11.01.2010

The Top 20 Things I Learned While Living in Paris- #12 Life As a Formal Affair



It’s not for everyone… and certainly not everyone in Paris was like this… but Famille Chic’s life really was a formal affair- and I loved it.

Do you ever feel as though our society has become too casual? I recently attended a baby shower in Santa Monica where six people were wearing jeans. Six people! So wrong...

Living in France I was pleasantly surprised to find Famille Chic was the furthest from casual a family could be.

They lived in a grand 16th arrondissement apartment filled with curious antiques (my favorites were the formidable portraits of their ancestors hanging in gold gilded frames that greeted you as you walked in the door). The whole family dressed beautifully from the moment they got ready for the day until bedtime. They enjoyed a three course (minimum) sit down dinner every single night- Madame Chic would wheel in the food on a service tray (so old fashioned, but so cool). They rarely watched television. After dinner they listened to classical music on their record player while Monsieur Chic smoked his pipe. They entertained guests in their salon at least once a week. I could go on…

Actually, I will. Do you know that every evening for the entire six months I lived with them, when at the dinner table, they insisted on serving me first as I was the female guest of honor? Then Madame Chic was served, then her husband and then their son. At first, I felt overwhelmed by the attention and pomp and circumstance of it all. But once I got over the initial surprise, realized that they weren’t putting on airs for me and that was their ‘normal’, I really embraced their customs.

Some people might equate formal with stuffy but that wasn’t the case at all with Famille Chic. They unapologetically lived the old fashioned way- with style and panache.

The following are some ways to add a little formality into your life when you feel things have gotten a bit too casual:

Play classical music in the background as you go about your day. It has a way of making whatever you do feel so much more important.

Get dressed up for dinner
.

Write a letter instead of sending an email- think how surprised the recipient would be!

Learn a fancy new word every day and incorporate it into a conversation. (This is great for when you feel that language has gotten too casual and you are horrified to realize you say ‘like’ way too much). For example, "The fog layer is giving Santa Monica a positively crepuscular feel today!”

Subscribe to a newspaper rather than reading your news online. It feels so much more formal to enjoy coffee and a biscuit while reading The Financial Times (plus you learn quite a lot too).

When entertaining, go all out (whatever that means for you). I recently had a playdate for some friends and our babies- a raspberry tart from Trader Joe’s (although I didn’t tell them that’s where it was from) looked beautiful on a fancy cake stand. Tea was out of proper cups and saucers- not mugs. Now this may not sound like much of an effort- but for a new mom who is sleep deprived- trust me, it is!

And as always, it is better to be overdressed than underdressed (remember the baby shower I went to?) so when in doubt, go all out.


I would love to know… how is your life a formal affair?

Won’t you stay tuned for #11?


The above picture is a close up of a typical building in Paris- I just love the architecture, the attention to detail and grand windows!

My book, Lessons from Madame Chic: The Top 20 Things I Learned While Living in Paris will be published by Simon & Schuster and re-released in the fall of 2012.

13 comments:

hostess of the humble bungalow said...

My life is an informal affair that is why I am studying here...hanging on to your words like a life preserver.

I do try to dress for the theatre, parties and events...and have clothes that are suitable.

My work and everyday life finds me in often in jeans, and an Hermes scarf, pearls and diamonds...with a white T or a crisp white shirt.

Stephanie said...

I love this post so much. It's just what I needed to hear today. I will never tire of hearing about your time in France and the lessons learned.

Sarah said...

I love your suggestions on how to keep things formal. My children are now 20, 18 & 16. Since they were little, little we've always eaten dinner at a set table, including candles. Fish sticks or pizza maybe, candles always. To jumpstart dinner conversation we started by going around the table and sharing the best part of their day. Try it!

Shelley said...

I finally bought the silver cutlery I've wanted for ages. I would rather have my Grandmother's silver, but since that doesn't look likely, I bought a set in the same pattern from Replacements.com. We eat dinner at the dining table (on a linen table cloth) with our new silver every night - often, but not always, by candlelight. If I'm going to spend that much money, I'm certainly going to get as much pleasure from it as possible!

Can't wait for #11!

labeck said...

I love your ideas that we can incorporate into our own lives :)

We may not be able to make others dress up for events just to make the day more special (like that baby shower), but we can make our own days special every day!

Loving your posts about your time in France!

max said...

I'm as informal as a girl can get, except, I do speak somewhat 'proper' so I try to dumb it down with a ton of 'like'. Then I feel silly because it sounds really stupid saying 'like' all the time! Haha. I think I'm going to take up listening to Chopin and Tchaikovsky from now on.

