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I didn’t expect living in France to be easy when I moved to an isolated smallholding in the Limousin from London via Baltimore, six years ago. My cultural experience of the country amounted to just one week’s skiing and a day-trip to Dieppe.
I was a city girl adrift in the countryside, without so much as a pair of wellies to my name.
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”.
Unfortunately, I said the first thing that came into my head. ” I could see at once that this was the wrong thing to say. “French women are much more at ease.” Again and again, with even the kindest French women, it is hard to avoid the sense that one is being judged and found wanting, because we are different. ” said the midwife crossly, when I arrived at the maternity unit. Would you have your appendix out without an anaesthetic?
So I changed tack, and asked her how much they were. In France, everyone has an epidural.” Later, she asked me if I was going to breast-feed my baby. Most French women bottle-feed; there is no breast-is-best Gestapo here.
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