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How To Be a Parisienne: 10 Golden Rules

parisienne-on-bridgeStory by Tory Hoen, Haven in Paris Correspondent. Photos by Dave Bloom.

I can already tell I’m going to get into trouble with this, but I’ve never been afraid to ruffle a few feathers (especially of the French variety), so here goes. As a female ex-pat, living in Paris is no guarantee that you’ll automatically become a local. If you’re not a Parisienne and you want to be, these are the rules.*

1. Cultivate austere beauty. Today’s Parisienne has natural beauty down to an art: very little make-up and a fresh-faced complexion. Hair should be un-“done” (bonus points for bangs and / or a careless ballerina-inspired bun) and brown. With a few rare exceptions, blond hair is a red flag that screams foreign and/or fake. Beware! You want your look to seem unstudied—even though we know it’s not. For inspiration, look no further than Jane Birkin and Jane Birkin 2.0 (her daughter Charlotte Gainsbourg).

2. Don’t smile much. You might be surprised to learn that smiles are, in fact, a limited resource in Paris. They’re not to be wasted on the undeserving, and they play no part in most daily interactions. When deployed, a well-timed smile is a Parisienne’s deadliest weapon, but your default expression should always be set somewhere between deadpan and “subtle scowl.”

3. Nail the “I don’t think so, but I guess if you do…” look. When someone says something you find wrong / distasteful, don’t openly object. Passive judgment is much more effective. Just raise your eyebrows, and look down / sideways to see if anyone else is noticing how absurd the statement was. Note: This is also a good way to establish solidarity with other true Parisiennes in the group, who will undoubtedly be giving the same look.

4. Be thin. But not just thin, a particular kind of thin that I like to call “healthy frail.” Other than a few moments spent standing on a mysterious vibrating plate from time to time, Parisiennes don’t really exercise. As a result, they don’t really have muscles, so they’re diminutive but vibrant, waifish but not gaunt. Damn them.

5. Indulge in moderation. Of course, you occasionally have to eat something very small and decadent—a sliver of foie gras, a single macaron—so that you can then talk about how good it is while you subsist on Diet Coke (Coca Light).

6. Look sober, even when you’re not. Unflagging composure is the mark of the Parisienne. Drinking is fine; showing how much you’ve been drinking via sloppy behavior is not. It’s unbecoming; plus, it can lead to gratuitous smiling (see Rule #2). In Paris, visible drunkenness is best left to foreign study-abroad students.

7. Smoke. Instead of eating or drinking, just smoke a lot. It’s sexy, it burns calories, and it’s socially acceptable at any hour of the day or night. (Alternate option: be a non-smoker and act slightly self-righteous about it).

8. Don’t stay single. It’s not done. Singleness is suspect, and being en couple is much more fashionable (see: The Kooples, a hot new Parisian brand dedicated to couples who wear each other’s clothes. High-concept!). Get a boyfriend, date him, and then eventually, marry him. Then, get a lover—it’s the best way to ensure a happy marriage.

nyc-in-paris9. Adore New York. Even though you’re a Parisienne through and through, talk about how much you love the “energie” of New York, and vow to live there someday.

10. Know where to shop. We all know Parisiennes have an innate sense of chic that can’t be learned, but knowing where to shop can give you a leg up. For the younger set, it’s all about the magical triumvirate—Sandro, Iro, Maje—mixed with pieces from A.P.C. and “It”-designers Isabel Marant and Vanessa Bruno. If you can swing it, take a trip down Avenue Montaigne for some big-ticket items from Chanel, Chloe and Barbara Bui. Your shopping motto should be je ne regrette rien (”I regret nothing”); after all, these are not purchases— they’re investments—and they are your inalienable right. Round out your wardrobe with non-investments from Zara and H&M. Bonus points for vintage items culled from your elegant grandmother’s closet. And if you’re not lucky enough to inherit good taste, fake it by scoring vintage pieces at various depots ventes (consignment stores) around the city.

*Note: These are sweeping generalizations best taken with a large grain of salt (or better yet, fleur de sel).

While living in Paris, I must admit: I didn’t follow a lot of my own advice. As a makeshift Parisienne, you must pick your battles. #10 was no problem, #6 I could manage (usually), #7 didn’t work out, #2 forget it. In retrospect, #2 is a complete Catch-22. How can you live in Paris without smiling? Through my foreign lens, nearly everything is laugh-inducing; I am constantly giving myself away.

Written by Tory Hoen for the HiP Paris Blog. Looking for a fabulous vacation rental in Paris, Provence, or Tuscany? Check out Haven in Paris.  Dave Bloom is a tepid consultant and aspiring expatriate; born in the Midwest and working his way east via D.C., he is hoping to join Paris for grad school shortly.

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5 Responses to “How To Be a Parisienne: 10 Golden Rules”

  1. Virginia says:

    Well that was fun and discouraging at the same time. I must agree. #2 is impossible. How can you spend one minute in Paris without smiling!! I have resigned myself to the fact that I neither look nor sound like a Parisien. My goal is to more or less blend in and not scream “Crazy American”!
    V

  2. This is brilliant, j’adore every one of your rules! Can I add, one? Be incredibly, even overly polite as the French love their pleasantries. A simple, sweet ‘bon jour’ will open many doors!

  3. Sasha says:

    Every element is studied, and we love the French for it!

  4. Zola says:

    I so enjoyed your article Tory! Short on all 10 rules, and afraid my presence would be screaming, “Crazy American”, It’s a delight to learn the unspoken attitudes of different cultures and will have to keep delighting in the use of my precious, “Fleur de sel ile de re,” regardless of my inability ever to be a local parisienne. So I borrow all the lovely and wonderful things…

  5. helloELO says:

    J’adore les rules, c’est exactement ça!
    @The Paris apartement: ” overly polite” en France?! You must be jokin’. Have you ever go in Paris? This is not the city of polite people trust me XD! A ne pas confondre avec les voisins british!

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