Thursday, 30 November 2017

le french paradox

                                Image result for french women
                  (Ines looks like Sandra's lost-twin sister!)


I had my first introduction to french mystique when I was younger, working in retail with a swiss-italian woman, Sandra, who spoke five languages, french being one of them. She had lived a very cosmopolitan life in various European countries, and was the epitome of french chic. Whenever french people came into the shop, her whole being would change. She would chatter, laugh and flirt in french, her hands would be incessantly moving, her eyes sparkled. She was totally fascinating. The rest of the time, sans les french, she was very quiet.

Years later, I realised that her wardrobe, which I totally emulated, was parisian chic, built around classic pieces, mostly in navy, with some black pieces, and a few sky blue accents. Very few clothes, worn over and over. Even her very casual look was chic. Sandra wore very little make-up, her hair was casual.... but she looked amazing. Especially when french people walked in.

My friend and I copied how she wore scarves, jewellery, her shoes, clothing, mannerisms. We were shameless.

                                    Image result for french women

French je ne sais quoi

And I have noticed over the years, that french women do indeed have an indefinable quality. Something that we don't have, and like many other woman, I too have wanted it. What is it?

I must confess, that I don't actually know what it is, however, Marie-Therese of The French Touch blog, says that the indefinable quality is femininity. I do agree. Even the way that french women sit, talk, eat, walk, dress, is quite different, and very feminine.

French complexion

I was talking to some french women recently, and I was astounded by their amazing slightly olive complexions. Not a single blemish, wrinkle, nor touch of sun damage. They were all professional women working for food and board around the country, doing quite hard physical work. I couldn't see how they would have the time to fluff around with mysterious beauty regimes. But they were from the north of France, so they were not living where the sun is blazing. The lived in a more temperate climate. I totally suspect that this is one of the main reasons that their skin was so beautiful. Rather than we westerners always thinking that there are some magical French skincare secrets.

                                 Image result for french women diet
                     (a day's eating for une chic femme)

French diet

It is as though we have all gone a bit mad, trying to find out what it is about the french diet, that keeps french women at a good and stable weight. Sandra always went to a cafe for lunch and would sit quietly  and have just a small coffee (no flat whites in those days!) and a toasted sandwich, with or without a dessert pastry, like a croissant.  The toasted sandwich was very small by today's standards.

Plus I never saw Sandra have morning nor afternoon tea. i.e. no snacking.

I, however, was a working mum, and lunch time was frantically shop-for-dinner- time, and do other errands. I was lucky to get a sit down to eat. Sitting to eat slowly is one of the french weight secrets.

The next time that I heard about le French diet, was when I was talking to a woman who had spent years living in Paris. She made an offhand remark about how French women didn't eat much. I think she was comparing to our generous meal which we were about to eat.

Le French diet

In France, people get one to two hours for lunch. Food is prepared from scratch if you go home to eat, and for many french, lunch is the main meal. I recently had two dinners with different French people. One meal was brown lentils with vegetables, mushrooms sauteed with a lot of butter and garlic, followed by a crumble with yoghurt. For the other meal, the french friends didn't cook the meal, but had prepared crepes for us as dessert. With tons of Nutella, bananas and chocolate sauce. A feast. They said that they only had them for special celebrations, like Christmas.

And both times, a very large glass of water was given to each person to drink throughout the meal. The glasses were 500 milligram size, and we were asked halfway through the meal if we would like more water. Obviously, drinking a lot of water with meals is one of the dietary mainstays. (And there was a small glass of wine, too)

I asked about their diet. Breakfast was bread and tea or coffee. They said that french bread was closer to ciabatta than what we call french bread. Lunch was the main meal. One group said that they had fruit for afternoon tea with soup or salad for dinner. The other group had no afternoon snack, soup, cheese, and more bread for dinner. No snacking. And lots of rules about cheese. Our New Zealand cheese was rated as very good (of course). And they didn't often have desserts. No mention of super foods, just good, plain food, with seasonal vegetables.

Interestingly, even their manner of eating was different. I am talking body language here. It's just different.

Le diet paradox

So, the West for years has tried to isolate what it is in the French diet that keeps them slender. From isolating a compound in red wine to take as a supplement, through to olive oil. But it seems as though we had the mystique all wrong.

All we had to do was change our habits to an older , more gracious way of living and eating: eat slower, a bit at a time, have smaller portions, drink a lot of water, take your time to eat and enjoy your meal.

You won't be able to plough through your food, because, mysteriously, you will reach satiation (fullness) quicker than usual.

                              Image result for crepe street food

A tourist's amazement

A friend spent some time in France about six years ago. The two food aspects that amazed her were: lots of people buying a croissant or similar type of pastry, with a black coffee, on the way to work. And the long queues in front of the crepe street barrow each day. Crepes with great, thick, gobs of nutella.

(So.... that kind of negates everything, really, about le french diet.) We also talked about the sparse fillings in rolls which are similar to what we call french bread, but of course the rolls are thinner and smaller.. No monster amounts of food stuffed in them, as we do in New Zealand.

I love french cafes

If I have to eat out during the day, my first choice is always a french cafe, if there is one near, because the food is so delicious, imperfect, and small. I sit and slowly saviour. And I only have one thing to eat. Today I am meeting friends at a cafe for lunch. I shall have to take half of it home, as I know the serving sizes are for big All Black footballers, not small women.

But wait - there's more

It seems that France has a walking culture, as part of daily life. Up and down stairs. To the market. To and around the shops. To the buses and trains. Little bits here and there. How can we emulate that in our urban lives? I think that if necessary, one just might have to add quick wee walks to the daily life, to get a similar effect. And take public transport rather than always driving.

More secrets

French women are more self contained. They don't give their life story as soon as you meet them. And they have something else that many of us in the West, don't have. They have Time.

The french working week is 35 hours. And the French government has policies to help with child care. Another stressor for the working mother, taken care of.

France has a culture of looking after oneself, as a way of life. This in itself is such a different mentality. And from what I can see, it's more to do with maintaining health. And also it is to do with enjoyment.

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