I'm so enjoying your 'things learned while living in Paris' blog posts. Dying to visit Paris so je peux pratiquer mon mauvais francais!

ciao:)

Beth Hazelton said...

Bon soir! I love this post. I just recently purchased the first pair of jeans I have owned on about ten years (dark, fitted, straight leg.) More often than not I long for the days when women dressed, men wore ties, and everyone changed for dinner. Especially in these economic times we should all try to do little things to enhance our lives. We always come to the dinner table altogether and share our day after prayer. Also, I love to have classical or soft jazz in the background. I wish I could say I have pulled husband and three teens away from copious amounts of TV...baby steps.

Can't wait for your next pearls of wisdom!

Pug1 said...

I love formal affairs! When I was in Scotland, I went to a friends home and they served their dinner formally too, with the cart and all! I enjoyed every minute of it! I'm hoping to go to Paris sometime as well. There is something special about being properly dressed and serving your best...hmm, it shows that you really care and that the event is important to you. CHEERS! Michele

The Coastal Chicster said...

I'm taking your advice and listening to classical music at work this week. I'm using Pandora on my phone, and it's been fun -- I've even rediscovered some old pieces that I loved in high school (I was kind of a band geek...). :) I loved this post -- and your entire series!

MyPerfumeLife said...

I love hearing about what you learned in Paris and I agree with all of your advice.

When I was in my mid 20s I went out with a much older guy who told me that the French get their clothes right. His theory was that a French woman would rather buy one fantastic, flattering dress rather than several jeans and t-shirt style outfits. It's so much better to live formally - I can only aspire to that with my extremely informal lifetysle.

The Daily Connoisseur said...

Hostess- I love your everyday look- I love that it's your version of 'casual' formal... jeans and a t shirt paired with a few luxurious items. That's really my uniform as well.

I strongly believe in dressing for certain occasions some of them being: theatre, ballet, opera, baby shower, bridal shower, any gathering in which someone went to great effort. That's why I was shocked to see so many jeans at the baby shower! The hosts went to such a great effort and it was also in honor of our pregnant friend. Hmmm.. it was very questionable... Thank you for your kind comments :)

Stephanie- Thank you so much. It really is great to get such positive comments. Having a newborn baby doesn't lend me with a lot of time to write so I'm really glad to hear my efforts are appreciated!

Sarah- I love your dinner table tradition and hope I will do the same with my growing family! I think it is so sad that so few families sit together at the dinner table now. I think it is so important. That's what I did growing up as a kid and I know no different, but my husband went to boarding school and didn't really do that when he grew up so sometimes we are at odds over this issue :)

Shelley- hello! I'm sorry to hear you weren't able to recover your Grandmother's pieces but am happy that you found them on replacements.com. Isn't it wonderful to use such nice things every day? It really adds a formal touch to the mundane...

Labeck- So true! I firmly believe in leading by example. We can't change other people but we can hope they get the point haha. Thanks for your sweet comment...

Max- this is actually a really common phenomenon! Well educated people who don't want to come across as pretentious so they 'dumb' themselves down a bit through language. I'm actually going to do a future post on it! I find myself saying 'like' way too much and it horrifies me. It's a direct result of being brought up in Southern California :) BTW Chopin is my favorite- I love his nocturnes...

Beth- baby steps indeed haha! We have cut down on copious amounts of TV now that we have a baby. I just don't want it on anymore and it feels great.

I love that you only own one pair of jeans. Madame chic never wore jeans (let alone trousers!) and I was always in awe of her.

Michele- formal dinners in Scotland? That sounds so amazing- I have always wanted to visit Scotland... I just picture wonderful old castles and tartan plaids :) All of the cliches but still... wonderful. I love reading Alexander McCall Smith's 44 Scotland Street series as they seem to capture the city beautifully...

Coastal Chicster- I was a band geek too! What instrument did you play? I was piano and saxophone :)

My Perfumed Life- hello! Was your older gentleman European? He was spot on- it really is so true. Things are just more formal in Europe- I really love that aspect of their culture. Hope you are well! xx

Coco Coterie said...

Lovely sugggestions, tenets, daily do's to live by. Learned much of these from my lovely German mother.
She knew how to dress, entertain, and make each guest feel special. Little did I know the encyclopedia of grace I was reading throughout the years by merely observing her.
Have a lovely day ~ xox Alexandra

saumya said...

Hi,
I have been following your blog since last 10 days and I have read almost all of the archives. I am an Indian and we surely are the type of South Asians not much known for living life as most Europeans do. In fact, I don't think there is a single blog written out here on these lines.. Thank you so much for inspiring me.. I truly want to learn more about European culture and particularly French and English culture. Any more similar sites that you can suggest are definitely welcome..

Thanks for posting such nice articles.. Keep going..

 
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