My own French love story was an accident. I had no girlhood obsession with Paris, no special feelings for French culture, no Eiffel Tower prints in my apartment. I didn’t even eat cheese until I started dating the Frenchman who became my husband.
But I’ve joined the ranks of women who succumbed to the french charms and married Frenchmen — I’m looking at you Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, Mary-Kate Olsen, Halle Berry and Selma Hayek.
Now France is a forever part of my life and without me even realizing it, the French outlook on love and coupling has become a seamless part of my marriage. And though I protested at first, I have to admit some aspects of French relationships have been welcome additions to my life.
Bonjour me first, every day
In France when you enter a store, it is expected you will acknowledge the others in that store with a “bonjour!” The same with “au revoir” when leaving. As an American who only experienced retail welcomes and goodbyes like that from greeters at Wal-Mart, I found this custom invasive and annoying. As a New Yorker, I generally preferred to only speak to people when necessary– efficiency first in a busy city.
But here in France, it is invasive to the owner and fellow shoppers if you don’t announce your comings and goings. And guess what? Without me even realizing, this formality was instilled under my own roof as well. My husband expects I will kiss him and say “good morning” before I get out of bed and when entering and leaving the apartment a proper kiss and hello/goodbye is expected.
I think it is centering in our relationship to put each other first every time we see each other or open our eyes in the morning. Before work emails, before unloading the groceries, before running out the door. Without even realizing, I’ve been trained in the etiquette of the French bonjour.
Don’t bisou and tell (every time)
In France, love is a private and personal affair — every anniversary and date night not intended to be splashed all over Facebook.
It isn’t that French love is any less dramatic or deep– they just don’t go around trumpeting their personal life to the world like we Americans do. My husband (then-boyfriend) was shocked when I brought him to my office shortly after he moved to New York, and my co-workers (including my boss) knew everything about him.
In France you don’t bring your significant other to work and you certainly don’t tell your manager the cute story behind the shower radio he bought for you. It’s the same reason you’ll rarely see a French couple’s wedding photos openly on display in their home, while many Americans’ living rooms are a veritable shrine to their wedding day.
You should of course strike the balance that works for your relationship, but sometimes it’s nice to make like the French and keep some special moments just between the two of you.
Go your own way
French are all about shades of grey in love. Their version of “He loves me, he love me not” goes like this: “He loves me a little, a lot, passionately, madly, not at all.” (“Il m’aime un peu, beaucoup, passionnément, à la folie, pas du tout.”)
To Americans however, true love is black and white. It means sharing everything with someone, letting your entire guard down, making each other your whole world.
In French relationships it is considered healthy to have your own private life, interests and even secrets within the couple. If you let everything out in the open, what is there to wonder about? How can you sit around in your pajamas all day farting in front of each other and expect the other person to think you’re mysterious and sexy? This is the French mentality.
Now, I’m never going to give up my pajamas at all hours, but I’ve learned (begrudgingly) to give my husband his own space sometimes and understand that he’s not going to tell me every secret his friends tell him in confidence.
Sur la Table
Dinner time is important to the French not only because they respect their food and culture, but because it is a time to sit together, without phones, and be with each other. And the table should be set properly out of respect for this ritual.
I’ve always been happy to eat out of a plastic Chinese food container (who wants dishes?), in bed (crumbs be damned) or plopped in front of Netflix. And before living with someone dinner was more likely to be a bag of pretzels and a diet coke than a home-cooked meal. This was unacceptable to my husband after we moved in together.
Coming home from work and seeing the table set, I would think, “who are we trying to impress here?” But the expectation of time together sitting at a table, with a real fork, formalizes the meal and makes it feel like a ritual. The French do the same thing with friends and family too, not just lovers. Eating huddled in front of the TV is just not acceptable.
I’m still working on learning how to cook, but I’m now happy to eat properly with my husband and use that time to focus on each other.
Have you integrated any of your partner’s romantic culture into your relationship? Tried any French romance tips? Leave a comment and tell me about it!