Monday, November 15, 2004

French En-"lite"-enment

At this point we've all heard about how French people (esp. French women) eat lots of meat and pastries, drink lots of wine and yet are all nonetheless thin and beautiful, while Americans (esp. American women) eat box after box of fat-free Snackwells and, predictably, are often overweight. Turns out the British also wonder about the French paradox:

"True, the French women I know tend not to get too hung up on 'dieting'; I have never witnessed a Parisienne performing the calorie or carbo calculus that bedevils so many British meals," writes Mimi Spencer in the UK Observer.

As with most explorations of the French paradox by Americans, this British investigation takes a look at the best French cuisine has to offer and ignores the ubiquitousness in France of the McDonalds-like "Quick" chain. Spencer also notes the emphasis of quality over quantity, the whole idea that the French savor their food, that French women care more about their appearances than do Brits or Americans, the usual.

(Part of what makes the thinness of the French such a source of fascination to Americans and Brits is that, when in France, Brits and Americans are likely to gain weight. But a French person who's had access to some fabulous corner pastry place her whole life is less likely to eat three a day.)

But, while none of the oft-repeated theories behind the French paradox are especially enlightening, the mini-interviews with "real" French women, asking them what keeps them slim, are funny as hell and are what save the article:

"Chloe Doutre-Roussel, 38, chocolate buyer at Fortnum and Mason. Lives in London.
When I first arrived here I was very puzzled by tinned food - I still don't understand spaghetti on toast, or why you use so much vinegar. And to me something like steak and kidney pie looks like it has been cooked using leftovers.I go to a local swimming pool here. All the women are plump, which you would never see in France. Here there is no discipline: no one listens when their body says 'stop'."

"Stephanie Giraud, 39, music producer, mother of two. Lives in Paris
If I want to lose weight I eat less cheese. I don't like your cheese but I love French cheese. I only drink water and a little red wine. Of course French men, like all men, prefer women to be slim."

And, best of all:

"Juliette Marrannes, 28, headhunter. Lives in London
British people seem to love fried things. In Britain, I often see girls who are chubby and whose hair and skin is in bad condition. In central France, you might see this in agricultural communities among the men, but you wouldn't see it in general. None of my French girlfriends look this bad. There seems to be less of a pride in oneself in the UK. This can be seen not only in your approach to diet, but also in alcohol consumption. In France, there's no culture of going out to get drunk. I drink a lot, but never to the point where I would vomit or fall over. It is ugly and vulgar to end up in a drunken mess. The one thing that does contradict my healthy lifestyle is the fact that I smoke 20 cigarettes a day."


Anonymous said...

Twenty cigarettes per day would work to reduce my consumption of pastry, not to mention my peanut M&M habit. --JM

Anonymous said...

Maybe one reason for French health is related to Swiss health, namely that living in or near the Alps is conducive to localized entropy and increased metabolism. Another reason is that when you only have a 35 hour workweek, it leaves much more free time to live.