Five Things Paris Has Taught Me

I’ve learned a lot from the French over the years – particularly from spending time in Paris. The Parisians are an interesting bunch: strong, stylish, and seemingly indifferent. But really, it’s not indifference, it’s more of a supreme comfort in their own skin mixed with an “I couldn’t care less what you think of me” attitude.

I first visited on a school trip to France when I was seventeen and then returned at nineteen to do a semester abroad at the American College. I was captivated by the beauty of the city, and even more so by the confidence and style of the French people I met.

After numerous return visits over the years – including an epic birthday celebration a couple months ago – I realize that Paris has taught me quite a few things about the well-lived life.

1. Take the time to slow down and savor the little things. An early morning stroll through the flower market, the perfect cappuccino, a warm baguette with Brie, dipping your toes in the ocean – this is what makes for a joyful and connected life. Of course, when you’re surrounded by all of the beauty that is Paris, it makes it easier to remember to stop and smell the roses. The French have a term called “flâneur,” which means “to stroll or saunter.” Mastering “flânerie” in Paris is considered a true art form. Even when I’m back home in Los Angeles, I try to embrace my inner flâneuse, even if it’s just a 10 minute stroll down Melrose Place before a client meeting, poking my head into shops and soaking in the atmosphere.

2. Do things just for the sheer pleasure of it. Love fresh flowers? Buy them for yourself every week. Love going to the movies? Take yourself on a movie date. Love beautiful perfume, like my favorite, Hermès Eau de Merveilles? Wear it every day!  No one savors a glass of champagne, a good book, a new fragrance or an afternoon stroll more than a Frenchwoman. These women understand that pleasure in all forms is the key to sustained happiness. Here in America, we save “the good tablecloth” and “the nice wine” for “special occasions.” But in France, their attitude is, “Every day is a special occasion.” So why not open that bottle today? Why not wear your all-time favorite outfit today? Why wait?

3. Embrace quality over quantity. I’ve never met a Parisian woman with a large closet. She takes her time to carefully select the items she wants to include in her wardrobe and then edits ruthlessly on a regular basis. She meticulously takes into account what looks good on her and proceeds accordingly. The same goes for the china she uses for dinner parties, the flowers she chooses for her home – and even the people she keeps in her life. I think about this philosophy a lot, especially in terms of my social life. Rather than saying “Yes!” to every single invitation that comes my way, I try to pause and ask, “Is this going to light me up? Is my heart really in it? Do I really want to go to this fundraiser/talk/coffee date etc.? Or am I just cluttering up my calendar and my life?” When we take a moment to ask ourselves these kinds of questions, the answers usually become very clear.

Liz Dennery in Paris4. Love the skin you’re in. In American culture, youth is idolized, while older women are often ignored, and even worse, forgotten. But in Europe, an older woman is seen as wise and sexy – someone with a world of experience and a lot to offer. Actress Sophia Loren once said, “There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.” Parisian women – particularly those over 50 – maintain a mysterious air of confidence and allure. They don’t seem to obsess about the number on a scale or how many wrinkles they have on their face. They’re too busy living full, creative and adventurous lives.

5. Civility will never go out of style. Parisians tend to get a bad rap for being “brusque” with visiting Americans, but I’ve seen examples of such poor behavior on the part of American tourists that it doesn’t surprise me. If you’ve ever taken the time to watch a French waiter at a nice restaurant, you’ll notice that he cares very deeply for his craft and treats his work with tremendous respect – and he expects the same from his patrons. When you practice your manners – and your French – and treat your waiter with graciousness and respect, you’ll find it returned in kind.  We could all use a little more civility here in America. Before blaring our car horns, yelling at someone who’s taking too long at the checkout counter or posting a snarky blog comment, we’d do well to ask ourselves, “Is what I’m about to do really necessary? Is this who I really want to be?”

Paris has taught me to slow down and appreciate the little things. The elegant Parisian women I know have shown me what it looks like to own my power and embrace my age with grace and a sense of adventure. And I’ve never indulged in a glass of champagne, a perfect bunch of peonies or a late afternoon stroll along the Seine that didn’t boost my mood and affirm my love for a life well-lived, n’est ce pas?

To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance,” said Oscar Wilde, a man who loved Paris, visited often, and who rests there today in the Père Lachaise Cemetery. I couldn’t agree more. Paris is a place that invites you to fall in love with life…and with yourself. Each time I visit, I’m reminded that beauty, color and simple pleasures surround me every day, and in every city – not just the streets of Paris. I just have to be willing to open my eyes and heart and take it all in.

Comments

  1. I really enjoyed reading this. I plan to one day go to France. Until then, I can use these 5 tips to feel more French wherever I am.

  2. Such a beautiful piece Liz… thank you – I look forward to my trip next month even more now – wish you were coming too- thank you for such poignant reminders about living a meaningful and connected life!

  3. Liz,
    Loved your post…fresh flower, fresh sheets… life is yummy and we must savor! Thanks for the Sunday inspiration…

  4. I am COMPLETELY embracing the “old” is wise and sexy! I turned 40 in May and have never felt more confident and youthful and stylish! Lovely read! -Elizabeth

  5. LIz, Great observations and insights on Paris and life! It was a delightful escape among the other news of the day! I totally love Paris also!

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