I didn’t intend to write a review of How to Be Parisian as I actually thoroughly enjoyed it. I also didn’t intend to write a review because, really, who reviews books where the content is written purely as a pick-me-up, to create laughter amongst sisters or girlfriends on a birthday or long-delayed run-in, or simply to add storytelling to the Francophile’s daydream? I bought this book as a bedtime read that would take me back to the balconies spilling over Rue de Cassette in the 6th. Apparently others purchased the book to serve as a self-help handbook in curing twenty-something (or maybe even thirty, forty, fifty-something) loneliness and wanderlust.
In purchasing this book online for a colleague, I noticed a review on Amazon that ripped it a good one so I clicked on the “1 star” reviews to see what was causing people to be so up in arms. To give you a few colorful reviews: “This is a book on how to be pretentious;” “Vapid and vacuous;” and, my personal favorite, “The book takes the term ‘Basic Bitch’ to a whole new level and is probably the bible for this type of shallow, manipulative, insecure woman. A real woman would NEVER take any of this advice unless she wanted her life to go up in flames.”
I’m not typically someone who rants, but this last comment made me laugh. Sure, call me a “basic bitch,” but no shit that most people aren’t taking it all seriously, and, if your reason for reading this book was to find enlightenment in how to be a woman experiencing growing pains that aren’t in your knees, I suggest you pick up Proust (yes, in English is fine). Albeit not what many readers were apparently seeking as a full-on spiritual enlightenment, this is a book you keep on your nightstand or coffee table to glance at before getting ready for a night out. It’s a book to remind you that you’re not alone when you’re spending a Saturday night in wool socks with your retainer in and Vaseline on your face because you just don’t feel like being social. It’s a book to read on a plane to excite you for adventure– whether you’re actually headed to the land of fromage or to a cultureless pit in northwest Texas to visit your grandfather. It’s a book to remind you (correct me if I’m wrong on the targeted audience here) that you’re a human who’s curious, a human with a sex drive, and that you can be a lover of life’s beauty who often gets lost in yourself.
From cover to cover, I found every bit of How to Be Parisian charming– even the photos of unworldly Caroline De Maigret, whom I loathe for her ability to pull of bed head with trousers and an oversized sweater and not look like a troll. Yes, ladies, we’re all jealous of her sapphic nature and perfect bone structure, but, no, we do not believe that she’s pushing through her late 30’s on cigarettes, champagne, and a spritz of cold water on her tits in the morning. The quips about frivolousness, about being selfish and irrational are about embracing love and life– from the bedroom to a dinner party. It’s about the unnoticed moments between the big moments, and embracing them as yours. Most of all, it’s about making life up as you go along.
I don’t care what you say, but male, female, gay, or straight, we all have a little bit of a romantic (and, more often than we’d like to admit, an egotist) inside. Regardless of our age, we’re either seeking love or lust in our lovers or in ourselves, and, if we’re not, we’re looking for how we can shake out our furrowed brows, loosen our assholes when we get stiff and just, well, live. This book isn’t basic, it’s about embracing the basics. It’s not vain; it’s about building from the ground up– appreciating your friends, your lovers, your stature, your energy, et al. It’s not basic; it’s about embracing the basics and, call me corny, appreciating the beauty of the small things.
At the risk of negating my entire argument, I want to answer the age old question, “Do French girls do it better?” Yes. Why? Pardon my being trite in saying “pardon my French”, but I’d argue that this book confirms that they don’t give a fuck and it seems to be working. They build out a personal foundation and that is their focus. Think of the old world architecture in Paris– it’s stuck around for a reason.
To all you naysayers out there, I suggest you lighten up in your reading and take a tip from the Parisian playbook: be frivolous and buy the pretty skivvies once in a while (or the sweatpants, if that’s your deal); wear lipstick or your glasses when you want to, even if you’re alone; and, most of all, stop searching for yourself in what is someone else’s memoir.