The French are far from a perfect people. They’re late, unfaithful and often too proud for their own good. These are all, of course, stereotypes and generalizations as are the following things on my list of things the French do well. That said, here are a few things we can learn from our friends across the pond.
1. Take a long lunch
The French take “lunchtime” very seriously. I can rarely reach anyone in the office between 1:00 and 3:00 p.m., and when the weather is nice, Parisians flock to outdoor cafes to sit under the sun for hours. I remember working in New York where taking a “long lunch” meant walking around the corner to get a sandwich to-go instead of eating a meal from the company cafeteria at my desk. While a two-hour sit-down meal may seem excessive and very unproductive, taking time to rest one’s body and mind actually increases productivity later in the day. Eating just a small soup or sandwich at noon may lead to unhealthy snacking later in the day or more fatigue due to low blood sugar. Plus, turning the mind off completely makes it easier to get back to the tasks at hand in the afternoon. Not to mention that eating in a relaxed environment and taking time to chew one’s food slowly does wonders for digestion.
2. Speak quietly
Walk into any Parisian café and just listen for a moment. You’ll undoubtedly only hear English. The “loud American” stereotype may ostensibly be a hasty generalization, but I must confess that, as a “loud American” myself, it’s true. A French friend recently attributed the discrepancy in Franco-American tenor to genetic disposition. According to her, the French language is much more monotone and necessitates a lower pitch than English. It never ceases to amaze me that I can sit next to a French person speaking on the phone, and not hear a word he or she is saying, yet the person on the other end has no trouble understanding. It’s miraculous. Whether it’s genetic or not, it’s made me pay more attention to speaking more quietly, which, in addition to making me less hated by my neighbors in a café or on the bus, has the added bonus of making me more calm and less frantic.
3. Eat seasonally
I remember going to the organic market for the first time years ago on a warm day in March and asking a stand vendor where I might find some blueberries. “Blueberries?” he yelled out and burst into laughter, saying to the people around him, “She’s asking for blueberries… in March!” as other market-goers snickered. Good luck finding a Tarte Tatin in summer or a melon salad in winter. Restaurants change their menus every few months, and even the average Frenchman wouldn’t be caught dead eating a tomato from January through May, organic or not.
4. Be honest
The French are typically (brutally) honest. They’ll tell you when you “look tired,” which is another way of saying “wow, you look terrible,” even if you don’t ask for their opinion. However, they’ll also tell you when you have “bonne mine,” which means that you’re looking healthy or “lookin’ good.” While in America, when I go into a store to try on clothing, the salesperson will automatically tell me I look fabulous in everything even if it’s not the case, in France, salesgirls will be very honest and say “that’s not for you” instead of convincing you to buy something unflattering for your figure. While such unsolicited honestly is hard to adjust to at first, it’s actually quite refreshing. For every “you look tired” that I hear, there’s a “lookin’ good” that someone tells me to brighten my day.
5. Indulge, but in moderation
“The French paradox” isn’t a paradox after all. Yes, they eat cream, butter and foie gras, and, no, very few French people are obese. But it’s no coincidence. The French eat what they want, but they eat only a small amount. Portions in restaurants are just big enough to satiate and allot having a three-course meal of different flavors and textures without being too full to move from the table at the end. The French don’t drink to get drunk – they like to enjoy a nice glass of wine with dinner and of course enjoy the occasional inebriation, but more as a consequence than an intention.