Since moving to Paris a few years ago, I have changed careers, gotten a divorce, gone back to school, sent my last kid off to college, thrown myself into the dating pool, and lived through COVID. I’m surviving all those things, but it’s been quite a journey. An adventure. A mess.
Many times, I fell on my face. I always managed to pick myself up, dust myself off and start all over again, but that can be exhausting.
Like the popular Netflix character, Emily in Paris, I found life in Paris thrilling and bewildering, beautiful and brutal. However, Emily does not interest me.
Her entire schtick is fretting and dressing up like a Muppet.
Sylvie, played by the incomparable French actress Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu, on the other hand, is my guiding light, my north star. Sylvie is my way home. Why?
Sylvie helps me, une femme d’un certain âge, make sense of my messy life.
Sylvie is Emily’s boss, a powerful, sexy, passionate, and blasée Frenchwoman of about my age. She threads her way through the pitfalls of her professional and personal life (and there are plenty) with grace and poise—and the occasional small tantrum. I usually resolve mine with chocolate pudding and Jack Daniels.
From now on, though, I’m going to follow Sylvie. Let’s look at a few examples of her magnificence.
SPOILER ALERT: I’ll try not to give away the whole plot of the series, but it’s a rom-com, not a whodunit; my spoilers won’t spoil much. Still, proceed with caution.
When a colleague started secretly crushing on Sylvie, she smoothly facilitated the commencement of a beautiful romance. She called the shy handsome guy and made it possible for him to ask her out for a drink, then directed the conversation so that he could declare his feelings for her, and voilà, she’s sashaying into the office the next morning with a Mona Lisa smile and croissants for everybody. Get it, girl.
Throughout the whole encounter, Sylvie showed wisdom and restraint, never making herself vulnerable. She had her colleague come to her neighborhood, not some unfamiliar place. She wore the same dress she’d worn all day at the office, keeping her investment in the date moderate. If the guy had backed down at any point, it would have been no skin off Sylvie’s back, and she would have gone home as usual. Let’s take a lesson, mes chères amies, and keep the first rendez-vous low-key.
The voice of maturity
When a collaboration between two clients went south, Sylvie fixed it by appealing to the old designer, the one who objected to his bald, chubby face being plastered on the side of a suitcase. She pointed out to him that if he withdrew the image, he would be telling women that their aging faces and bodies weren’t good enough, that growing old was something to be ashamed of. She threw in something about how powerful that made him, and he relented. She saved the deal and she stood up for mature faces everywhere.
Being a hardworking midwesterner, Emily was getting panicky about her new Paris life, finding it rocky and uber-dramatic. Like I said, she frets a lot.
Sylvie had great advice: Fall in love. Make mistakes. Leave a disastrous trail in your wake.
It’s sure not the old “work hard and settle down” mantra we usually dish out. From now on, the only advice I’m dispensing (or taking, for that matter) is Sylvie’s. It makes me feel a little better about my own disastrous trail that I’m leaving in Paris.
How to handle your exes.
Season 2 shows us two of Sylvie’s exes—a husband and a lover. She and the husband had long ago parted ways amicably, agreeing that their lives were going in different directions, giving each other space and maintaining a good relationship. The lover was not so generous, getting snippy and critical. She kept the husband close, parlaying their good vibes into a sweet business deal, but she held the nasty ex-lover at bay, refusing to allow him to speak negativity into her life while delicately balancing the ongoing professional commitments they had. Snaps to you, Sylvie. Boundaries are everything.
When you really put your foot in it
Enamored with her hot young lover, Sylvie offered him a photography contract with her marketing firm. When another employee hired a world-renowned photog for the same gig, Sylvie yelled at the employee, then grimly decided to cut her lover out of the deal, knowing it could ruin their budding relationship. Happily, he accepted the professional hit and kept the love affair going. Lesson: do your job first, and the personal stuff will fall into place. If it doesn’t, it wasn’t strong enough to last anyway.
Sylvie embodies some French attitudes that I’d like to have in my own life. She doesn’t care what others think of her personal life. She values herself at age 55+, knowing that she has experience, health, and savoir-faire. She deals with people reasonably but bluntly, not holding back. And she gets the job done, no excuses or apologies.
Sylvie’s problem-solving skills seem better than mine. Then again, she has a killer view, unlimited resources, and a personal trainer (OMG did you see that bikini??)
Maybe the trick isn’t to avoid problems or fix problems. Maybe the trick is just to know I’ll have problems. A life passionately lived is bound to have a few hiccups.
Next time I hit the skids, I’ll remember Sylvie in Paris, throw a little fit, and clean up my mess.
But I’m not giving up the chocolate pudding.