It must have been about three years ago when I took a few days off to go home to Berlin: I went to the preview of an art exhibition and was addressed in English. People didn’t realise I was German. In Paris, on the other hand, people are often confused, and ask me where my accent’s from. When I tell them “Germany”, I see particularly older men take a furtive glance down at my legs: German women supposedly don’t shave their legs, or so I am told by traumatised French men when they are relieved to realise that this isn’t always the case.
Although Romy Schneider and Claudia Schiffer elevated the image of German women, French women have never had to justify themselves: they are automatically thought of as glamorous. French women quite simply have a different status – not just in France, but worldwide: nonchalant insouciance, self-confidence and a somewhat infamous eroticism is pretty much how one might sum up this enchanting mixture. And among French women, on the other hand, Parisiennes also have a very special reputation. If a new make-up collection, handbag or fashion line is launched, I am often told by the designer that it was inspired by “la Parisienne”. I learned that a Parisienne’s handbag has to be big enough for a laptop, nappies, mobile phone, cigarettes and beauty accessories, and that she likes to wear an unusually red and glossy lipstick that makes it look like she’s been doing an extraordinary amount of kissing.
Oh là là, these French women! Sex is constantly on their minds, or at least they want to look as if they’ve just had it. “Be ready any time anywhere, whether Sunday morning at the bakery, buying a pack of fags, in the middle of the night or when you’re picking the kids up from school” is the advice touted by “How to be a Parisian wherever you are”, a bestseller in more than 26 countries worldwide. Over 272 pages, the four authors wittily and ironically describe how to juggle being a saint and a whore, a mother and a career woman and still stay slender. In “Café de Flore” I once discovered the Sonia Rykiel club sandwich on the menu: a roll without fattening bread and mayonnaise. A Parisienne would never call that “salad”. Simulation is her profession!
Everywhere else in the world, chain-smoking, anorexic mothers who are thinking of sex as soon as they pick up their croissants in the morning, start their lunch with white wine, drunkenly grab their colleague’s leg in the afternoon, practice sexual gymnastics with their lover and in the evening pick up their kids from all-day kindergarten would be reported without delay to Child Protective Services. But the Parisienne is considered the depraved yet angelic exception. Admittedly, I’ve only just read the book. And understood why people meanwhile take me for a Parisienne: My hair is always a little dishevelled, my red lipstick is often smudged and I also mostly wear only one really expensive designer garment. The only difference is: it’s not intentional: I’m too lazy to blow-dry my hair, I simply forget to touch up my make-up, and I don’t have enough money for a complete designer look.
Thanks to the book, I now know that this negligence is considered an admirable trait: of the proud attitude of a Parisienne!