One of the most exasperating – and admirable – things I have discovered about Frenchwomen is that they are slim – and don’t talk about diets. Yes, if you asked me to list a few of the things I appreciate about Frenchwomen, way up at the top I’d put “They don’t stand around helping themselves to foie gras or petits fours while saying, “Oh, this is ruining my diet.”
I kid you not – in the forty years I’ve lived in France I’ve never heard such a thing. So what does that mean? To me, it’s very French. It means “I’m living the moment, so why spoil the pleasure I’m having now with a guilt trip?” It means “This food is good” and “I’m not into denial (certainly not while I’m eating) and I know that I’m not going to indulge every day.”
And they won’t. You can be 100 percent sure that the day after the foie gras or petits fours those lithe ladies will be sipping bouillon, but they would never say that. Now, take a closer look. Even while treating herself, the Frenchwoman may not eat all that much of the foie gras, but she’ll have a nice taste, that’s for sure.
Writes Mireille Guiliano in her bestselling book French Women Don’t Get Fat : “Frenchwomen simply do not suffer the terror of kilos that afflicts so many of their sisters in other developed countries. All the chatter about diets I hear at cocktail parties in America would make any Frenchwoman cringe.” So what do Frenchwomen talk about while gathered round a tantalizing buffet? She replies: “..what we enjoy: feelings, family, hobbies, philosophy, politics, culture, and yes, food, especially food (but never diets).”
This may sound too good to be true (maybe she’s making it up?) but I can assure you, dear reader, that it’s true and that it starts young. Today I was talking to my 3-year-old French granddaughter on the phone. She recounted in detail her “goûter” which is a scheduled afternoon snack all French children have. She was thrilled to tell me she was eating chocolate but, she qualified, pas beaucoup. Why? I asked. Solemnly she informed me that it wouldn’t be good to eat too much of the chocolate. OK, she’s only 3 but she’s already got the concept of les petits plaisirs that Frenchwomen (and men) carry with them throughout their lives. Moderation!
Attention! The fact that Frenchwomen don’t talk about diets doesn’t mean they don’t go on diets. Don’t think that because they enjoy themselves at a dinner party or cocktail party sans guilt, they’ve dropped the ball. They watch their weight like a mother watches her child on the playground-constantly. If they see they’ve gained a few grams or a pound or two, they do whatever they need to get it off-vite. But they keep all that to themselves so as not to spoil their or anyone else’s pleasure at a party or any occasion where there’s good food and drink. So refreshing – so adult!
That’s what I love so much about France, the French, and Frenchwomen. They put food in its proper place: one joy among many others. On this score as on many others, vive la joie de vivre.
***This article is adapted and excerpted from “Having It All: The Pleasure of Being a Frenchwoman” in my latest book, Joie de Vivre: Secrets of Wining, Dining, and Romancing Like the French