There is a subtle Art of French Lifestyle or l’art de vivre à la Française. As a French native-born I was raised in France and in the United States with the French culture, I am aware of the cultural differences between French and American cultures. I am talking about the Real French Lifestyle of everyday folks in France. What’s so special about the French lifestyle, anyway? Well, it’s not that easy to define, but I find that the French art of living embodies elegance, quality, pleasure, simplicity, and overall, quite truthfully, a lot of common sense.
Living well is an art, it is l’art de vivre literally translated as the art of living also known as knowing how to live life or “savoir vivre.” Overall, I’d venture to say that living with a French flair is living well. Of course, adding a little bit of French flair is also classy, it’s classy because of France’s history, savoir-faire, and reputation for exquisite etiquette and good social manners, and of course, let’s not forget France’s world-famous gastronomy.
Personally, I find that all the world’s culture make life more interesting and each country and every people have their own way of life and lifestyle. For example, I am really intrigued by the Japanese art de vivre with the ceremonial tea time for example, as well as the infamous British tea time tradition, etc… why is the French lifestyle so popular?
What French Lifestyle is Not
Let’s start with what the French lifestyle is NOT. French lifestyle is not about parading head to toe in your Chanel couture outfit with your little Chanel bag or wearing that vibrant red lipstick with the striped marinière top like in Emily in Paris. This is a very cliché and stereotypical version of French style just like wearing a red Parisian bérêt! Truthfully, I even bet that the typical French woman doesn’t even own a Chanel bag, on the contrary one of the characteristics of chic French style is to look original with your own style. Most French women will own real luxurious high-quality leather bags bought on a trip to Italy perhaps and the same goes for well-made and fashionable Italian leather pumps.
Not everyone has the means to purchase a whole collection of luxury items in all colors as a status symbol. French style is not about status and grotesquely splurging, it’s about elegance and finesse and money will not necessarily buy French style, not even dressing in Chanel from head to toe 🙂 Owning just one special haute couture item could very well be your personal signature.
“L’habit ne fait pas le moine.“Tweet
French Character Traits
Every culture has some characteristics and traits for the French these would include: modesty, discretion, resourcefulness, playfulness, and eloquence. By the way, the French are not so driven by the outside and exterior, but they are mostly driven by the inside. It’s more about the kind of person one is than the money in the bank account. Although some elitist people will disagree and always seek to have the best money can buy, the typical French person may not necessarily have the latest car model (on the contrary, people in France tend to hold on to their cars much longer by taking care of them and not automatically upgrading to the latest model every year! The French also make wonderful engineered cars like Peugeot, Citroen, or Renault!)
Most French people are in tune with their feelings and their sense of self, but we often hear how the French are not disciplined especially behind the wheel, and when it comes to waiting their turn in line or faire la queue somewhere like at a public place like Disneyworld! It’s the French charm of the French with their inner rebellious spirit that challenges authority and goes against the grain that’s also a French trait that fueled the French Revolution after all.
French lifestyle is actually more refined than its stereotypes and actually very accessible to everyone. One of the hallmarks of the French people is making do with what you have and making it work. Probably a remnant of savoir-faire from post-war generations who knew how to turn a meal with a few potatoes and a couple eggs! It is quite a gift to be resourceful in life, nest-ce-pas? It’s like the French Toast metaphor which is really what I call a “glamorized pain perdu” or day-old stale bread which the everyday French housewife would turn into something delicious to avoid wasting food. This is like a behind the scene of real French Lifestyle which has nothing to do with luxury but is born out of necessity and lots of common everyday sense.
French Elegance or “je ne sais quoi…”
For me, French style is simply creative elegance. As we said, French style is not about dressing head to toe in French couture fashion and parading your status, French style is much more than a status symbol this is why Americans coin the term this French “je ne sais quoi…” French style is about staying true to oneself, genuine, natural, and honest. It’s also about displaying good moral character and values, it’s about using your mind and intellect and living with your own internal code. It’s all about a good-spirited discussion on a variety of subjects, or discussing the latest book or movie, culture, good wine, and food.
The French woman is elegant and simple and prefers beauty au naturel. Wearing makeup is minimal and just to enhance features of bringing some color and not warpaint. A lovely silk scarf expertly knotted will bring you that French air along with that essential whiff of good quality French Perfume because after all a woman’s scent is her personal signature. French style is elegant and so simply sophisticated.
