Leaning Out ‘A La Francaise

Abby Haglage, in a brief article on the American niche-market of women’s books that idealize French women, argues that it is based on notions of simplicity:

Simon Kuper, a Financial Times correspondent based in Paris—and husband of Pamela Druckerman, author of Bringing Up Bébé—puts a finer point on it. “I don’t think that’s simplicity,” the Brit says. “They’re very demanding about pleasure.” Pleasure, he clarifies, isn’t “going to an all-you-can-eat buffet.” Rather it’s about looking at food, drinks, even a space, and “really seeing it.” Going to a restaurant, for example, eating a variety of oysters, and knowing which wines to pair them with. And though Kuper concedes that some stereotypes of French culture are exaggerated, our impressions that the French are more sophisticated are “largely true,” he says.

Do the French find fault, then, in our desperate yearning to have it all? “I do, and my French women friends do too,” Guiliano says. “You can’t have it all, certainly not at the same time,” she adds. While American women are busy leaning in, the French are proving the benefits of leaning out.

The secret to the French way of living—better than that American habit of striving for quantity—may be in cultivating what Mah calls a unique “appreciation of beauty and luxury [that] is inherent in French culture.” Whether it’s buying a “perfectly ripe Epoisses cheese” or owning “just one, perfectly tailored black dress,” the key is in singularity—though at an admittedly high bar.

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