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French Style and Composure (and my current lack of it)


I lay warm and snuggly underneath my duvet, comfortably curled sideways on the bed. I have the vague feeling I’ve just slept for a very long time, and my mind drifts in between consciousness and sleep, mixing French phrases with American ones, and I smile a little because I can sense the sun rays pouring through my windows.

CRAP. I bolt upright, realizing that if I can see the sun, something is terribly wrong. Blearily, I make the calculations. It’s Tuesday. Today I have a lot of class. And all those classes begin at 9:00. It’s definitely past my usual 7:30 wake-up call, because it’s not gloomy out.

Fast forward ten minutes, and I’ve thrown on some clothes, pushed my contacts into my eyes, and hastily put everything near me that resembles a notebook into my backpack. After grappling with the lock of the house (which I can never seem to LOCK), I actually begin half-running up the hill towards my metro station, which, with a loose backpack and the grace of a drowning hippopotamus, is never a good idea.

But I make it onto the train. I disregarded crosswalks, I came from the wrong side of the platform, but I am ON THE TRAIN. (Just so this doesn’t seem entirely insane, it’s really bad to be late to class in France. It’s not exactly gold-star material in the States, but here it’s a definite no-no). Of course, after you’ve been sprinting across busy roadways, and you’re suddenly sitting still in a quiet and clean piece of public transportation, there is the inevitable moment when you realize:

a. there exists the possibility that everyone on the train saw you sprinting, through the nice, big, clear windows,

b. you’re breathing really loudly, and…

c. you look a little crazy.

Three for three, people. Three for three. I knew the last one to be true because I got a nice little glimpse of myself in the aforementioned nice, big, clear windows, and I was one hot mess of mussed hair, tangled scarf, and untied raincoat, accompanied by a sort of desperate look that tipped off anyone who was looking that I was stressed.

Bad enough, right? But then I glance around (discreetly, I’m sure), and am met by the sight of perhaps ten other French people (of all ages, genders, and races), looking ravishingly stylish at 8:40 in the morning. And I knew. I was the odd duck out.

There was French Elderly woman across with me, wrapped up in a classic black wool coat with the cutest flipped collar, holding an elegantly simple purse. There was awesome French twenty-something, rocking a soft grey trench, a magenta scarf, and DREADS, for goodness’ sake. And then there was French teenage girl, wearing all navy, with a dashing red lip and her hair tumbling down around her shoulders, but in a very neat way. There was nothing overtly trendy or fashionable about anyone – just coats, scarves, tights. And I was stumped. What was it about these people that made the world hail them as the most stylish on our planet? I decided to begin with the obvious:

1. The French buy nice things. It’s true. They have really beautiful shoes, extremely well made and sometimes tailored coats, lucious, soft felt hats. But then that’s it. For example, my friend Louise looks fantastic every time I see her. But I’ve only seen her wearing two coats, ever. They are both gorgeous, simple, and get worn all the time.

2. The French aren’t afraid of repetition. In fact, it’s the opposite. If you looked fantastic the first time…. this plays into the whole having a small yet functional wardrobe.

3. The French don’t over-do it. You’ll be hard pressed to find anyone looking “loud”. There’s usually a single, dicreet pop of color for interest, but then everything else will be navy, black, or camel colored. The pop can be small (a scarf, some gloves) or big (like a red coat), but it’s never overwhelming. Basic colors and shapes aren’t boring, they’re just classic.

But it’s more than that, somehow, I thought to myself. I adhere pretty closely to the formula, hoping to get get “Ah, tu aimes les HAMBURGERS?!” a little less, but most of the time, I still don’t feel chic or put together. Then I caught another glimpse of myself in the glass, and in my disheveled and still breathing-hard state, it came to me. It’s their:

4. COMPOSURE. These people, they have it in spades. I never see anyone running anywhere, or even walking frantically (a trademark of my life). Every person on the train had taken their time getting ready, had at least run a brush through their hair and made sure there was nothing stuck to the bottom of their shoes. No need to rush, because I’m sure everyone left with a little time to spare. They just all looked so damn calm!

Now, sometimes this composure can come off as cold, or aloof, or unfriendly, a stereotype I have heard often about the French People. And to be honest, that might be a little true. Strangers sort of keep to themselves, and I think I actually freak people out when I randomly smile at them on the bus. But sometimes the composure is nice; being in the eye of the storm rather next to a flying bathtub can be sort of pleasant sometimes.

So that’s the goal. A little more composure, and the air of style will come.


2 thoughts on “French Style and Composure (and my current lack of it)

  1. Hilarious! I snuck a look at my phone and starting reading this blog post at a meeting when two people were off in the weeds. But then I laughed out loud, so I had to put my phone away and pretend to be paying attention. Think about it this way: you are providing so much entertainment for the French… I can see them chatting with their friends: “So this crazy American girl stumbles onto the train this morning…”

  2. Amy, as I see it, the important thing that morning was to get to class on time. Yes it feels good to be neatly and nicely dressed, but you caught the bus. You didn’t pout and do nothing about getting there on time. You made the effort. Good for you.

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