When Brent from Naughty Book Kitties asked me to guest post about French boys, this is what I had to say:
Oh man. Where do I start?
Okay, first of all, it would be easy to throw a lot of stereotypes out there. But if I did the reverse—explained American boys to the French by talking about “jocks” or “nerds” or those Williamsburg hipster types with beards, glasses and tight jeans—that wouldn’t even start to cover half of the American guys I know. So…I decided to give you some stories instead.
French Boy Story #1
I was living in Paris, and had just broken up with a British guy I was seeing. I met this French guy named Sebastien—a friend of a friend—who was an artist. He was tall and lanky with disheveled dark hair…totally my type. He would drive me around Paris on his old dilapidated Vespa to art exhibitions, or to a pile of old stones that he had read were part of a Roman wall, or to an out-of-the-way park for a picnic. I liked him, but wasn’t ready to jump into another relationship after English Guy.
Soon afterward, another French guy named Laurent—who I had had a crush on for about two years, while we were both dating other people—began asking me out. He dropped by my apartment one afternoon, and saw the flowers and bottle of wine that Sebastien had brought the night before when he had come over for a movie. Laurent asked who they were from, and I told him, “a friend,” using the masculine word “un ami.”
The next night Laurent showed up with a much bigger bouquet of flowers and a bottle of champagne. And as we left my house to go for a walk down by the river, he took my hand and held it firmly—a little bit possessively. I had kind of been avoiding that because, again…I wasn’t sure if I was ready to date someone again, but he reached down and appropriated my hand. That’s the best word for it.
He never asked me any questions about Sebastien. The topic of the “other guy” was never broached. But he silently decided to try to beat his competitor.
French Boy Quality #1: an understated, quiet confidence that I find totally sexy.
(Oh, and…by the way…I married Laurent a couple years later.)
French Boy Story #2
One of my husband’s friends from childhood had a pretty rough life. To say he’s been a bit messed up for a long time would be putting it lightly. My husband hadn’t seen him for years. But when he passed through our region a few weeks ago, he asked if he could come spend the night. I was scrambling to finish a manuscript, but threw together a decent dinner, fixed up a bedroom, and welcomed him as best as I could while juggling kids, dinner and work.
I knew he had been an addict, and had briefly met him over a decade ago, but didn’t know what to expect when he arrived. He was emaciated. He seemed sad. But he was polite, helped with everything he could see to help with, played with the kids, and went outside to smoke without me asking him to. When he went into town the next day to “do some shopping” he asked if I needed any groceries. And when he came back, it was with a gorgeous bouquet of flowers.
A day later, I got a thank you note from him in a beautifully-written French (my translation’s not going to do it justice): “A quick weekend in Touraine (our region) with just the basics: friends, a sumptuous home, and a few glasses of wine. I couldn’t have asked for more. Lolo & Amy, congratulations on your exemplary achievements. Thank you and bravo.”
French Boy Quality #2: gallantry and poetry when you’d least expect it.
French Boy Story #3
I’m standing in the train station at the Paris airport wrangling my kids and luggage as we wait for the train to take us home after an exhausting trip to New York. I notice a man taking photos in my direction and figure he must be a railroad enthusiast or something. Until I notice him moving to the other side of me and shooting from another angle.
I wave over my husband, who’s off studying train times, and tell him I think the guy is taking pictures of me. Laurent takes a good look at me and his eyebrows shoot up. “Your dress is totally see-through in this light,” he says. “What? It’s black! I looked in the mirror, it’s fine!” “Not here in this light, it’s not,” he replies. So we move the kids and luggage and I sit down with my back to pervie camera guy.
Ten minutes later, the guy has come around and is standing in front of me, a ways away, taking photos of me again. And at the same moment I notice him, I see my husband walk up to him and they start to talk.
I don’t like tough macho guys. I especially don’t like guys that get in fights. My husband has never been in a fight in his life, and as I watched him, I was kind of surprised that he had confronted the guy. They exchanged words in a polite manner, and then the man turned and walked away, not to be seen again. As Laurent sat down next to me, I asked him what he had said. “I told him that if he took another picture of my wife I would break his camera and then break his face,” Laurent said calmly.
“What!?” I gasped.
Laurent did that cool French-guy shrug and said, “C’est normal.” (e.g. “What else would I do?”)
French Boy Quality #3: born into a culture that’s been around for thousands of years, they’ve got the whole “this is how things work” figured out.
French Boy Story #4
One of my father-in-law’s best friends is this guy named Claude, who has these enormous white moustaches that curve up on the sides. He’s old-school French, complains about the government no matter who’s in power, has all of these conspiracy theories about banks and the minorities living in France, and is mildly but annoyingly sexist in that “they’re another generation and just don’t get it” kind of way.
YET…when I was pregnant he brought over tons of clippings from his lilac trees because he knew how much I loved the smell. We had a long conversation about using apple seeds to firm up fruit jam (this was during my thinking-I-actually-fit-in-in-the-countryside phase), after which he brought me sample jars of several different types he had made that year. And he joins my father-in-law in clipping sour cherries from my FIL’s tree with scissors, gathering them in cute little baskets, and making this kick-ass moonshine-style cherry liquor from them.
French Boy Quality #4: there is a completely different view of what is masculine and feminine, and even the old guys can be seen as embracing their femininity. (Just don’t tell them that.)