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Don’t overdress for soirées, she advises; do turn up late for dinner (by 15-20 minutes) and do brush up on politics; and don’t be so foolish as to mistake everyday flirtation for a come-on. She does her best to demystify her subject, announcing that “French women are nowhere near as perfect or sophisticated as you might think”.
She tells us to throw ourselves into speaking French without worrying about our appalling accents, because to the French they’re actually “super-cute”.
They prefer their dogs or their horses to their boyfriends (or husbands).
So yesterday, when the Telegraph unveiled yet another French woman full of well-meaning advice about how to do everything better – in other words, more like the French – my first response was to roll my eyes.
As it is, I’m lucky to have my own very close French friend, Emilie, to answer my questions about French women, so that my petty insecurities (Why do they never smile? Why do they look at me as if I am completely thick? They know exactly whom they mean by that: Jane Birkin, la petite Anglaise par excellence, reigns at the pinnacle of this pantheon, flanked by the young Charlotte Rampling and Kristin Scott Thomas.
) never quite have the chance to fester into a full-grown complex. Do they ignore me simply because I’m English – or is it more personal than that? There was even a hugely successful 1976 rom-com, À Nous Les Petites Anglaises, that features a trio of hapless young Frenchmen sent to Brighton to learn English, who fall in love with the exotic, alluring, incomprehensible geishas of East Sussex. They often stay in gaggles of women, rather than flirt with the men.
Yet here in the Limousin, where I live, no one will have a drink until the last guest has arrived, so it’s rude to be even 15 minutes late.
And although she would have us believe that “Bonjour, une baguette s’il vous plait” is enough to open a meaningful conversation, she doesn’t tell us how to make the French woman on the other end of such a conversation step out of character enough to be friendly and chatty and warm.