9.27.2009

Mystery- Comme les Français


I am in the midst of reading Debra Ollivier’s latest book What French Women Know (review forthcoming) and am, so far, enjoying it immensely. It is filled with so many thought-provoking topics and allows the reader to capture a glimpse into the psyche of the French woman. So many of Ollivier’s observations are so spot on with my experiences living in France and observing Madame Chic and Bohemienne that it is a particular delight for me to read.

The second chapter of the book is entitled Mystery. Ollivier purports that French women are less like their American counterparts when it comes to revealing things about themselves. They enjoy relishing in the unknown- allowing you to guess about their innermost secrets. Ollivier suggests that their air of mystery makes them more alluring- which is in stark contrast to our overly friendly American mannerisms- which can be endearing and make us lovable- but leave little to the imagination. I couldn’t agree more. I believe many of us Anglos suffer from TMI (too much information) syndrome.

I suffer from a moderate case of TMI syndrome. While I am a relatively private person, I do find myself telling my life story a little more often than I probably should (you know, in order to keep an air of mystery about me).

I recently got a mani/ pedi from a new esthetician at the spa I frequent and found myself telling her my life story- where I grew up, what I studied in school, what I am doing now, marital status, humorous complaints about married life, my book- you name it I said it. I do this a lot too. And I know I’m not the only one. I’ve had at least three strangers this week tell me their life stories (people are very friendly in Santa Monica).

Discussing this very subject on the phone with my cousin today (who I tell absolutely everything to, btw) she asked the very valid question: “Well what else are you supposed to talk about with someone you just met?” In America we are so used to asking the same generic "polite" questions to strangers such as: Where do you live? What do you do for a living? Where are you from? It is normal for us to ask these seemingly harmless questions to “get a sense” of what the other person is like. If we weren’t to ask those questions, what on earth would we talk about?

I suppose one could discuss the last book they read, their favorite restaurant, the most recent art exhibition they attended (all the more reason to continue with my pursuit of Culture Comme les Francais).

I will explore this topic further in the future (trust me I could go on for ages)… but for right now I would love to know… do you give away too much information about yourself? Or do you prefer le mystere?


Photo of Modigliani's Jeanne (a wonderfully mysterious woman) is pictured above.

What French Women Know can be purchased at: www.amazon.com

23 comments:

Josephine Tale Peddler said...

What a fascinating topic. I think mystery is better but I have to admit I do reveal too much. I think in this age of Facebook, Twitter and Blogs we are all losing our mystery. I am fascinated by lives of others but I do feel I should close my social networking accounts sometimes.I am a Scorpio and so we love mystery and secrets. xx

vicki archer said...

I vote for mystery (within reason)....xv

Alan Burnett said...

Yes this is an interesting topic. Blogging can be, of course, the very antithesis of mystery but it need not be so. If no information is provided you have boredom and not mystery. To have mystery you do need some scaffolding around which to build an imagined picture.

The Blushing Hostess said...

I absolutely agree they have that quality and wish more of us did!

Perfumeshrine said...

How interesting it is to see how different nationalities view introductions and small talk! Yes, the French are not as forthcoming, true.
In regards to your cousin's question “Well what else are you supposed to talk about with someone you just met?”, LOL, Greeks are never short of a subject to talk about: the common affairs, taking the form of either politics (ever since antiquity, I'm afraid, it's a national sport) or high-gloss gossip. They both seem to break the ice!

CashmereLibrarian said...

I'm very American in this respect but the one thing I don't understand is "our" need to share so many of the negative details of our lives with others. I tend to share only the positive aspects of my life with others, and if people think I live a charmed life, then so much the better!

Divina said...

Another interesting, thought-provoking topic!

What I wanted to say is that it is a really hard balance to strike, between keeping the mystery alive and not revealing enough to spark any interest at all. Personally I believe that as long as we are passionate about the things we discuss, we can incite immense feelings in others. Who won't be intrigued by an ambitious woman who reveals her dreams about the future, or a woman who dares reveal her passion about something that moves her? On the other side of things, there is a certain danger in not revealing nearly enough, the danger that the other will come to believe that behind the mystery hides nothing but vacuous emptyness. Because unfortunately, there are enough examples of 'mysterious' women and men like that....

