The French Connection
by Lucie Hart
I have spent half my life in France and the other half in England, and my brand of French-inflected chick lit grew out of this experience. Over the years I’ve been constantly struck by differences between our cultures. But nowhere is this more fascinating and hilarious than when it comes to relationships between men and women – to romance.
It was no accident that, although I am French, I found myself writing fiction about this stuff in English. Of course I’d been living in London for years, but there was more to it: namely the fact that France has no chick lit – no home-grown chick lit, that is. Most of what’s available in bookshops is translated from the English. How come? Well, there’s a certain kind of confident, knowing sassiness about the genre that’s just not part of French tradition, though no doubt this will change.
Another difference: French women who move to Britain all complain about the same thing – “Nobody looks at me in the street”. It’s the oddest feeling, like losing your reflection or your shadow. But after a while, you realise that of course Englishmen do look at you – only they do it when you’re looking the other way, which is rather sweet. In France, on the other hand, men are always gazing at women, and quite openly. It’s a sort of national sport. This can be intimidating if you’re not used to it: in Paris, a heavily pregnant British friend was shocked to be propositioned in the street. Outrageous? Sexist? Maybe so. But the thing to bear in mind is that French women also take an active part in this national sport.
The name of the sport is la seduction, which translates not as seduction but as seductiveness. This means that there is always an element of playful flirtatiousness between men and women in the street, at work, during pregnancy – anytime and anywhere. It’s a vibration, an atmosphere, the possibility of something that may never materialise. It’s a game and a way of life. While they stand their ground in terms of equal rights, socially and politically, French women have retained an unabashed feminine seductiveness that is cherished as one of the perks of being French. That is why political correctness has not ‘taken’ in France. That is why French girls mind being ignored in the street.
In terms of storytelling, it’s when people from these different cultural traditions come face to face that the fun begins. There’s much comedy – and many romantic and erotic possibilities – in cultural misunderstandings. I like to take my heroines out of their comfort zone and ruthlessly transplant them abroad, where they have to grapple with incomprehensible men – and sometimes grow to love them. It’s a test of character and a promise of transformation. Because, sometimes, moving away is the best way of finding your true self.
Having spent half her life in France and the other in Britain, Lucie Hart writes atmospheric romantic comedies about the pleasing conflagrations that occur when the British come face to face with the French – and the Americans. She lives in London with her English husband and their son. Lucie Hart’s novel A Valentine’s Kiss is out now. She’s also published Finding Monsieur Right, as Muriel Zagha. Follow Lucie Hart on Twitter @luciehartauthor