The French Way of Life

This post is the second installment in a semester-long series of posts from Towson senior Allie Woodfin. Allie is studying this Fall 2014 semester at the University of Avignon.

You can also follow along on her tumblr at:

tumblr_nbj1r8KiB01tkiq0jo1_1280My favorite thing about life here is that the French love pleasure. Let me define pleasure: not blind hedonism, and not reckless indulgence punctuated with regret—but civilized appreciation for things that make life taste sweet. Things that tend to be quietly looked down upon in the U.S.: relishing delicious food, taking long vacations, kissing for more than a few seconds—are parts of life here. In America, we scuttle through enjoyment as if we don’t deserve it. As if we should always be cutting carbs, checking emails on vacation, yo-yo dieting, and waiting until no one’s around to kiss our loved ones. There is a reason why foreigners fall in love with the French lifestyle—because the French love the French lifestyle.

As much as Americans love the leisure, wine, and cheese that France takes so much pride in, we have a hard time understanding how that can be a lifestyle instead of a vacation diet (to be halfheartedly sweated off in guilty elliptical workouts later). Here’s the difference, according to Mireille Guiliano, author of French Women Don’t Get Fat: ‘French women think about good things to eat; American women typically worry about bad things to eat.'” The mindset here seems to be that if you’re going to do something at all, do it right, and enjoy it.

I’m living with a host family that owns a local restaurant, and have had no choice but to embrace that mindset wholeheartedly. We eat whatever’s in season and whatever is unbearably tasty: quiches with walnuts and blue cheese, tomatoes stuffed with spicy pork sausage, galettes baked with ham, tomatoes, and eggs. And unless the sky is falling or we’re especially tired that evening, we finish the meal with fresh bread, flavorful cheese wrapped in paper, and creamy yogurts flavored with lemon, chocolate, or Madagascar vanilla.

Even my salad at the airport on my first day in France was delicious: a salad of crisp and frilly lettuce, salty prosciutto, soft mozzarella, and a slick and tangy blend of olive oil & balsamic poured from its very own doll-sized bottle. In the U.S., this would be $17, considered gourmet, and on the “skinny” menu. In France, this came from a cardboard box and cost about 6€. No healthy humblebrag label, just good food. Food that makes you smile when you’re finished.

But to smile at the end of your rich and delicious meal, you can’t be miserably full. Moderation is the key to guiltless enjoyment. It’s also a matter of health and well-being. I learned this from a YouTube ad for Roquefort Société, touting slices of salty, creamy cheese flecked with steel-green veins. Just as the commercial was about to end, it gently warned potential customers: “Pour votre santé, évitez de grignoter entre les repas.” That basically means ,“for your health, avoid snacking between meals.” There’s a website to prove it (

If you’re snacking or overeating, you’re either dissatisfied with your food or dissatisfied with something in your life (which is why emotional eating is a problem for so many people). You can’t hurry through the pleasurable parts of your life and expect to be satisfied. And, you certainly can’t mistake your guilt afterwards as guilt for indulging—instead, recognize that as guilt for cheating yourself out of the full enjoyment of something wonderful. Next time you’re tempted to binge-eat fat-free, sugar-free ice cream in the privacy of your home, go buy a single scoop of rich, sweet goodness, eat it on a sunny stroll, and remember the difference. Moderation is the key to pleasure—and you deserve it.

– Alexandra Woodfin –