Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Lessons in French Courtship


Perhaps my initial mistake on the French dating scene was assuming that Pepé Le Pew was a fictional character. He seemed fictional enough; he’s a cigarette-smoking, beret-wearing, stinky skunk. Not to mention, a cartoon. A slave to his little skunk heart, he woos a lady cat with classy lines like, “You are my peanut; I am your brittle.”

But as I’ve come to realize these past few years, Pepé is far from fiction. I should have known. That fabulous French accent is a dead giveaway. Ah, oui, Fransh... ze language of love.

As a six year-old planted in front of Saturday morning cartoons, I was taken in by Pepé. I never imagined that someday I’d be living in Paris and would be surrounded by real-life Pepés with moves that put the ingenuity of peanut brittle to shame.

Okay, so maybe I did.

Maybe I wanted to be someone’s peanut brittle. When coming to France for the first time, I laughed at the idea of finding French men’s courtship off-putting. Even as I listened to warnings about French men during the orientation to my study abroad program, I readied myself for moonlit strolls down the Seine and strawberry picnics in Les Buttes-Chaumont. I wouldn’t run like that ninny of a cat—no, I was ready to taste French romance. Why not perfect my French and my French kissing.

How things have changed. Unfortunately, I was overlooking one obvious obstacle: I’m a prudish American. Or so I’ve been told. I’ve been informed that it’s out of my control, that my country’s Puritan background is to blame. Indeed, the French have explained to me that because of their Mediterranean blood, French men are natural predators. Yes, a giant and unwieldy force lies deep within the French gene pool. I asked why I couldn’t be a predator, bemoaning the cheesy come-ons I endured on a daily basis. If I were a predator, I could come up with some better material. They told me to stop complaining. I had to understand that I was the prey, and that prey would be preyed upon.

Was it really in my nature to be immune to the predatory tactics of French men? Was I genetically unprepared for French love?

The more I thought about my nature, the more I blamed my nurture. Perhaps Pepé Le Pew was to blame for my indifference. Indeed, the cartoon had proved to me that true love between cats and skunks was impossible. Even in the end, when the cat finally surrenders to Pepés endless attempts and trades in her own scent for that of a skunk, she finds that Pepé has also undergone an olfactory reversal, and now can’t stand the smell of her.

What a sad fate. Ultimately, the lady cat and Pepé weren’t meant to be. Maybe this is the case with me and French men. Call it my country’s Puritan roots, call it my feminist education, call it years of playing an equal in the (American) game of cat and skunk--but something about French come-ons seemed downright comical to me.

And so in this, my third year in France, I’ve decided to outline the major differences I’ve come to understand. Consider it an anthropological study on heterosexual male strategies of courtship, as studied from 2002 to 2005, coming in five easy installments.

(Move on to Lesson One)
(Skip ahead to Lesson Two)
(Skip ahead to Lesson Three)
(Skip ahead to Lesson Four)
(Skip ahead to Lesson Five)


At 4:52 PM, Blogger coffee goddess said...

"Was it really in my nature to be immune to the predatory tactics of French men? Was I genetically unprepared for French love?"

Have you had the wonderful experience yet of an older frenchman offering to prepare you for that french love?

When I was 18, home on summer after my first year at university. My father introduced me to a friend of his. The gentleman was in his 50s, apparently had children of his own my age and a recent emigre from Mediterranean France. When we were introduced, my father explained that I might get to know this gentleman - I use the term loosely - better as he was employed in the area of business I was at that time interested.

We struck up a conversation, and sure enough he invited me to attend a business luncheon of his. It was great, but I do recall the others he met at that lunch looking at me oddly. I thought it was that I wasn't properly dressed for the club. This was followed by invitations to visit his office and a few unannounced drop ins by him to my own workplace. Indeed, conversation did revolve around the business and industry, but I still felt a bit creepy by the attention I was getting from my father's 'new' friend. I told my dad I didn't feel right about his friend and could he gently find some way to ask him to heed my wishes for him to stop calling...

According to my father, when he brought the subject up, the friend had patted him on the back and advised him that these things are delicate, that it sometimes took as long as a year.... needless to say, my father was shocked. And so was his friend. This man had thought my father had introduced us for purposes of my being 'schooled' in the ways of love and romance. That this was apparently quite common where he came from. The girl would not be considered a mistress, as it was a)usually out in the open b)a man of the girl's father's choosing, and c) considered a favour.

