Why do I love all things French?
I remember sitting on the ledge of a fountain, watching beautiful ladies stroll by in flowy dresses. As these French women made their way down the windy street, I couldn’t help but notice their effortless strides and contented, peaceful gazes. It was like they had nowhere to be, no worries, no obligations.
Once a group of them had passed, I turned my neck to take in the rest of my surroundings. There were pastry shops showcasing perfectly golden pastries, lines of bicyclists donning colorful scarves, men and women reading books and sipping beer atop iron wrought café furniture, billow awnings displaying romantic-sounding store names, and proud poodles parading in sync with their owners.
So much beauty in such a little space! I couldn’t get over it. Turns out this wasn’t an isolated scene – for the rest of my two years in southern France I’d see all sorts of gorgeous sights. Whether I was taking in Matisse paintings in a seaside museum, watching my host mom arrange spotted quail eggs on a silver platter, or walking through an open, tree-lined town square, there was always something beautiful to admire.
Now don’t get me wrong, there are many lovely sights to behold in the United States. Living in Baltimore, I adored spending time in the picturesque Inner Harbor, walking through my lush college campus and seeing 19th century American masterpieces at The Walters Art Museum. But in France, aesthetics seemed to infiltrate every aspect of daily life, from how people dressed, to how they served their cheese, to how they decorated their gardens – much more so than in the United States.
One time, a French guy friend suggested I replace my brown L.L. Bean backpack with a nice black leather messenger bag, like the ones “many of the French girls have.” I was appalled he had criticized my fashion sense, let alone implied that many French girls dress far better than me. In the United States, my backpack would have been accepted and left alone.
While I initially viewed my friend’s comment as an insult, I now realize he was just trying to lend a hand. As a keen observer of fashion and good taste, he wanted to share his knowledge with a less astute American visitor. I ended up buying that black bag, and ditching my hiking shoes as well (at least when I was not hiking). Ten years later I’m by no means a fashionista, but I at least have a better sense of what looks good and what doesn’t.
I’ve tried to apply the ‘French attention to detail’ to other areas of my life, too. Largely inspired by a friend’s home in Mauguio, France, I make it a point to hang Christmas lights in each new place I live – both in the living room and my bedroom. That way, after a long day I can turn the lights on, switch off the overhead lamp, and let the soft, colorful hues put me at ease. I also try to cook pretty-looking appetizers and paint aesthetically pleasing pictures.
While these lovely aspects of my life aren’t everything I need to be happy, they certainly don’t hurt. Because when your surroundings are lovely, it’s easier to feel lovely on the inside. Thank you, France, for helping me figure this out!All images © Christina Dunne