Six years in France and I’ve got this place down. Baking the perfectly gooey fondant au chocolat ? Check. Fighting to the death to enter the bank three minutes after it’s closed? Done. I’ve even finished a Master’s thesis in French (God knows how). Yet there's something so subtly, so nauseatingly out of reach that it keeps me awake at nights: the fine art of mastering the seriously aloof cool of a Parisian girl.
Yes, I am aware that this has no relative importance in the grand scheme of things. Yes, I understand that I should be thinking about the frightening success of the Le Pen dynasty or the Euro’s continual slide against the dollar or why people are still too precious to clean up after their dogs in this country. But I can’t. My quest to be cool à la française continues on.
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1. La "Coiffe": Master the "Just-out-of-Bed Look"
The transformation all starts with the coiffe. For those of you who haven’t lived in the land-of-most-dairy-products-per-capita, I can tell you that there is a fine art to looking disheveled. It’s the “everything but” effect. A.K.A., wake up, carefully put on your navy blue-and-white striped long-sleeved shirt, skinny jeans and Converse, a splotch of red lipstick, and whatever you do, DON’T do your hair. This will ensure that you look completely put-together, except for that unsightly ripple at the back of your head.
Maybe this seems counterintuitive-- but I assure you, it's not. What this does is make it look like you “just woke up that way.” I mean, Parisiennes just do, right? So it would seem.
2. The Lipstick and the Teeth
And it doesn’t stop there. While Americans are known for their unabashedly exaggerated, white-toothed grins, most Parisian women can’t make it through the day without a healthy dose of nicotine and coffee, meaning those pearly whites are more like drabby grays.
This is why the red lipstick comes in handy: to offset all that oral abuse. Orthodontia not being big in this country, a lot of those drabby grays are also quite scraggly. But in the most charming of ways. Think Vanessa Paradis’ famously charming gap (pictured above), not the toothless grin of the panhandler on the corner. So, put your retainer back in its case and let that snaggletooth hang free.
Now that you’ve got your teeth in order, you are under strict command to NOT show them. Under any circumstances. Smiling is for fools, after all.
Well, that’s not completely true. If, thirty minutes into a conversation with your friend at the bar, she happens to make you laugh and you stop complaining about the rain, the sun, the cold, the heat, your idiot boyfriend, the fact that Bouygues Telecom is closed AGAIN for no reason, then and only then should you throw your head back in a most delectable spasm and let out the biggest laugh of your life. It will come so unexpectedly that it will have nearly the same effect as receiving a glass of cold water in the face. The whole bar will be captivated, and the mystery of you will be on the minds of every sad, foreign girl unfortunate enough to be in your presence.
3. Eat Absolutely Everything — But in Moderation
Now, I know you’ve been waiting for this part of my diatribe, so I won’t disappoint. You want to know how Parisians are often so damned skinny and well-dressed. Ok, let’s begin with the skinny factor. First of all, Parisian women, much to your exasperation, DO eat. They eat a lot. Sausage links. Aged cheese. Baguette after baguette after baguette. After baguette. Throw in some croissants and ice cream on the weekends and it’s enough to make this American girl throw her hands up in exasperation, shouting, “I guess I’ll just go for a run!” But you won’t see many Parisiennes running here. While it’s becoming more common, the best way to burn off all that fat is by walking each and every corner of the city every day, taking the endless stairs in the Paris Metro, having some sex here and there, not snacking, and MODERATION.
I think some Americans just assume French people walk around all day with a buttered croissant in hand and munch cheese rolls at their work desk. Not the case.
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There's a time and a place for food here and if you want to master the Parisian cool, you must remember that meal times were created for a reason. Now put down that pain au chocolat and let’s talk about another issue of utmost importance: clothes.
4. Cow Others Into Submission with Your Seemingly Effortless Style
Shopping in Paris is like jumping into a pool of sharks. If you actually dare to try to buy clothes in one of the city’s shops, I recommend first that you do not under any circumstances do so on a Saturday afternoon. Refer back to the aforementioned shark metaphor. If you want to come out with the latest Gucci (or H&M-- who are we kidding?) jacket, you’re going to need strategy. First, stay as far away from chains as possible, unless you’re poor like me, in which case you need to have extremely good taste and impeccable decision-making abilities. If you are of the wealthier breed, I suggest the miniscule boutiques near the Sacre Coeur, where a simple-strand gold bracelet with a black mustache icon attached (it’s fashion, baby) will cost you upwards of 75 euros. Doesn’t matter. Buy it. Buy that, and the overpriced, oversized, mangy patterned sweater that only looks good on women with the hips and boobs of a 12 year-old girl. This will look great over the new pair of skinny black jeans you just bought. I mean, you bought those, right?
