Franco Files: Ze French Wife and the Art of Learning to Be a French Woman
Technically, I am not married. But I live with a French man and we have five children between the two of us. Nope, that is not a typo. Five. Thanks to lots of love and creativity, we have managed to create a real, or rather surreal, family from it all. Part of the art means that I have to learn to live with a French man, which, for an American, can feel as surreal as spending time with Dalí and his rhinoceros. What could be so different, being a French woman?
Remember last Saturday afternoon, when you and your partner were heading out to the local grocery store for the month’s shopping, and he looked at you and said, “You’re not wearing those shoes with that handbag, are you? Surely you’re joking. We’re not going out with you dressed like that.” ERCHH. Stop right there and rewind that scene.
In France, the fact that you were heading out on an errand together is a rarity. The vast majority of French women work full-time jobs and are still responsible for 80 percent of the household chores. The men rarely accompany their spouses on a trip to the market.
And while we’re on the subject of going to the market, even if Madame is able to take full advantage of Picard, her days will most likely include daily trips to the bakery and to a grocery or two for fresh produce. Which means that the list of chores is longer. Working French women are expected not only to cook and clean, but also to do the ironing, which includes not just business shirts but undergarments and even dish towels! This explains why there are so many “Pressing” shops in Paris. The work is being farmed out.
Taking care of the children is also the French woman’s job. Back-to-school night, even in a very progressive bilingual school with lots of Anglophone parents, looks like a frantic girls’ night out. Only about 15 percent of the dads are present, and in the public schools, the number plummets to about 5 percent. If there is a problem in the classroom, teachers don’t ask to meet the parents; they want Mom’s cell phone number directly.
If all this strikes you as being as unreal as a Magritte painting, there are benefits that make it worth Madame’s while. Monsieur really does care that she be put together, so he tends to be incredibly supportive of her shopping. And most employees get eight weeks of holiday a year, providing a large canvas on which she can balance family time, couple time and time for herself. In the end, it’s not so much a modern painting at all but something completely unique and individual created by a French woman, a part of what makes French life a lovely work of art.