Liberty, Equality. Infidelity; FRANCE

Daily Mail (London), August 19, 2011 | Go to article overview

Liberty, Equality. Infidelity; FRANCE


Byline: BEL MOONEY

LA SEDUCTION

BY ELAINE SCIOLINO

(Beautiful Books [pounds sterling]8.99 [pounds sterling]7.99)

PARIS -- where else? -- was the city where I had one of the most romantic encounters of my young life.

I can't remember his name but we met in the Louvre and talked and drank wine ... and ... um ... my overwhelming memory is of irresistibly intelligent charm.

I practised my French, but his English was better. Fragrant geraniums filled his balcony ... Ah oui, I remember it well. Such reminiscences will warm old age.

My sweetly seductive encounter wouldn't surprise Elaine Sciolino. The New York Times journalist has been writing from Paris since 2002 and is well-qualified to make a study of (as her subtitle puts it) 'how the French play the game of life'.

The word 'game' is telling. I reached the end of this fascinating book on the Gallic approach to life and culture filled with a longing to hop on Eurostar, or fly down to Nice and ease myself into the pleasures of la belle France.

Good food, fine wine, chic clothes, perfume and an elegantly witty use of language ... all these play an important part in Elaine Sciolino's entertaining and personal analysis of French pleasures of life.

Oh yes -- and men who pay compliments. Sciolino has her hand kissed many times in researching this book, and introduces us to the subtle distinctions within the gesture. Personally I found these passages ... yes ... entirely seductive.

We tend to think of the word 'seduction' in a purely sexual context, but she makes it clear from the start that the French idea is much more complex and interesting. She explains: 'The tools of the seducer -- anticipation, promise, allure -- are powerful engines in French history and politics, culture and style, food and foreign policy, literature and manners.' We might substitute 'charm', 'attract', or even 'entertain' -- since the French verb 'seduire' implies all those things.

In France anything which is sophisticated and pleasurable might be described as 'seductive' -- from a shampoo to a book. The idea underpins all aspects of French life -- from business t o gardening.

WHAT'S more, a man who is described admiringly as 'un grand seducteur' is not necessarily a man who beds any willing woman; he might well be just a seriously attractive chap with a certain magnetic power over others -- of both genders.

Nevertheless the French attitude towards a man who charms women is very different to our own -- and far removed from the contemporary American ethos of political correctness which is outraged at a door being opened or a too-easy compliment.

A French politician can write a frivolous account of where best to spot beautiful women and nobody will complain. During the Monica Lewinsky scandal the French were at a loss to explain America's puritanical shockhorror and even a prominent female Roman Catholic politician commented approvingly, 'He loves women, this man! It's a sign of good health!'

A local politician from the Paris suburbs told Sciolino: 'We are an old people. The mistresses of monarchs ... are part of our history. In truth, what is scandalous across the Atlantic is one of the favourite traditions in France.'

The French tradition of privacy would not have lasted so long without a cultural tolerance which is absent here and in America. …

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