A French woman would prefer to splurge on that extremely well-made garment than purchase a dozen cheap bargain items. I also personally like a frugal closet with pieces that work together. It’s all about quality. I do like that overused look with the French trench coat in camel, with the white blouse and délavé boyfriend jeans look with some stylish booties. C’est chic! Dressing comfortably in the good quality fabric is French style not only fashion from a house of couture, investing in good quality overall, not living for the Jones or to impress, yes of course money can buy luxury but cannot buy real French style or joie de vivre…
Last but not least the bidet is also a big part of the French lifestyle, most French homes will have a real authentic bidet in their bathrooms.
French Way of Life
French lifestyle is rigorously true but not routinely mundane and boring. There are no routines that become unlivable but on the contrary, the French routines are beneficial for well-being and creating a balanced quality of life. Routines in a family for example, such as setting the table for every meal and eating together and doing dishes together. It’s sitting down to eat a simple meal, with a glass of wine, and talking about the day’s events. On the weekend, The French will stay at the table for hours talking and eating one dish after the next.
French Pleasures of the Table, Family, and Entertaining
French lifestyle is after all the art and pleasure of the table and les plaisirs de la table. The French love to entertain in their home. A French dinner is an elegant experience involving all the senses and can last hours between the course, different wines, and conversation. The table is dressed for the occasion with special dishes and silverware, there are flowers on the table and linen napkins.
There is an order for the meal. Following the apéritif, the guests will be served the first course of fresh crudités for example, followed by the main course of meat, poultry, or fish accompanied with vegetables, red or white wine accompanies the dishes, followed by the cheese tray and baguette, and la salade the green salad of the season tossed at the table, culminating with a light French dessert and champagne. Coffee and digestif are often also served.
My favorite most charming meal in France is breakfast or Le petit déjeuner! I love to drink my café au last in a big bowl and dunk my croissants or toasted buttered baguette in it. Breakfast can also be some Oeuf à la coque or plain bread with Nutella and Crêpes always make a nice breakfast option. (and dinner too, with savory fillings like ham & cheese, creamed chicken with mushrooms, etc…)
Setting aside special family time on Sundays is important for the French and so is eating all meals at the table sitting together, with an occasional TV tray. It is also customary to host an apéro or apéro dinatoire on Friday evenings or during the weekend (French always have little apéritif snacks in reserve just in case unexpected guests arrive and cocktails can quickly turn into the impromptu bite to eat), also eating outside on the terrace and getting out the bbq at the first sign of few sun rays is also very French.
Daily French Way of life
French French lifestyle is simple and close to nature, going back to the source following Mother Nature’s cycle. For example, picking and using only fruits and vegetables that are in season is one way to live in harmony with nature. Also going in the woods to pick mushrooms, truffles, and wild bayberries like blackberries and wild strawberries. I also like to stop on the road and pick wildflowers for a bouquet.
The French housewife likes to get fresh produce and go to the farmers market or Marché en plein air every week for fresh farm fruits and vegetables. The weekly trip to the open-air marché with the panier to stock up for the next few days on basics and going to the boulangerie every few days for fresh bread is a French way of life.
French Gastronomy & Festivities
Every season is an opportunity to savor different foods for instance in the winter, Cheese Fondue, Raclette, and Tartiflette are the talks of the town and the festivities are in the air with the holidays and my favorite January Galette des Rois tradition, in autumn we celebrate the first vendanges or harvest with the young wine called Beaujolais Nouveau, In spring it’s all about renewal and the first Muguet des Bois, and in the summer we drink un petit Rosé de Provence while enjoying a game of boules or Pétanque and enjoy lighter meals and grillades or BBQs and salads like my favorite Salade Nicoise.
The art of French Winemaking is also an essential part of the French lifestyle using specific crops of grapes from the earth vines from the 17 wine regions of France: Alsace, Armagnac and Cognac, Beaujolais and Lyonnais, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Corsica, Jura, Languedoc, Lorraine, Poitou-Charentes, Provence, Roussillon, Savoie and Bugey, South-West, Loire Valley, and the Rhône Valley.
And of course, let’s not forget the many varieties of French Cheeses which are over 400 different kinds of cheese and the French Regional Specialties dishes from the different regions and terroirs of France are definitively part of the real French lifestyle. Each French region has its own dish, specialty, wine, cheese, and even its own French dessert and French candy!
French Work & Life Balance
French In France people enjoy a different rhythm than in the United States and for the French man or woman life is meant to be appreciated, especially the little moments. Also taking the time to do nothing or l’art de ne rien faire is rejuvenating and could also be called mindfulness. Of course, in the city, people go métro, boulot, dodo (subway, job, bedtime) but I think the French also know when to stop and smell the roses or good French coffee.
