"Joie de Vivre" and "Ooh La La!" - What can we learn from the French way of life?

Joie de Vivre by Harriet Welty Rochefort and Ooh La La! by Jamie Cat Callan

After days of eating chocolate chip cookies, scouring Marshall's for bargains and speaking English, it's always a cultural jolt to return to the world of delicate macarons, elegant Hermés scarves and French. To help expedite the process and force myself to stay awake for as long as humanly possible after my flight from Boston, I decided to take my jet-lagged body to "Living Frenchily" at the American Library in Paris last Wednesday evening. With American authors Harriet Welty Rochefort and Jamie Cat Callan talking about beauty, style, happiness and what we can learn from the French way of life, I was sure that there would be some spirited discussion. I wasn't disappointed.

Joie de Vivre: Secrets of Wining, Dining and Romancing like the French

Pointing at a distinguished gentleman with a scowl at the back of the room, Harriet Welty Rochefort said that it's not because the French don't have big American smiles on their faces that they don't have "joie de vivre". She added that the man, who is her French husband, often resembles the stereotypical image of a glum Parisian but has filled her life with laughter for forty years. It's this very dichotomy between their public appearances and their private lives that frequently misleads people. While the French are depressed when it comes to current national challenges, like unemployment and diminishing buying power, polls show that they're very satisfied with their private lives.

Unlike Americans with our continuous refills of soft drinks and huge homes, Welty Rochefort has also discovered that "In France, small things procure big joys. In fact, la joie de vivre is composed of many small and simple pleasures: a stroll on the banks of the Seine, a tiny taste of dark chocolate with your wee espresso, a petite verre de rouge (little glass of red wine). Small is good!"

The author, who described herself as a frustrated ethnologist who has been studying French culture for years, advised the largely Anglophone audience not to lose our nerve when we encounter a surly waiter or an argumentative salesperson. Controversy, according to Welty Rochefort, is the French national sport and not to be taken personally. She added, "For the Gauls, a day without a clash is a sad and boring day indeed."

Jamie Cat Callan, author of Ooh La La!

Ooh La La: French Women's Secrets to Feeling Beautiful Every Day

Thanks to Jamie Cat Callan's elegant French Canadian grandmother, who was unlike any of the other women that Jamie encountered while growing up in a small town in Connecticut, the author noticed that there was something remarkably different about French women at an early age. Determined to discover their secrets, Jamie traveled to France and interviewed hundreds of women. Her extensive research uncovered one word that is the secret to French women's confidence and mystery. Lingerie! According to French women, the bra and panties must always match. Who knew?

Just about the time I felt myself start to internally rebel against Jamie's enthusiasm, which is what instinctively happens whenever someone is overly effusive about all things French, the author surprised me by explaining that the secret to French women's approach to beauty is about being in alignment with your true self. It isn't about finding something outside yourself. It's about being true to what's inside. Thanks to Micheline Tanguy, a French charisma expert, Jamie said that she finally realized that she isn't French. She's an American. With that in mind, Micheline guided Jamie towards a style more closely aligned with her true identity and advised her to wear blue instead of red. What Micheline had in mind was a short-sleeved cobalt blue sweater dress. What Jamie bought was a bright blue feather boa and beret. Oh La La! I started reading Jamie Cat Callan's book last night and it's every bit as insightful and engaging as its author.

While most of the comments were of the "Vive la France" variety during the Question and Answer session, a Frenchwoman prefaced her statement by declaring that she was going to be stereotypically French and say something controversial. "When I see all the books that the French are the best mothers, they don't get fat, they don't sleep alone, they're sexy, etc., etc., I have to tell you that it really gets on my nerves. I don't know if you read in Le Figaro but there's a writer who said that the French are not perfect. We're not better than Americans. We just pretend and we fake..." Needless to say, I've already asked Edith, who's a lawyer, French teacher and guide, if I can interview her for a future blog post.

Whether you're jet-lagged, on your own or with a friend, the free "Evenings with an Author" at the American Library are always a wonderful way to spend a Wednesday evening in Paris. Not only will you have the opportunity to hear authors talk about their books, but you'll also meet interesting people, both residents and visitors. Wine and snacks are available free of charge before and after the event.

Interesting article in Newsweek about the French way of living: Leaning Out A La Francaise: "Having it all" the French way means more Brie and less briefcase.

Edith, the Frenchwoman in the audience, and Jamie Cat Callan, author of Ooh La La!


  1. Such a good and detailed post, very good for me who could not be there! BRAVO!

  2. Sounds like a fun evening! Good job getting yourself there through your fatigue!

  3. "It isn't about finding something outside yourself. It's about being true to what's inside" I LOVE this. I find that we are constantly seeking to fulfill ourselves and I think this is why I butt heads with my French girlfriends. They don't understand this urge to constantly produce and finding yourself through new projects and hobbies. All of them (my French in-laws included) are extremely content just being.

    This was the perfect dose of inspiration I needed on a hectic day.

    Looking forward to checking these two books out! The authors look like a lot of fun!

  4. I just got my copy of Ooh La La... looking forward to reading it!

  5. "It isn't about finding something outside yourself. It's about being true to what's inside" yes this resonates with me too.

    I love Paris and a lot of things French and for a while I tried to copy, but then I realised that I am NOT French, will NEVER be French, even if I lived there fro years... and actually I am quite proud to be English, it is what I am, my culture my heritage... and it is Ok to be English and I started noticing things about Englishness that I really liked. So now even though I learn from the French ways I am happy to be English. (and northern at that!!) Love Denise

  6. Dear Mary Kay--It was such a joy to meet you at the American Library and then again at Girl's Guide to Paris!! You are so delightful, and so sweet to post such a great (and fun, and delicious) blog about the evening's events. I am so pleased to have met you and I hope to see you again the next time I'm in Paris. Merci beaucoup! Love, Jamie P.S. I don't think I have your email? I'd love to get it, so we can correspond. Enjoy the rest of your week in The City of Lights!


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