More Resources for Parisienne Style Wannabes:
5. Assume the 'Tude
Now that you’ve mastered the dirty hair, unpolished smile and fabulous clothes, you're almost ready to assume your full Parisienne glory. All you need is an attitude adjustment. Remember all that stuff you learned in school about not saying anything at all if you didn’t have anything nice to say? Yeah, well forget that. Being Parisian is not about being nice. It’s about being real. Real, in whatever terms that means for you. If you woke up on the wrong side of the bed, let everyone in your ten-mile radius know it. Got your dream job? Sing it from the rafters. Hate, and I mean HATE your friend’s new boyfriend? Shout it out. Just got a date with that sexy co-worker that you’ve been in love with forever? Talk about him like he’s the biggest douchebag you’ve ever met. Wait, what?
Yes, that’s right. The final piece of the Parisienne jigsaw puzzle (for those who are straight, that is) is her interactions with men. Never simple, always ambiguous, ever-mysterious. This is what you’re after. Think of the ice queen from high school who never looked your way. Or Angelina Jolie’s confidently vacant stare. Your motto is: Untouchable.
This is not to say you can’t throw in an ounce of American charm once in awhile. While Frenchmen claim to hate it, they do respond well to clarity and enthusiasm. However, keep your over-excitement to a bare minimum. What really gets their goat is flip-flopping, contradiction, and all-out confusion. Why be clear when you can be vague? It’s not about playing games, it’s about playing THE GAME. He asks you out? Wait at least three days to respond. He said he enjoyed your date together? Simply respond, “Yeah, it was fun. See you.” The insane ambiguity of the situation will make him dream about you until the torture becomes so intense that he has no choice but to fall in love with you.
I’m not going to lie. This strategy will be excruciatingly painful. After all, ignoring natural impulses has a tendency to bring on rage, nail biting, and frequent public outbursts. But if you want to capture that Parisian cool and have the Parisian fellas drooling over you, you’re just going to have to turn that smile upside down and suck it up. Now is not the time to employ the stuff you learned as a high school cheerleader.
The Bottom Line: Finding a Happy Medium
I think that’s probably enough for now. Your brain is probably so oversaturated that you can’t even imagine pulling any of this off. But I assure you, it is possible and it will work. Once accomplished, you can have whatever and whoever you want in this city.
The only thing is, part of me wonders if the charm of the American woman in Paris isn’t enough to offset all this Parisian cool. Couldn’t the bright-eyed smiling of this Minnesota girl enthrall Frenchies enough to make them forget all about acting mysterious all the time? Do I really have to start smoking at the age of 35 in order to look brooding? There is something innately ridiculous in all of this. There must be a happy medium. What if I vowed to quit grinning like an idiot every time someone let me pass in the metro and stopped eating peanut butter sandwiches for dinner; if I were still allowed to spaz out in excitement twice a week and to keep one colorful down vest in my closet? Would it be enough?
Well, while I’m contemplating that, you should be filling your nearby mug with the strongest Arabica money can buy and choosing the shade of red lipstick best for your skin tone. Because let’s face it, honey, the transformation into an aloof, mysterious Parisienne is not going to be easy. There’s going to be pain involved, and not the quick, ripped-off Bandaid kind. But with a little patience and a lot of perseverance, you’ll be able to pull it off.
About the Author
Colette Davidson is a native Minnesotan writer living in Paris since 2009, and a regular contributor to About.com Paris Travel. She writes and reports print, digital, radio and television content and translation for the Christian Science Monitor, the Lancet Psychiatry, Saooti Wikiradio, Radio France Internationale, France Televisions, and the BBC, amongst others.
At her personal blog, Kolet Ink, you can read more hilarious musings and observations drawn from her travels and her experiences in France and Paris.