Monday, February 14, 2011

Charm School

In a post this past fall, I mentioned that I was learning to charm and be charmed here in France. I suppose that seems like an odd thing to say, but the fact is, charm is a revered art form in French culture. I’m not sure if they look at is an art, but I have come to think of it that way.

The French have a certain something, I don’t know what it is, that is completely different from what I’m accustomed to. They are not afraid to turn on the charm. Not afraid to be laughed at by their peers because they said something slightly flowery and over the top. Not afraid to offend women by complimenting them or looking at them with admiration. Mostly because the women seem to expect it and practice the same captivating techniques on men. It’s normal and happens everywhere, including the workplace.

Being charming is not the same thing as being a drageur or womanizer/skirt chaser/player. France has its share of schmucks as much as the next country. But this je ne sais quoi seems to be just a part of this world that I’m living in.  I’m not even sure how to explain it so I’ll give you some examples.

Last year a friend had a small party for me on my birthday. I wore a dress and my red high heels because I had NO crown to wear on this momentous occasion. I was sitting on a stool having a conversation with my friend Pierre when he began to shake his head and finally said, “C’est dommage”.

I asked him, "What is too bad?"

He said, “tu es éduqué à mort”. You are educated to death.

Of course, I didn’t know what the he was talking about and he explained that each time I laughed, I unconsciously pulled my skirt down over my knees.  And he thought that was just such an awful shame.

He wasn’t chatting me up.... or beginning one of THOSE uncomfortable conversations. He was just doing what Frenchmen do. No harm intended and certainly none taken.

Last fall I was at the market in Marseille with my sister. We hadn’t had sugar in at least an hour and we stopped by the table of a bisquit  (a sort of French cookie) vendor. I asked him a few questions about a certain treat that caught our eye and after his explanation we bought a couple.

As he was putting our caloric indulgence in a little bag, he said to me (all the following conversations were in French which is, of course, part of the charm), “You speak French very well and your accent is charming.”  Well we all know this isn’t true and I told him so, but he was not to be deterred.

He said,  “If you will permit me, I must tell you that you have the most beautiful eyes. Absolutely beautiful”.

I smiled (most likely batted my eyelashes) and thanked him for saying such a nice thing.

He said, “it may be nice but it’s also true”.

He then picked up two bisquits and put them in our bag. He said, “a gift from me. Bisquits made from the flower of the oranges, especially for the flowers (meaning us). Wow! I can’t say that I’ve ever been likened to a flower!

This past summer I got on the bus one day to be greeted by a smiling driver. I tried to run my ticket through the machine, but it wouldn’t take it. I smoothed it out and tried again. Finally the bus driver said, “slowly. Go very slowly. The machine is very romantic”. And then he beamed at me again.

I was walking home from the University recently and reading a brochure about a belly dancing class I wanted to take. I passed a table full of men gathered around an outdoor table and one of them said something to me. I looked up, apologized for not understanding (after all, I was walking, reading and most likely chewing gum…ALL at the same time!), told him I speak only a little French and if he talked VERY slowly, I MIGHT be able to understand. He repeated himself, slowly, and said, “if you continue to walk while you read you might just fall…. into my arms …and I would like that very much. When I laughed and smiled and told him that was a nice compliment, he asked if I might join him and his friends for champagne.  And when I (charmingly) turned him down, he smiled broadly and told me it was his loss and I was très charmant.

This must be something French, like understanding wine. Whatever it is, each time it happens, it just makes me feel good. Charm for charm’s sake is a good thing. And I’m practicing with all my might.

In October I was at the office of Securité Sociale, trying to figure out how I might be able to get health insurance now that I’m a student (after all, doesn’t college life involve at least one or two beer drinking accidents? I need to be prepared!).  When I was finished and trying to put my 17 different documents that I had needed back in some sort of order, I was chatting with an older gentleman who was also waiting. At the end of the conversation, he told me I was ravissante. I smiled broadly and said thank you and then came home and looked up what he had said because I had no idea (someday this problem is going to get me in a heap of trouble).  Now, he could have possibly said I’m a kidnapper…but he’s French…and I’m betting that he was telling me I was charming/ delightful or maybe even possibly ravishing…. or something like that. And that sure as hell made the trip to a French government office a little easier to take.

