I have never thought of myself as a real French lover until I met Sandy, my American girlfriend in Paris in 2002. I worked as an editor in charge of the sentimental novels department of one of the most famous French publishing houses. Sandy was a young journalist who wrote articles about the French lover myth. We had a lively conversation about how the French view romance and love. For the first time, I realized how much other people in the world could idealize the French lover myth.
True, the French are said to have about 137 sex relations a year, so they come first as lovers, though the Americans proved to have a better sex life in 2003. Many French boys or girls have their first sex intercourse at the age of 17. But a majority of people does not consider sex as the most important element in a relationship. Of course, more women than men say they prefer loving-kindness to sex, especially before and after sex. « Remember, you called me a hundred times and sent me at least 10 dozen roses before inviting me to Maxim’s restaurant before we had sex. » Sandy has always been proud of the very beginning of our relationship she considers as highly romantic and typical of any French love stories.
In addition, Paris has always been the most romantic city in the world before Venice or Amsterdam. I remember our Special Menu Valentine Day’s Dinner Cruise on the Seine River. Along the left bank we could see the Invalides, Orsay Museum and Notre Dame Cathedral while a violinist and a singer were interpreting Edith Piaf’s La Vie en Rose or Michel Sardou ‘s La Maladie d’amour. That was some kind of magic I will never forget.
Yet, many people in France suffer from loneliness, as it is the same in many other western countries. People think they will have several lovers in their life, even if they still believe in love forever. More and more people get divorced, so marital life may be in danger more easily. They would be ready to quit their job, do activities that do not please them or even change their style in order to seduce their partner. Contrary to many Americans, they would not go on surgery to get the perfect body.
True, Sandy does not look like Kylie Minogue who is the sexiest girl in the world for many French men. She is rather plump and usually gets dressed in casual clothes, but I am so fond of her stamina and charming witty jokes. Many women’s magazines show anorexic top models as the most attractive women. Young girls want to look like their favorite star and are obsessed with being thin and sexy. But many French men prefer women who have a very good self-esteem. They do not always buy lingerie for their girlfriends. Some prefer more traditional gift ideas such as chocolate, perfume or flowers.
What is more, French lovers enjoy communicating their love by means of messages, letters or poems. This French tradition comes from the troubadours ‘ love songs in the middle Ages when courtly love ennobled love in the 11th century in France. This year, Sandy and I have decided to spend Saint Valentine’s Day in Roquemaure in the South of France. After visiting Saint Valentine’s relics and attending the lovers’ festival program, we are going to listen to the troubadours playing love songs in the Organ Barrel concert on Sunday of Lovers. I know Sandy will give me a heart-warming kiss, as it is the custom in the town of the Kiss of Love. I will also enjoy the lover’s wine offered by the winegrowers who celebrate the god Bacchus.
Actually, we are very lucky to live in France since we can find a lot of romantic places to celebrate our love every year. Last year, we spent our lovers’ weekend in the Grand Hotel du Lyon d’Or, an old manor house situated in the Loire valley halfway between the castles of Chambord and Chenonceau. Our room was close to one of the 25 exceptional gardens enclosed in hedges of trimmed beech trees. French meals were exquisite and we really enjoyed the appetizer with Champaign.
French people tend to have their dream of love come true since love has been one key element of our culture in literature, arts and music. Tristan and Iseult was the first medieval novel about courtly love. Since then many singers have celebrated love. Today, French people consider Johnny Halliday’s Que je t’aime as the most representative love song. When Sandy asked me to translate one extract of the lyrics, I just realized how erotic the love song is:
When my body upon your body
Heavy as a dead horse
Does not know anymore
If it still exists;
When we make love
As others make war
When I am the dying soldier
Losing the battle
I love you so much
I love you so much
I love you so much
Quand mon corps sur ton corps
Lourd comme un cheval mort
Ne sait pas ne sait plus
S’il existe encore
Quand on a fait l’amour
Comme d’autres font la guerre
Quand c’est moi le soldat
Qui meurs et qui la perds
Que je t’aime, que je t’aime, que je t’aime
Que je t’aime, que je t’aime, que je t’aime!
I think the song may stand for the French idealistic view of love and their concern in sex, even if many people would not say they fantasize about making love with a celebrity or their lover on the beach, in a Jacuzzi, in a car or in the woods. They usually have 12 sex partners in their life and 9 people out of 10 think of having sex at least once a day.
So, the French lover myth has certainly not come to an end and one positive result is the increasing birth rate that has placed France in the top third of Northern and Western European countries in 2007.