I really enjoy fancy etiquette and style books. Whenever I go to Anthropologie, I end up with a book instead of clothing. I like the feel of the glossy thick stock, the look of the cute pen illustrations, and the idea that perhaps at some point I’ll be able to embrace some of the suggestions in these books. Unfortunately, my most recent read in this genre, picked up at the aforementioned store, was disappointing/
I have read enough of this genre to recognize that is challenging to come up with new ways to discuss French living and how to incorporate French culture into life in the US. Still I was expecting something a little more. Yes, it is a style book, but I was hoping for more substance.
The book (based Ms. Scott’s blog) includes twenty chapters, each focused on a lesson she learned from her host family when she spent a year in Paris about a decade ago. I know. A year does not make her an expert. However, as someone who also lived abroad for a year, I do recognize that the culture shock can leave a big impression, and what is out of the norm for a short period of time can stick with one long after that time has passed. So I’m not willing to write her off based on that.
There really isn’t anything new here, but there were good reminders. The concept of the ten item wardrobe is one that I’ve seen repeatedly and am actively working towards. (Note: those ten items do not include things like underwear or outerwear, so it isn’t that big of a deal). Ms. Scott also discussed the tidbits made famous by “French Women Don’t Get Fat” (yes, I’ve read that too), like not snacking and instead of working out, incorporating more exercise into daily life. Again, not horrible advice – unless you love the gym, which she acknowledges – but not earth-shattering. Imagine similar chapters about enjoying life, seeing the arts, etc.
It’s all fine, but it’s also all through the lens of someone who was not working and who had access to apparently unlimited funds. Because the author learned these ‘lessons’ while a student, she has nothing to say about work culture. It’s great that she doesn’t decide to simply make something up, but there is something lacking for those of us who spend a very large chunk of our time at work. By not mentioning the realities of outside work when discussing the importance of making a four-course dinner for the family every night, the author chooses to ignore the challenges of managing a home in which two adults work.
This brings me to gender roles. Much of the book’s content seems to lean heavily on certain ideas of what women are like and what women do. There are some basic attempts at seeming progressive, but overall this book suggests that style is for the woman who works at MOST part time, and that women have certain duties to their family that apparently don’t apply to men. Or to the men she encountered in France, at least. It would have been nice to see that addressed. She also spends time on her version of femininity, even expressing approval of street harassment. Not exactly a feminist position.
And then there is the author’s slight attempt at addressing economic disparity. Look, clearly I don’t pick up a book like this and expect that the author is going to focus exclusively on living the good life while working two jobs for minimum wage (although I would totally read that book). But. The ‘lessons’ the author learned were clearly from people with a TON of money, and that seems to color all of her observations. Additionally, she wrote one paragraph that discussed sustainability (sort of – she mentioned organic and local foods). In all of her talk of quality goods and clothing, she didn’t mention that one should consider things like the treatment of labor or the impact of certain fabrics on the environment. Would that have put a damper on the book? No, not if done well.
If you are interested in learning about life in Paris, I recommend finding another book – Bringing up Bebe was quite enjoyable for me (and I’m not having children). If you are interested in improving your style and quality of life, I also recommend finding another book. You can find better.