I’ve been watching TV women for a long time. I watch for entertainment, for inspiration, for information. I watch to see what shenanigans women can get themselves into and out of.
I watch, wondering what I’d do in their shoes.
I watched the women of Sex and the City, envying their persistence in searching for acceptable men and making their way in their careers. I was never that bold, suffering from Puritan hangups and small-town surveillance.
I watched The Golden Girls, funnier and more accessible than the SATC women, but couldn’t relate to the men in their dating pool—all those toupees and plaid sport coats just didn’t do it for me.
Then I moved to France and became a single woman navigating the world, a divorcée and an empty nester. Managing my own finances and housing and schedule for the first time in decades, having only myself to take care of. It was exhilarating and terrifying.
French paperwork, dealing with taxes and sécurité sociale and URSSAF (don’t ask) was more adulting than I had ever done in my life. It took every ounce of stamina I had, and I learned that even if you pay someone to crunch the numbers for you, you still have to carry the load yourself.
And what about dating? That was much more complicated than daily bureaucracy. Using dating apps, texting endlessly and trying to figure out if the Jean-Pierre-of-the-week was worth meeting for an apéro, breaking hearts (so they say) and getting mine broken.
Still, these American TV women didn’t provide me with much inspiration or information for how to be a triumphant Gen X single lady. One thing I had going for me that they didn’t: I was living in France.
Sylvie in Paris to the rescue
Sylvie Grateau, Emily’s boss in the popular Netflix series “Emily in Paris”, was the TV woman I didn’t know I needed. In other posts, I’ve talked about her style, her natural hair and makeup, her command of herself both personally and professionally. Now that I’ve navigated another year of Parisian life, with even more heart-breaking, bureaucracy and life changes, Sylvie of Season 3 is more relevant to me than ever.
Watching Sylvie, played by French actress Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu, navigate some of the same tricky situations that I’ve had to, upright and unhurried, gave me confidence in myself. Nothing that comes her way seems to phase her, and I’m starting to see why. By this age, you’ve seen a lot of shit, and your perspective shifts. There’s just less to worry about.
I can’t wait to be a French mamie, by the way. Those French senior citizens get to cut in line at the grocery store, lecture the youths on manners and behavior, and wear whatever they damn well please. I’m not quite old enough yet.
Dating inspiration from someone who nails it
Sylvie is just right for me, right now. Here’s how:
*She had more professional problems this season.
*She had a business meeting with the guy who had given her a #metoo moment years ago. This can happen to most femmes d’une certain age because we were raised when men got away with more nonsense than they do now. What did Sylvie do? She dressed conservatively for the meeting, armed her face with full makeup, stated her case with a steely glare, and reminded him that we all remember what happened back then.
*When she doesn’t like something, she says so. Her employee Julian moved her furniture, and when Sylvie disapproved, he moved it back pronto. She didn’t apologize or explain. A simple non was enough.
*When somebody slut-shamed her, she tossed them a sassy remark and flounced away. Sylvie is no angel, but the past is the past and we don’t need to put up with snide remarks. When a woman sniped at her for changing partners overnight, Sylvie smiled and returned the attitude, leaving with her dignity intact.
*French paperwork is no joke. When faced with creating a new business, Sylvie had the same dossier to assemble that I had, only bigger because she owned an actual company and was not a freelancer like me. It comforted me to see Sylvie frazzled by the volume of tasks, frustrated to the point of yelling at her employees. Well, she does that all the time, but paperwork was the reason that day. I felt better for all the times I was overwhelmed with paperwork.
On a personal level, I learned a few things, too.
*Let the professional get personal. When Sylvie was ready to throw in the towel on her business, her employees encouraged her to keep going. It touched her so much that she HUGGED them, rare in French circles. Show your people you appreciate them.
*Let your boobs speak for themselves. Madeleine, the American boss, is repeatedly set up in contrast to Sylvie, in managerial style and fashion. Madeleine’s boobs ride just under her chin, while Sylvie’s hang where god put them. Relax. Your girls are magnificent without hamburger helper.
*Wear easy-exit clothing in case of bees.
*If you really need that apartment, seduce the gatekeeper. OK, we’re not proud of that one, but these rents are sky-high!
I’m not the primo target audience for “Emily in Paris.” I’m a little too old, a little too cynical, and I don’t dither over every decision like she does. But I, like all Gen X women, could use a strong role model.
Sylvie is still it.
Great article, Yvonne. We all need to have—and to be—strong women role models!