I wish everyone a Joyeuse St. Valentin. Did anything charming happen to you today?


The silhouette and more cool clip art from The Graphics Fairy


  1. D: Your post is absolutely charming, as, I am thoroughly convinced, are you. A happy Valentines' Day to you.

  2. Love your examples of charming French men.
    My friend Michelle still makes fun of me because I didn't recognize French men flirting with me, like the doorman at the tea shop who, when I asked the hours, said, "For you, we are open always."
    I said, "Oh, Michelle, no problem. They're open all the time."

  3. Hold on a second! You seemed to skip past the details of the belly dancing classes....

  4. You may not ever been likened to a flower, but I recall that you were likened to a potato chip once near the walking bridge by RCU.

  5. Ha! I can just hear all the women reading this post aloud to their husbands tonight after receiving the time-worn dozen red roses with the card reading "Will you be my Valentine?" yet again for the umpteenth time, and asking,"Why can't you ever say things like that to me?!"

    You are one lucky lady, Delana, and deserving of every charming thought and deed that comes your way.

    I'm moving to France tout de suite! ♥

  6. Aww, what a delightful post. I actually am moving to France next month. Although I am here most of the time already. I have found the charm here to be well charming. But wait, theres more. I don't know about the Rivera but here around Paris, the men only reeked charm when you are with a man and reserve active charm for when your alone. Respect perhaps?
    Although my husband is extremely romantic, above and beyond the average American man, the French man would give him a run for his money.
    I loved your post Delana, thanks

  7. Too charming this post, and clearly you are too! That lovely French charm is not, after all, indiscriminately applied...

    I am assured of weekly entertainment on the charm front: the traiteur at one of the local farmer's markets I go to, is cute, unfailingly witty and yes, so very charming, but also with the little old ladies pulling their shopping carts. Resultat? Always a queue. Course, his food's good too.

  8. Delana,
    I love, love, love this. And I happen to know that you are the reason for all this charm. I've met you and seen with my own eyes how it's you that has 'that certain something'.
    It's a toss up for me between the bus driver and the bench sitter for my favorite phrase.

  9. Merci Monsieur Craft-Vous êtes très gentil!

    Paulita-that's so funny. I know, often I'm in a fog too. It's only by chance that I ever understand anything around here.

    Steve-sadly, there are no details as I didn't take the class. Instead I bought new shoes to walk the 4 miles to and from school everyday. Maybe next semester!

    Dennis-Ha. That's so funny. And being likened to a potato chip was a wonderful thing!

    Jo-Yes, I am lucky. And don't I know it. However, I did not receive any flowers, chocolates or cards from a significant other... I did however go the the chocolate shop and eat a few samples!

    Michelle-Oh I don't know Michelle! That is one romantic mec you have there. I don't think there's any contest.

    Tammy- I don't know who you are!! I can't get into your blog (if you have one) but you obviously live in France. And yes, ladies of all ages appreciate a charming man, don't they?

    Oh Aidan-big kisses to you. I think I'm going with the bus driver.

  10. Delana, I so enjoyed your post. You are a charming lady and have such a beautiful smile!

  11. A lovely article. Enjoyed reading it.

  12. QPC-Welcome to my blog. I still haven't made that awesome cake but it's on my list.

    Half-Acre-Welcome also. On my way over to you.

  13. Bonjour Delana,
    I am glad I found you blog. We met in Paris in September, but I unfortunately lost the card you gave me. What a great post - Frenchmen really do have a cetain charm...thus the reason I moved here to be with my French Charming! Will catch up on your news, glad things are going so well for you.
    Oh and you do have pretty eyes!

  14. I so... enjoyed reading this post Delana. The French certainly have that certain ~je ne sais quoi~
    Charm is some-thing sweet and uplifting, it sort of puts a spring in our steps ~ makes the whole world look rosey. Unfortunately it is rare to be encountered other than in La belle France.
    "All Things French"

  15. This post was charming! Isn't it fun to be open to the charm instead of on your guard all the time? I loved that about France.

  16. I live in France and I am married to a Frenchman and had a French boyfirned. Yes they are charming at first because the french accent and do everything that is different. They seem to love American/ English women. But french people are the most rudest people. I've ever come accros.I am think the men need to learn to be a gentlemen after they are married.


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