TMI information on the other hand is really just that, too much.

The Daily Connoisseur said...

Wow- what a great response!

Josephine- I completely agree- I am constantly shocked to read people posting marital spats and other such private matters on facebook! I do think that blogging is different however- we are keeping the dialogue going and I do love reading about other people's lives from around the world... Your renovation, for example, I would be crushed if you didn't share that with us! xo

Vicki- I agree- within reason- is the key! xo

Alan- Said like a true artist! Indeed, no information would be boring- what I love about all of the blogs I read is that people share snippets of their lives (not information overload) which keeps the mystery alive and lends a lot to the imagination.

Blushing Hostess- Hello and thank you for visiting my blog! I agree- I would love to have the air of mystery like the French but unfortunately I don't think it will work as well living in L.A. For example, I can't ignore someone when they ask me personal questions about my life... or can I? Hmmm :)

Helg- That is probably why I love Greek people- I love their passion and desire to talk about multitudes of topics. You hit on a key point- they discuss common affairs, politics and even gossip (all fair game in my book) but they do not give TMI in the form of - latest diet, number of ex-husbands, hip issues... you get the idea :)

Cashmere- I couldn't agree more. I say keep it positive. Of course it helps to unload the negative aspects of you life too every now and then but for that I have one or two trusted people I discuss these issues with. The information feels safe that way and then the negativity doesn't feel out of control...

Hi Divina- you hit the nail on the head... the key is having passion! Which one can easily have if they are discussing art, politics, culture etc. I think TMI does not lend itself to speaking passionately- TMI is rather more self-indulgent... it doesn't contribute as much to society. By the way, I don't know if you ever saw, but I presented you with the Honest Scrap award a few posts ago... I know you were busy and away but check it out if you get the chance! x

Linda H said...

I too just bought the book and can't wait to read it. But mostly I can't wait to buy VICKI ARCHER"S new book!!! YIPEE two new french books.

Yes I think American's divulge too much about themselves however most Europeans love to talk politics and in the US it has become another taboo subject so what's left???

Rebecca said...

Yes, yes, way too much information from Americans. A French woman I know always stops me when I start spouting off (I'm shy, but still I feel compelled to tell my life story ;) and tells me very nicely, "I don't need to know all this." I agree, keep the mystery, but I do like some details (as long as they are positive as CashmereLibrarian stated.) Also, like Alan said above, no information is boring. This is a great topic!

Romi said...

I just wrote a long response confessing the symptoms of my TMI and then deleted it in order to be mysterious...I'd love to say that I'm joking, but I am totally not. Lol! Very interesting discussion. *Smiling with a veiled expression*

The Daily Connoisseur said...

Linda- I know- I can't wait for Viki's book too! You are so right with the politics thing. I'm afraid to bring up any subject relating to politics in the states...

Rebecca- LOL! I can just imagine your French friend telling you she doesn't need to know! You have to admire their honesty... that would never happen from an American- we are generally too polite :)

Romi- You crack me up. I am totally getting the mysterious vibe from you right now :)

M.Lane said...

Mystery. Why? Because when we engage whatever part of the other person's mind that is intrigued by puzzles and mystery we are so VASTLY more interesting than when we engage the part that just receives and [perhaps] stores information. I would reveal more of my techniques in this regard but that would lower the mystery. You'll just have to meet me someday. If you realize it's me...

ML
mlanesepic.blogspot.com

LA Frog said...

“Well what else are you supposed to talk about with someone you just met?”

Therein lies the difference between French and American women. The French would never talk about personal matters with people they have just met, whereas it happens all the time here. Even with close acquaintances, there are subjects and personal details that are off-limits. The French call it "Cultiver son jardin secret" (to cultivate/protect one's secret/private garden.)

