Sunday, January 30, 2005

Winged Victory

Last night we went to a co-workers cocktail party. Apparently, these cocktail parties are semi-formal events in France. Everyone at the party was dressed up except for an American that didn't realize how formal the evening would be. Even I took out a dress and heels and believe me, that says something (my husband was warned about the dress code ahead of time). The American was told by his French wife to take off his tennis shoes before he left the house but that was his only concession. I expect that his wife always dresses her best and he always dresses casually, so his wife's request was not out of the ordinary and didn't really give him a head's up.

Once he arrived, I think he realized the error of his ways. He said "he had no idea" about the dress code. It is a difficult thing. His French wife explained that it is just understood in the French culture... when to dress up, how formally to dress... but for those of us not in the know or without a co-worker willing to explain "dress up or you'll feel out of place," it's just another example of not fitting in.

People started leaving the cocktail party around 10pm. I said to my husband that there wasn't too much food at the party. He told me that everyone was going out to eat; they were leaving for their 10pm dinner reservations. Probably while they were eating desserts I was in my warm bed.

While at the Louvre the other day I took a picture of the Winged Victory of Samothrace and wanted to share.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
1:31 PM



Dress code is a cumbersome. In my early days in the States I was so embarassed because I overdressed at one social occasion. People says overdressing is better than overcasual (like the American guy in your story), but I felt "out of place".
Your post reimnds me again of a news about V.P. Cheney in Auschwitz, HaHa...

# posted by Teriyaki : 7:49 PM  

Winged Victory! Ah, it is a great angle too.

As for dress codes, it's hardly even heard of in the US. Unless you are going to a wedding(even then ask ahead), a funeral, or the prom, you'll find everyone in various degrees of dress. Mostly on the casual side of the code.

# posted by BohemianMama : 1:25 AM  

Although I'd love to live in France, I would hate to worry about dress codes. For me dressing up means I wear my beautiful, pointy-toed black boots and my best pair of jeans with a pretty shirt of some sort. I own only one dress. ONE.

# posted by pismire : 4:39 AM  

A situation like this seems it would be one of the hardest to acclimate / find out about. There are those cultural books that explain shopping, eating out, etc. but none so far that I've read has covered this. I think you will be saving a few from embarassement with this entry. And thanks for the insight about the Winged Victory.

Terry in SF

# posted by Anonymous : 5:45 AM  

Teriyaki, I can imagine what you describe.. people just like to dress casually in the US. I do too. It just seems practical.
BM, It's strange to think that one of the most dressed up you'll get in the US is for your Prom. I remember the hours of shopping that went into picking a dress -- more than for my wedding dress (because I used my mother's dress)!
Pismire: It would be difficult to get by here with only one dress. There do seem to be more occasions to dress up. Oh well, if you ever need to move to Paris you'll just have to go shopping!
Terry, There is an etiquette book by an American that people buy. I personally think some of the things this woman writes is absolutely ridiculous and would make you nervous to leave the house for fear of some faux pas.

# posted by Auntie M in Paris : 8:17 AM  

Hi Auntie -

Just out of curiosity, which etiquette book ? I know of at least two (and I'm not connected with the authors in any way (smile)).

>>absolutely ridiculous and would
>>make you nervous to leave the house
>>for fear of some faux pas.

Which are ridiculous, please ? There is usually some kind of method to such authors' madness ...

I don't want to start up a polémique, though ! (wide smile)

French society is far, far more formal than the USA. Handwritten thank you notes, for example, are de rigueur in many cases where in the USA we would just say "thanks." What we term "dressing up" in the USA is, here, just "dressing".


# posted by L'Amerloque : 1:41 PM  

L'A, I'll name two books at the risk of offending someone. I've met one of these authors and she is a nice person, I just don't agree with what she writes. Polly Platt, French or Foe.. not really an etiquette book, but certainly read by many to give a flavor of what to expect in terms of social situations. Barbara Johnson, French Way of Life, more of a straight etiquette book. Both give you a flavor of life here, but I would not take their advice verbatim.. especially since they seem to live at a higher social level than most of us. My sister thinks the best cultural understanding book is Le Divorce. I've enjoyed reading most of the books on life in France: Paris to the Moon, Le Divorce, Almost French, Piano on the Left Bank, French or Foe, Me Talk Pretty One Day because they each gave me a better understanding of life in France, but none of them was a complete resource and in fact the first two books I mentioned actually kind of scared me.

# posted by Auntie M in Paris : 2:53 PM  

Love the photo!

And, the dinners at 10 pm--- I remember calling for a reservation at a very hot (then, no longer) restaurant L'oillade--- and getting a 10 pm rez and thinking, that's crazy, wow they must be dissing me cause they could tell through the phone line I'm American-- but it turned out to be "the" perfect time to start and we were the only Americans in the place . . it has long since changed we went back a few years later and it was not to be recommended. ~bluepoppy

# posted by Anonymous : 3:10 PM  

LOVE the picture. Ugh. I have some of my own. I want a statue of this in my garden. (I may add my own head...) would that be terrible? Ha.

It's so funny to me how your posts make me sick for Paris.

About the dress code, I totally understand. Bless your heart, you do such a good job of trying to "fit in". It's someone that few can understand. How you feel when you don't fit in, and how much you wish that you could just crawl away when you don't.

Thanks for posting, I look forward to your words each day ;)


# posted by Carrie : 7:51 PM  

Hi Auntie !

>> …/… I'll name two books at the risk of offending someone.

There is absoutely nothing wrong with honest, constructive criticism ! The overwhelming majority of authors are quite amenable to it. (smile)

>> …/…but I would not take their advice verbatim.. especially
since they seem to live at a higher social level than most of us.

Perhaps there's more to it than the high social level … both PP and BJ seem to be writing for a) Americans who are planning on settling in France forever (the much-touted "when in Rome" behavior) and/or b) Americans who have married into a French family. There might be a generation gap, too … However, in both cases A and B etiquette, the French way, is crucial.

A-type people, if they expect to fit in and prosper, must learn and know the ropes, while B-type people are under varying pressure from their spouses not to "alienate the family". The French bourgeoisie do have a lot of etiquette which we in the USA would consider outrageously out of date … but that's the way things are done here.

The good news is that, just as Americans in Japan are excused their mistakes when bowing or being too individualistic, Americans living/working in France for a relatively short time are not really expected to follow French etiquette to the letter. It's usually a smart move, though, to ask a French friend/acquaintance what the proper course of action is to be in a given situation. Rounds off the angles, in a way. For example, in a business situation, it's always a good idea to remember the secretary's first name (whether female or male) and wish "Bonne Fete" on the appropriate day (especially if it's "Catherine" !) Simple things like that can do wonders.


# posted by L'Amerloque : 1:56 PM  

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