Those Elusive French Habits

livng forever chic tish jett - 1Yet another book about how to live like a chic French woman?! Well, sure—because people can’t stop buying them. This one, Living Forever Chic: Frenchwomen’s Timeless Secrets for Everyday Elegance, Gracious Entertaining, and Enduring Allure, is by American expat Tish Jett, whose 2013 book Forever Chic: French Women’s Secrets for Timeless Beauty, Style, and Substance, was a bestseller.
Living Forever Chic returns to the well trod terrain of French style and beauty, but extends the notion of French art de vivre to include everyday manners, cooking, entertaining, and even housekeeping.
The advice comes from (mainly) rich and successful women of a certain age: those self-possessed sylphs who don’t let menopause stop them from wearing sexy lingerie under their perfectly cut jeans. It’s all about a balance of manners and self-discipline undergirding a relaxed, open approach.
We have heard the tenets of French joie de vivre and savoir faire before, that Gallic je ne sais quoi can still be elusive for the non-French to emulate. This book dives deep to parse it.
Jett is a journalist and editor, mainly for fashion magazines and newspapers, so her text is quick-moving and easy-to-digest. No purple prose here. But she goes the distance, too, in describing the cultural and historical reasons for certain French customs. For example, it’s OK to raise your glass in a toast at dinner but not OK to clink them. tish jettWhy? “The clinking of glasses began in the Middle Ages when goblets were heartily slammed against each other,” Jett writes. “The idea is that if there were poison in one of the vessels, it would spill over into the other goblet, a sort of test to see if your friend wanted to kill you.” Who knew?
Living Forever Chic covers a lot of ground, from French larder staples (and recipes) to essential oils to elevate mood and energy. Much of the advice is obvious (wear less makeup as you age; don’t use your phone at dinner). But the true Francophile will enjoy the hair-splitting on less-known French traditions (many of which I believe even most French people are unanware of). For example, when entering a restaurant, the man leads the way to “open the path” for the woman, but when a waiter or host seats them, the woman precedes her date. Some readers may find this nuanced do-si-do refined; others may find it a bit dated.
You may not have the budget for some of the recommendations in the book, especially when it comes to high-end beauty products Jett cherishes. But there’s no cost to adding impeccable manners to your repertoire. With this book you can daydream about inviting an ambassador, a philosopher and a politican to your dinner party—they are part of a perfect guest list, the book says—and you can feel confident that such a party would never make the faux pas of seating a couple together—unless they are newlyweds or fiances. Sacre bleu!

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