As a French woman living in the U.S., I am baffled by the intimate information complete strangers will share with me, whether it is at the grocery store or a dinner party. I don't need to know about their sex life or bank account; I don't want to know. I also resent people probing me on my personal life, and will tend to respond as insignificantly as possible. TMI is not appealing. Intimacy is not an instant affair. And on the subject of relationships, women confiding their issues and hang-ups to men is not sexy. On the other hand, I would have no problem talking about religion or politics -- two subjects that are either taboo or fistfight-prone here. Call it cultural dissonance...

On the whole, and at the risk of caricature, I find the U.S. culture in need for the explicit (especially with matters of the heart and soul,) whereas French culture favors the implicit -- hence the "mystère" you write about.

The Daily Connoisseur said...

M. Lane- You explained it so eloquently (and scientifically I might add). Yes, mystery every time!

LA Frog- I love getting the perspective from a real French woman! Another interesting said in the book was that French women aren't afraid of conflict (whereas I avoid conflict at all costs, usually). So it is understandable why they have no problem discussing politics and other potentially fiery topics. They agree to disagree and having an opinion is considered an asset...

LA Frog said...

Conflict is not meant in the American, but in the French way = debate. I guess that's why we're called surrender monkeys: everyone shares and respects each other's opinion, and nobody dies in the end ;)

Easy and Elegant Life said...

As a blogger, there is a lot about me out there. My choice. And I tend to be a raconteur, with my life being the subject from which I draw most often. Mrs. E. is much the same as I.

When meeting new people I am now making more of an effort to draw them out and find out a little of their life stories.

My mother was once told that a woman who can keep her age a secret, can be trusted with anyone else's. Even I don't know her real age, although I have an educated guess that since I am 43, she is no longer 39.

Gary Heller said...

Wonderful blog and certainly a most interesting post.
I am considered by many to be very reserved and very much a private person. however, I believe in being open and honest and my incrediblly nagging self conscious will not let me be any other way. So, i sometimes find myself revealing more about things and life than I intend or desire to. Yet,I have no regtrets about it.
Mystery is good. We all love it and are intrigued by it.
One thing to keep in mind is that people of various cultures and nationalities are different in certain ways when it comes to aspects of social etiquettes and relations. I like the variety and it certainly is the spice of life.

Also, it is sometimes better to die in the end than to surrender all your values. . .

Thanks for dropping by my blog. I will be back to visit yours often

The Daily Connoisseur said...

Easy and Elegant- Bravo to your mother for preserving the allure of mystery! Yes as bloggers we all share a lot about ourselves to everyone, but I believe we are sharing our artistic sides (not our TMI sides, hopefully) and I think the world cannot have enough art...

Gary- Thank you for your comment. You are so right- each culture has its own rules for etiquette and what is acceptable upon meeting someone new for the first time and that is what makes life interesting. As I am a (bordering on obsessed) Francophile, I naturally gravitate towards the French way. Helg's comment (above) illustrates how the Greeks like to greet people... and I find that Americans, British and Australians have similar characteristics- we are a friendly bunch ;)

LA Frog said...

@Gary: "Also, it is sometimes better to die in the end than to surrender all your values."

But that's the thing: you don't need to die to hold on to you values in French culture. That's the difference between debate and conflict.

Polly-Vous Francais said...

I have to admit that a lot of what Debra Ollivier wrote in her book resonated with me. I learned a lot living in France about the mystere and found total cultural shock returning to the US where everyone seems to wear their life story on their sleeve, or their bumpersticker, in the most casual of circumstances.

But I have to voice my complaint with her book, which is that she took not only inspiration but a complete essay from my blog, published it in her book, without permission or attribution:

http://pollyvousfrancais.blogspot.com/2009/09/what-french-women-know-part-one.html

Doesn't it seem unjust that bloggers are promoting her book? Would other bloggers want their material to be lifted for someone else's personal gain?

I like the discussion, and there is a lot to be debated about the French vs American attitude. But I think that there should be some accountability in the publishing industry, and that we who blog for free and for the love of it should have some sort of protection.

I look forward to the debate!

The Daily Connoisseur said...

Polly- I'm so sorry that happened! When I finally post my review for the book I will be sure to mention that that passageway is from your blog xo

The Daily Connoisseur said...

Polly I meant "passage" not passageway ;)

 
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