During the week, the French will take a long lunch too and sometimes go home to eat, corporate people will have lunch at the restaurant with cocktails, of course, most French office people and workers will eat a quick bite for lunch sur le pouce in a hurry. The French business culture lifestyle is also quite different and that’s the topic for another upcoming post.
The French are discreet and like to keep work and home separate. Therefore work is work, business is business and home is home. Taking the time on the weekend, for instance, to sleep in and faire la grasse matinée is a common luxury.
The French don’t work just to earn a living and pay bills they work so they can enjoy life more. Planning for their paid three-week vacation in the summer, for example, is sacré or sacred and makes working and life worth living. Les vacances is a very big deal for the French! Many French families enjoy spending this vacation time in community camping. I much prefer a free-spirited independent vacation exploring a new place or taking a road trip.
On the weekends, the French enjoy walking, having picnics along the road and eating jambon beurre, hopping on their bicycles, and taking little strolls se promener and flâner in the city or in nearby nature spots versus in the States where we take the car to go a couple blocks. In France, people like to walk and get exercise without having to count their 10K steps. It’s a natural process, it’s une hygiene de vie or part of good hygiene. Taking the time to live is the French way, being present at the moment and keeping an open mind and spirit.
Other French lifestyle habits include: walking to work, taking a stroll on the wild side in nature, and getting away from hustle and bustle of city life for a weekend in the country with family and friends. Leisure and enjoying life and free time is an important part of the French lifestyle, so planning for a well-deserved family vacation trip, or a weekend away en amoureux, creating and maintaining a good healthy routine is also part of the French way of life such as having a goûter de 4 heures, celebrating holidays especially the Réveillon de Noel and Nouvel An.
French Cultural & Intellectual Enrichment
Enjoying activities that are culturally enriching such as a visit to the local museum, art exhibit, and even online taking in some virtual field trips. The French value their intellectual wealth and are for the most part well-read and enjoy exchanging ideas and not being politically correct at all times. There is an art to a conversation and the French don’t really enjoy small talk but enjoy talking about ideas. Beware of some taboo subjects, especially at your host’s dinner table, talking about money is considered vulgar and religion is also not discussed and a personal topic.
And of course, let’s not forget to make a much-needed stop at a café terrace to relax, catch up on your reading, or simply to just to people watch which is a national pastime with a café or glass of wine.
Meeting new friends and Dating in France is also very different compared to the U.S. There is no dating like that in France. Most young people meet other people in groups, go out to dinner and out for drinks and dancing, but seldom meet someone on a one-to-one basis unless the relationship has evolved to be more serious. People get to know each other before they decide if they want to “date”. Romance is a way of life for the French and it is lovely. Flowers, wine, champagne, chocolates, small attentions, and all during the courtship and afterward. Oh, la, la! L’amour is wonderful!
French Etiquette and Manners
The French lifestyle is especially about good manners and being polite dating back to the refinements of everyday life in the palace courts of the XVIIth century among the aristocrats, nobles, and bourgeoisie where French étiquette was queen.
Saying “Bonjour Monsieur or Madame and Au-revoir Monsieur or Madame” to greet people you casually encounter in the stores or épicerie for example is a big part of French savoir-vivre. Other good manners would include turning off cell phones at the dinner table and engaging in conversation as a sign of courtoisie and respect, avoiding chewing gum while talking, etc… so yes, it’s all those little things or differences that add up and in their whole make up the French way of life.
Râler is Also a French Art
Of course, not everything in the French lifestyle is always lovely and positive, some French lifestyle habits are quite annoying and negative. For example, there really is a French art of complaining or râler, it seems that it is in the French DNA. The French are notoriously known to be expert râleur or râleuse and could complain just about everything and anything. But it does sound good in French, doesn’t it?! It would be counterintuitive to alter this trait ( unless it’s a toxic complaining) I find that it adds spice and color to life and not always be so goody-goody positive. It may not be a very attractive facet of the French, but let’s admit it, we do it so well, especially behind the wheel! Where else would we utter all these râleries?
In the end, there is not one unique way to define the French Lifestyle because each person will have their own original special ways. French lifestyle is more about savoir-vivre and joie de vivre because, for the French, life is to be enjoyed in small things and small pleasures every day with a wonderfully dry sense of humor and consideration for all.
La vie est une fleur dont l’amour est le miel. Victor HugoTweet
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