By Eleanor Katelaris
– lifestyle writer
When I was younger, I romanticised the idea of dating a Frenchman.
I can’t exactly pinpoint why this desire came about. All I remember is that I bought a book called How To Be Parisian when I was 15-years-old, and from that moment I was hooked. After a fleeting infatuation with all things French - including becoming obsessed with the hashtag #frenchboys on Tumblr - I eventually grew out of the phase. It was relatively easy to get over considering I couldn’t even speak the language and that I had no connection to anything French. I had no prospects of my French fairytale ever eventuating.
Then one day in a cosy corner of an indie bookshop (Tinder) my Prince Charming came up to me (swiped right) and the rest is history.
Despite my teenage fixation on Frenchness, I PROMISE I didn’t only fall in love with him because of his nationality, however, it was a really...nice… coincidence.
He has a name by the way – it’s Leo.
Without further ado, here are five things I’ve learnt so far in my 2 years of dating a Frenchman. And if you’re wondering, that book I owned previously prepared me for precisely none of the following things.
Focus on now, the future will look after itself.
It’s a tired cliché to “make every moment count” but the French live out this mantra in such an exquisite way it’s impossible not to feel inspired. I used to be fixated on planning out my future until I met Leo – a 28-year-old traveller who quit his corporate finance job in Paris to chase a more self-fulfilling path in Sydney. Whenever I ask him what it’s like to be at a different life stage to others, he’ll remind me there’s no ‘right’ or ‘better’ life stage to be at other than the one you’re in right now.
2. Careers aren’t a personality.
Go to any family get together or networking event and you’ll most likely hear the words, “so what do you do?” or “how’s work?” – as if it’s the most interesting facet of your life or your personality. In France, it’s not about what you do to make money, it’s about, well, everything else.
Your career doesn’t define you and people are more interested in how you spend your days rather than how you make your money. If you ever meet a French person and you ask them “what do you do?”, they’ll most likely be slightly confused by the question and answer something like: “well, I do a lot of things. I play volleyball, I draw, I cook...” And you and I both know that’s a way more interesting answer and you should probably ask that person for a recipe right away.
3. Wearing your heart on your sleeve is romantic, not cheesy.
Typically, it would be a red flag for me that a man would lay their innermost feelings out on the table right after a first date; especially because my Tinder bio specifically read “Likes cheese, hates cheesy.” - did he miss that part?
Leo would say – and still says – the most beautiful things to me all packaged up in eloquent prose and whimsical poems. I briefly thought, ‘is this just flirting on steroids?’, but no, it’s genuine and authentic and just really, really French.
It was then I realised that the trope of playing hard to get is bullshit and I’d rather be upfront with my feelings any day of the week. Honesty is sexy. Telling your boyfriend how much you adore them is sexy.
Playing games and not expressing your feelings is very un-sexy and quite frankly, less fun. Don’t pull a Chuck and Blair – they were miserable until their wedding day in season six.
4. Important topics should be discussed frequently, like daily.
Did you really think you could get away with a relaxing afternoon of Netflix ‘n Chill today? Unlikely. Looking forward to a focused workout at the gym? Nice try.
No place or time is off-limits to talk about the big issues in life for a Frenchman. I used to try my hardest to avoid these conversations, about life, about death, about the harsh reality of our long-distance relationship looming on the horizon. I’d say “it’s not the right time” or “not now”, and then I realised there’s no perfect time to have important conversations, so you should just have them whenever a thought pops into your head.
This became very apparent one day recently at the beach when I was trying to enjoy a post-work swim and empty my mind from a day’s work. Leo looked at me lathering myself in sunscreen, ready to jump in the water and he decided it would be a good time to ask me about the meaning of life and how we can live a meaningful life knowing that we’re going to die, to which I answered “let me tell you what I think”. It turned out to be one of the most raw and vulnerable conversations we’ve ever had.
I always thought you could only have these types of conversations when you’re in a particular frame of mind. But as soon as you get rid of this idea, the more frequent these conversations will become, and the better.
5. Food is passion and passion is food.
You can’t speak about food without it being inextricably linked to the French’s wider philosophy of living one’s whole life with passion. Passion for how they spend their time, who they spend it with, what they wear, what they consume - nothing is done nonchalantly, and eating is no exception.
Yes, the stereotypes are true, and I saw this first-hand after living with Leo’s family in Normandy for a month last year. I meticulously analysed Leo in his natural habitat, and WOW - he really was a walking stereotype. But it wasn’t a stereotype, because he actually did it. He actually had a croissant lathered in butter for breakfast, which he dunked into a hot chocolate before eating.
Leo said that he’d never seen someone look at a nutrition label before he came to Australia. That’s because food is more than just energy in France. It’s a daily pleasure, a daily luxury - never to be taken for granted, always to be savoured.
Quality is essential, product locality is important. Above all else, what something tastes like is everything. Because it doesn’t matter how healthy something is, if it’s going to make you miserable while eating it, then put it down and eat something yummier.
Ok, I know that’s slightly problematic and unhealthy advice, but as the French would say, “mangé le fichu croissant!”
No, I did not learn French; and yes, you should Google Translate that.