Let’s admit it. We’re fascinated by the French and the way they live, eat, drink, dress and love. There’s an insatiable curiosity to understand how Parisians achieve that je-ne-sais-quoi attitude to perfection. We long to unlock the key that opens the secrets to oozing French allure. Enfin, we have some of the answers! In her latest book, Parisian Charm School, award-winning author Jamie Cat Callan explores the power of French seduction and explains how charm is found in the most unexpected ways.
Having spent many summers as a child with her French grandmother, American writer, Jamie Cat Callan, has written several popular books including French Women Don’t Sleep Alone, Bonjour, Happiness! and Ooh La La!. Her research comes from the best sources: French women—and men—willing to tell all. For her new book, Jamie admits falling under the charm of her subjects from her flirtatious tutor, Madame M. to the quintessential Parisienne, Madame Edith de Belleville.
We couldn’t wait for the book to appear on the bookshelves next month to learn more from Jamie about the secrets of Parisian Charm.
What inspired you to write a book about Parisian charm?
After writing three books about the secrets of French women (“French Women Don’t Sleep Alone”, “Bonjour”, “Happiness! and Ooh La La!”), I realized that the true secret to a French woman’s confidence isn’t as simple as her famous allure or mystery or even the seeming nonchalance in the way she ties her scarf. It goes much deeper. I believe it begins with charm.
How do you define “French charm” and what the “power of charm” can do for a woman?
French Charm comes from intelligence, reading, and an understanding of cultural history. It’s about being truly your own unique self. Once you know who you are everything else follows naturally.
The most interesting part of French charm is that it doesn’t come from having a lot, but from having very little.
France has a long and tumultuous history. It’s a small country and they’ve been invaded many times, and certainly lived through more than their share of hardships, poverty, starvation and limited resources. My French teacher Madame M. (who I talk about a lot in Parisian Charm School) explains it to me this way—when you live through World War II and you have no butter, no eggs, no vegetables and perhaps just one tattered dress that you’ve repaired again and again—a little charm will go a long way to making life pleasant even under these incredibly difficult circumstances. Charm costs nothing and yet it’s the thing that makes our lives truly worth living.
Have you learned how to flirt like a French woman? What makes it so distinct… so successful?
The French style of flirtation is not this cartoonish idea of “come-hither, batting your eyelashes and va-va-va-voom.” In France, everyone “flirts”—old ladies, babies, the waiters, children. It’s a way of negotiating everyday life with a little sweetness and elevating the art of witty banter and intelligent conversation. A common mistake some American women make is to try to flirt alone with a man. This really doesn’t work to her advantage and it can give the guy the wrong idea.
French do everything in groups—dinner parties, community events and festivals. When you flirt in the context of friends and family, you must be subtle (after all, there are people you know all around you). Over time, you develop a flirting style that is light, witty and intellectually stimulating, and fun! Sometimes, it’s even about being delightfully argumentative. Still, it’s done with intelligence and lightness.
The wonderful part about this style of flirting is that it’s not physical, there are no unspoken promises. It’s all about the life of the mind and it’s available to everyone.
Is French style part of charm?
Absolutely. French style embodies this idea of knowing who you are. True style is not what’s the latest thing in the fashion magazine, but rather truly knowing who you are and what looks good on you. Style enters into everything you do in life—from how you cook, talk, and move in this world, how you dress, decorate your home, style your hair, choose your accessories. You don’t have to go out and buy the latest thing, but rather, go to art galleries, the flea market, read books, daydream and consider what brings you joy—that’s how the French find their style.
Why do you believe that French know how to find charm in flowers, gardens, travel, color and dancing?
These are all things that involve art. For the French, being artful is paramount. And it doesn’t cost a thing. The French have had some tumultuous economic times and so they have learned to find beauty and art in simple, accessible ways. A pretty color, some lovely flowers in their small garden, dancing whenever possible—these things cost nothing, but bring great joy and great charm.
Can Parisians be as rude as they are charming? And can one charm one’s way out of a disagreeable encounter?
This is such a great question because I’ve had amazing conversations about this with French Women. It would seem that our definition of being rude is different from a Parisian’s definition. In fact, what we might think of as rude is actually a form of flirtation. Parisians like to challenge and get into interesting debates. It’s the banter and the conversational tussle that makes life spicy and fun for them. But to answer your question—can one charm one’s way out of a disagreeable encounter—the answer is yes, absolutely. Parisians do it all the time. It’s a matter of laughing and making light of the moment. There is an unspoken agreement that this encounter is an opportunity for a bit of word-play and is actually an advanced form of flirtation.
How do French women keep the “tension” in their marriage?
French women don’t think of their husbands as their best friend and buddy. But rather, they keep a certain mystery even in their marriage and embrace and celebrate their differences. This is what keeps the sexual and romantic tension deliciously alive. They are careful not to let their marriage/relationship devolve into a platonic friendship where there is very little heat. And so, a French woman will be sure to take care to dress well, wear perfume, a bit of lipstick and a lovely scarf—signifiers of her difference and a sign that she cares about him. She will keep a certain separateness and a mystery and not reveal every little trivial thing to her man, and this is true whether she’s been married for five years or fifty years.
Why are we forever fascinated by French behavior? Do they hold the secrets to good living?
Actually, I believe our fascination with French behavior is a fascination with the past. And a lot of our fascination comes from the historical context. We are really in love with a time and place and attitude when life seemed more charming. When we look at the world with the objectivity of history, we can focus in on lovely things from the past that we feel we have lost. This is why “Downton Abbey” was so popular. We can’t return to those days (nor would we want to), but we can bring back the art of conversation, dance, simple manners, dinner parties, attention to our dress, our voice, our language—oh, and etiquette—even penmanship, and good posture!
Truthfully, my interest in these lovely old-fashioned things comes from my grandmother, who happened to be French. If your grandmother was from—let’s say—Majorca—then that’s where you might look for your inspiration, your personal well-spring for joie de vivre. The idea is to appreciate the women from past generations that came before you and to know that they have things to teach us about how to live in this world today and how to bring a bit of that old-fashioned charm into a present time context.
Jamie, what’s a perfect day in Paris like for you?
Ah, I want to say that any day in Paris is perfect for me! Still, I do love to walk through the Tuileries, come upon the crowd outside the tents at Fashion Week, take lots of photographs and then wind around to Rue St. Honoré. I would meet my friend, Freddie at Le Fumoir by the Louvre, and later walk across the Pont des Arts, stop and look at the Seine and then walk the winding streets around St. Germain des Prés. Later, I would go to Montmartre, climb the hill and look out at the Eiffel Tower. I would meet up with my friend, Nicole and we would order champagne cocktails at Hôtel Particulier and later we would go to famous seafood brasserie, La Mascotte, and enjoy oysters and chat with the owner, Monsieur Campion. I love to walk and look and listen and take in all that beauty.
Paris always offers up new secrets to me every time I visit, and I do believe I will never get my fill! Paris, herself is the quintessential French woman—mysterious, elegant, artful and always charming!