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Life Swap

‘I did it for real’ By Helena Frith Powell

Mimi does the Emmanuelle Alt meets Juliette Binoche look

the entire world with the Little Black Dress. ‘Are you allowed to play with us yet, Mummy?’ ‘Non ma petite,’ I say, as I click out of the room in spike heels, leaving a trail of No. 5 in my wake. ‘Mummy has to run your father’s bath and put on an uncomfortable bra.’ I’m shattered. Being a Frenchwoman is utterly exhausting. The level of grooming is intense. All the face creams, the under-eye serums, the daily application of full-on maquillage. By day six, I’m feeling very high maintenance, very French. I think I look like Juliette Binoche. ‘Hey,’ says my husband, en route to the fridge to look for something to eat that isn’t made from innards, ‘you’ve done Eddie Izzard make-up.’

lumpy (stir like mad and swear at it in French), how to handle chicken livers, how to impress girlfriends with a grey flannel Chanel 2.55 quilted handbag. I’ve lost just a pound in weight (I blame the Brie) but gained an intimate knowledge of iPhone apps. I’ve also discovered that the caricature we read about in the chick-lit books is unsustainable, and probably unfair. That, if it were true, life as a Frenchwoman would be exhausting, brittle, time-consuming and as controlling as a pair of triplestrength Spanx. I have spent the week bored with myself and missing my kids. I think my husband felt cornered by the simpering attention (though he admits to liking the lingerie). ‘Alors! C’est fini!,’ I declare, taking a long swig from a third glass of Australian plonk and enjoying the fact that my shirt is missing a button from one cuff. In the interests of liberté and egalité, if not fraternité, I leave my husband to unload the dishwasher. It’s good to be back.

‘I’ve learned how to curl my lashes and rescue a béchamel sauce that’s gone lumpy’

Au revoir to all that

Luckily, everyone’s pretty relieved when my time’s up. By the end of my week, what have I learned? How to curl my eyelashes properly, how to rescue a béchamel sauce that’s gone

It was in a maternity ward in Provence a month after moving from England to France ten years ago, that I first realised how different Frenchwomen are to us. On a ward of ten women I was the only one breastfeeding. I was viewed as an oddity, an eccentric Englishwoman who obviously cared nothing for her body and even less for her breasts. ‘My breasts are for my lover,’ one French mother told me. ‘Or maybe my husband, but no one else.’ For a Frenchwoman, attraction, seduction and sex appeal are central to her existence. And it doesn’t stop when she gets married. ‘I am married, not dead,’ Camille, a Parisian friend of mine always tells me. Frenchwomen never stop making the effort. It didn’t take me long to change my ways. I swapped my M&S washed-out smalls for posh matching underwear. The personal grooming came soon after. Now I can’t bear it if I haven’t had a manicure, wax or blow-dry. In France, flirting is a big part of life and the French notion of rights and liberté is at the very heart of their attitude towards fidelity and marriage. ’It’s my right to be free to act as I feel I need to,’ says Camille, mischievously. I’ve started to wonder if maybe the French have a point. I always thought I would never forgive an affair, or have one, but I have changed since moving here. The French view sex like any other sensual pleasure; be it eating or listening to music. What shocks them much more than a bit of ‘side salad’, as one male French friend puts it, is how ridiculously uptight we British are about affairs. I no longer think infidelity needs to be the end of a relationship. If marriage is for life then how can you seriously expect not to be tempted by a little aventure? Another thing I have learned from my French friends is to treat my husband like a lover. Wear your best underwear on a date with him, surprise him by slipping into the shower next to him and always make time for a little rendezvous together, however busy you are working, Grace D flirting and having Z oe Will ent, your nails done. Giles C iams, Seduce him all find mo oren – over again. writers re great You’ll be in July ’s surprised by how much fun it can be.

11_ French wife REV_4  

‘I’ve learned how to curl my lashes and rescue a béchamel sauce that’s gone lumpy’ Grace Dent,ZoeWilliams, Giles Coren –findmore greatwriter...

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