I still shake at the thought. My father actually threatened to call the police on the man.

At 9:18 PM, Anonymous Charley said...

Wonderful work! I take the guilty pleasure of printing up your postings and leaving them around where I can happen upon and enjoy them again.

I've hit the backspace key more times than I can remember while crafting this comment; the problem being that I am intimidated by your writing -- it's so good that I fear my own would detract from it by association, like a cheap desert wine after a sumptuous feast.

So here I sit, typing away, deleting often, and sweating a bit at it, because I feel that your work deserves better praise than I'm qualified to give.

At 2:31 PM, Blogger Neha said...

Hmmm...really interesting blog......something i dont generally come accross..

At 1:24 PM, Anonymous triticale said...

I assumed that Pepé Le Pew was a fictional character. He seemed fictional enough; he’s a cigarette-smoking, beret-wearing, stinky skunk. Not to mention, a cartoon.

Then came the evening, under the juniper on my front lawn, I witnessed the attempt of a skunk to befriend my next door neighbor's female black cat.

A camera with flash and really fast film would have been worth its weight in gold.

At 3:54 PM, Blogger Fausta said...

A slave to his little skunk heart, he woos a lady cat with classy lines like, “You are my peanut; I am your brittle.”
I've been watching Pepe since I was a little kid, so I thought the guys at Warner Bros. had come up with the lines.

Then I read Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Choderlos De Laclos in the original French, and realized Pepe was only quoting Valmont.

At 5:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow... I didn't realize they had peanut brittle way back Laclos was writing!

At 7:28 AM, Blogger meagain said...

Thanx for directing me to ure site, loved it. I hope i can travel overseas one day and see places like paris. Hey come visit my blog and leave a comment. Talk soon

At 2:43 PM, Blogger Lara said...

Gorgeous picture. Gorgeous.

At 6:12 AM, Blogger Raine said...

I happened upon your site and have not read a word of your blog. I am too captivated by that picture you posted.

Please tell us what that building is and whether you took the photo.

At 7:48 PM, Anonymous Tess said...

Holy crap, this is the best lesson French courtship EVER. Okay...maybe it's the only lesson. But still...amazing. I can boil it down to this: French men are like construction workers over here. Always thinking that you are INVITING the comments, etc.

At 4:53 AM, Blogger cdretska said...

Well, I must say that though I didn't get much action while I was in Rennes (it might have something to do with the fact that I was spending entirely too much time with Erasmus students and/or I was trying to convince myself that I was terribly in love with a Spanish Erasmus student at the Fac du Droit, and being shameful with Ema and Sabine in apartements in Paris, where Sabine needed to go after drinking coffee), but I have made up for it. At least to some extent.

Ema knows that Nico is a bad kisser. Ewwwwww... I have told her that. Ewwww (again for Emphasis). But I don't think she knows about the older Samuel who worked for l'Ambassade de France in Berlin last summer (though unless I am very much mistaken, he's been transferred since). He knew the Italian Michele , gave me that 'metro stare' that Ema talks about the first time I met him. He had a fantastic apartment in Prinzlauer Berg (the So Ho of Berlin), he had a car, he was cute, he was sweet, he was a f'in diplomat for god sakes! Ah well... Having recently seen the not very good movie "grande ecole" I am reminded of the french men that I have 'been' with. My that makes me sound SLUTIE. Hmm.. not really. I think I am side tracked (and somewhat drunk). Anyways, if anyone is interested in advice about French men (especially diplomats), gimme an email "". Yep. Though with the very remote exception of Guillaume, which is really very incredibly remote, I won't be having another "French Man" experience soon, because the Euro is so f'in strong against the dollar, and I will never be able to afford to go back to France (thanks to Bushie for our twin deficits, whoooo hooooooooooooo. Blah!

At 8:07 AM, Blogger Emily said...

Hi guys,

Just to clarify a few things...

I took the photograph by the canal St. Martin, in the bend near Gare de l'Est. As far as I know, that building isn't anything special.

Also: Just to make it clear, the "Nico" that Aki's drunkenly referring to in his comment isn't my good friend Nicolas who appears in several posts. He's speaking of an older model. I'm sure the current Nicolas is an excellent kisser.

Aki, your post makes little to no sense.



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