There is a difference between French and American women when it comes to dating and relationships. Compared to American women, French women revel in the enjoyment and acceptance of what is rather than focusing on what is not or striving for perfection. French women celebrate their individuality and femininity without worrying about others’ opinions. They do what makes them feel good whether it follows social conventions or not. They also accept the men in their lives for who they are and don’t want to change them.
Debra Ollivier compares and contrasts the differences between American and French women in her book, What French Women Know: the About Love, Sex, and Other Matters of the Heart and Mind. Many of these differences stem from one fundamental distinction that in France there are no “rules” about love and sex or how to dress, look or act. In America, women must follow a complicated rule book which dictates the right and wrong way to manage everything about a relationship with a man from the first meeting to dating, marriage and divorce through repeating the process. French women have a “take it or leave it” attitude. They believe, and act as if, life is short and time’s a-wastin’. This gives them a sense of immediacy that translates into a live-for-today outlook that American women could benefit from.
French women celebrate instead of shy away from individuality. They make their own rules, don’t mind imperfections and embrace their femininity. Although the generalizations abound, there is at least a grain of truth in every one.
Ollivier explores many cultural differences and some of these may be beneficial for American women to adopt. According to the author, the culture in France affords French women a strong sense of self and a mysterious confidence that is so appealing to American women because it is so different from what we are used to. Similarly, French women are comfortable with uncertainty as opposed to American women, who have been raised with, and thus prefer, structure and rules.
Another difference is that French people are more discreet. Their culture is less communicative, especially on a personal level. Personal information is kept private. What comes off as charming and alluring in a French woman may be interpreted as arrogant and bitchy in an American woman. Unless you are dealing with a French man, you may be completely misread.
Unlike in America, it’s OK in France to be unhappy. In the U.S., there is so much pressure to be happy that it can make us miserable. American women equate happiness with perfection. When we’re not trying to change ourselves, we’re working on changing our mates. French women know relationships are not checking accounts. Love and sex cannot be forced into perfect 50/50 shares. These women also know that cohabiting requires cooperation, consideration and compatibility.
The French live by the aphorism, “carpe diem.” They are truly living their lives with a sharp consciousness of the pleasures and problems life can entail and the knowledge of how short life can be. Indeed, this may be the most important message we take away from this book. The French philosophy, in contrast to the American woman’s eternal quest for perfection, is more a savor the moment, devil-may-care way of life.
If there is one thing that we, as American women, can take away from this book it is that we should try to learn to accept and like ourselves for who we are and not care about what others think of us. Rather than compete with men, we’d be better served to develop a true affection for them. By calling a truce in the battle of the sexes, everyone can win.