissants for breakfast and cheeseboards for dessert.
Of course, there are as many myths about French society as there are cultural quirks. To separate fact from fiction, and in honour of Bastille Day, we rounded up a group of French people living in Ireland, and asked them how non-natives can capture some of their famous joie de vivre.
THEIR LIVING SPACES ARE ECLECTIC
Interior designer Laurent Billiet of La Maison Chic in Galway says French customers tend to go for more eclectic interior design - "whether it is mixing styles like Moroccan hand-dyed fabrics with a classic Louis XVI chest of drawers, or even mixing different periods like classic wood panelling with 1960s wallpapers before adding plush velvet sofas to the mix".
"Embroidered or silk or faux silk curtain fabrics are much more popular in Ireland, whereas French favour natural fabrics like wools, heavy cottons or linens," continues Billiet. "Overall, the French like quite a lot of art pieces or accessories whether inherited or acquired, compared to Ireland where most homeowners tend to be more minimalist with the mantelpiece or shelves, where you would usually only find two candle-holders and family photo frames."
COMFORT AND EASE GUIDES THEIR FASHION CHOICES
"I was told that my approach to fashion and style is 'very French', so maybe it does reflect a certain 'Frenchness'," says award-winning, ethical fashion designer Sophie Rieu of Unicorn Design. Rieu, who has been living in Ireland since her teens, says her style watchwords are "ease" and "respect".
"The overall ease and flow of a look is what makes it stylish," she continues. "That means the person is comfortable and is almost at one with her/his outfit. It is like a second skin and it shines an understated light but it glows nevertheless because of the rapport between the wearer and the clothes and how they make her/him feel. That has to do with the quality of the fabrics, their natural fall on the body and the way they respect the body."
LESS IS MORE… MORE OR LESS
Delphine Grandjouan, a fashion designer best known for her bridal wear, has been living in Ireland since 1993.
She says "less is more" is the guiding ethos when it comes to the French sense of style.
However, while she appreciates "a certain casual natural chic", she is quick to add that fashion shouldn't be limiting. "I hate the idea of dressing to fit in," she says.
"For this reason, I love the truly wild and mad approach of the English, as well as the spontaneous and intuitive way Irish women love their fashion… that is the key: the enjoyment of fashion."
EATING IS A COLLECTIVE EXPERIENCE
Antrim-born food writer Trish Deseine, who spent 25 years in Paris, says Bastille Day is a collective affair in the little Languedoc village that she calls her home from home. "You share wine from the local co-op, charcuterie, roast lamb, cheese and fruit tarts around communal tables and bathe in nostalgia as villagers of all ages swirl around the dance floor to Piaf, Claude François and Julien Clerc… All you have to do to fit in is join in. Eat, drink, dance. La vie est belle."
Rachid Zaouia, executive pastry chef at Fota Island Resort, Cork, agrees that the French like to savour their food in good company. "You have to sit down and appreciate your food and take your time. If I rushed through my dinner in France, my parents would kick my ass." As for mobile phones at the dinner table? "A big no-no…"
trishdeseine.com / fotaisland.ie
THEY EAT ONE MEAL LIKE A KING AND THE NEXT LIKE A PAUPER
Thanks to a certain book, French women are renowned for not getting fat, despite eating pastries for breakfast and pain de campagne for lunch. Zaouia says he remembers his parents visiting the bakery for warm, freshly-baked croissants every morning during his childhood. However, he notes that French portion sizes tend to be smaller, while a big meal is often followed by a smaller one.
"We might have a light salad for lunch and then a more consistent dinner," he explains. The summer weather also plays a part in weight management. "When you have good weather, you definitely eat less and lighter," he adds.
AND THEY DON'T DO GUILT
The French have less of a guilt complex around rich and sweet foods, says Michael Pollan in his book 'In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto'.
Pollan touches on the work of psychologist Paul Rozin, who showed the words "chocolate cake" to a group of Americans and a group of French and recorded their word associations. The top word association of the Americans was "guilt". Conversely, the top word association of the French was 'celebration'.
WINE IS AN ACCOMPANIMENT TO FOOD
Nick Faujours, sommelier at La Fougère at Knockranny House Hotel, Westport, says Irish people tend to be more experimental when it comes to trying wines from different countries. Julie Dupouy, sommelier at The Greenhouse Restaurant, Dublin and owner at Down2Wine, agrees.
"Most French people tend to drink French wines and rarely other European wines," she says. "And they generally drink wines from the region they grew up in."
Another major difference between Irish and French wine drinking is serving sizes. Faujours says French wine glasses tend to be smaller, while the Burgundy-style goblets that are common in Irish restaurants are rarely used in France. "Growing up in France, the same bottle of wine could last for three days," he says. "Wine is something to have with food in France - it would be unusual to have a glass of wine while watching TV. Wine is part of food culture while beer is more a social drink."
"French people drink slowly and drink while eating their dish, while Irish people tend to drink before and after each course but not while eating," adds Dupouy, who was recently named the third Best Sommelier in the World, representing the Irish Guild of Sommeliers.
knockrannyhousehotel.ie / down2wine.ie
HAIR IS ARTFULLY UNDONE
French women have "a more understated attitude to their hair", says Solenn Guillerm, an art director at Dublin hair salon, Reds. "We love the natural look, the 'undone' look; the look that suggests a casual thoughtlessness - that we couldn't be bothered to go to any trouble to make ourselves look beautiful.
"There's no fussiness or stiffness or artificiality about it. And our secret? A good haircut. It doesn't matter what your hair quality is like (a good shampoo, conditioner and weekly treatment can put that right) - it's the quality of the cut that makes the difference. If the cut is good and proportionate to your face, the hair will hang and fall correctly. After washing it, all you need do is let it dry naturally, using a tong or wand with some sections, and then shake your hair with some spray. Et voilà!"
BEAUTY IS MORE THAN SKIN DEEP
Virginie Vuillaume of the V Claire beauty salon in Harold's Cross, Dublin, says there is a "major difference" between the French and Irish approach to beauty. "Beauty in Ireland is very American," she says. "It's more about what you show straight on - the nails, the eyelashes, the tan... The French approach is more subtle. They think, 'What can I do to feel good within myself?'"
The beauty therapist and distributor, who opened her salon in 1996, prefers a traditional approach to beauty. "I just can't understand the big eyebrows and big make-up that is popular among 15-25 year olds in Ireland. You call that beauty? They look like transvestites.
"None of our clients have had Botox. You can have all the Botox in the world, but if you're not happy in yourself, the Botox will never be enough. Let's face it, as you get older, it's only going one way: down. So you have to face the music. Battling with it every day is emotionally and physically tiring. The fear comes in if you are unsettled. And when you are fearful, you lose confidence."