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Our biggest mistake is believing the French are basically the same as us

The other day I chanced across an online invitation to American women to join in some sort of telephone seminar before they move to France.

The hook was to learn, and avoid, the five mistakes US women make when leaping across to Europe.

It intrigued me because I've noticed France has even more of an allure for stateside women of all ages than it does for our own oddball collection of immigrants who, clutching our black bin bags, somehow stumble over the channel.

Generally, if their blogs are anything to go by, they come alone, usually to Paris of course, but occasionally to the south. Many seem to have been magazine editors, designers, artists or photographers and end up in wonderful bijou apartments selling everything from brocante finds to sweet little drawings of macaroons and "cute" Parisian shop fronts.

Others came for love and give sickening glimpses of slightly stubbled, gorgeous, truly gorgeous French men in cashmere scarves, reaching out to them across a candle-lit table in a Provencal courtyard.

I admit here to momentary deep, deep, corrosive envy, but that may be because I know these women will never, ever have my particular problem right now: tadpoles in my "en-suite" lavatory. (I will come back to that).

They are photographed looking as chic as they ever did in Upper East/West NY – preppy, blatantly tall, skin taut and just dusted by a tan.

(Apologies for a parenthesis here but a reader emailed recently saying my byline picture was at odds with my column. "We should see you sun-kissed, sun bleached hair tousled as if you've just come from the pool." Trust me, it sounds good but the resulting pic would be more akin to The Creature From -)

Back to the Americans. These women are so damn perfect they even throw in recipes and photograph their "tablescapes" just before equally bloody lovely friends come for dinner.

For God's sake, they actually deep-fry courgette flowers – having stuffed the things. For aperos!

OK, steady, calm down and let's get back to the original premise: mistakes American women make when coming to France. As I can't get into the site I haven't a clue what they could be. From their blogs it seems the first and last mistake they ever made were their hairstyles in the graduation yearbook.

So, I'll try to suggest the five mistakes any single woman makes when coming to France. Only five?

1) Arriving alone. Don't ditch and run. You need a man to chop wood, mow the fields, deal with spiders, mice, tadpoles in the loo (soon, soon), and to ward off zombies, aliens and cold callers. Even if you have the money, "buying" a man for household problems is virtually impossible as no-one can be bothered working.

2) Living alone in La France Profonde. Mistake. Find a city. French rurals think you're off your head for buying here in the first place. And if still remotely young enough, obviously desperate for a sweaty farmer between 5pm and 7pm when his wife is boiling up his cassoulet.

3) Cooking. Don't. Once you start you're on the dinner/lunch party conveyor belt to one-up-man ship hell. Miss one return bout or drop off the merry-go-round and you can stuff those courgette flowers where the sunflowers don't bloom.

4) Believing you will find soul mates. Maybe perfect Americans can and do. The rest of us go mad trying after destroying liver and brain cells and compromising our beliefs in the process. Be grateful for one, two at a push if you're very lucky.

5) Thinking that the French language will magically make sense merely by inhaling the same air and playing a lot of Edith Piaf. It's a tough call for those starting late in life. Even those of us who had it before we came have days when conversations drift into meaningless babble.

Actually I think our biggest mistake is probably in believing, barring language, that the French are basically the same as us.

Americans have no such delusions. It's obvious to them that Yurrup is a very strange and thrilling place and so they approach living here from quite a different perspective. They do not expect to be integrated but they'll keep trying. They take joy in the very differences that ultimately frustrate us, just loving the very foreignness of it all.

To illustrate the difference, I finally come to the tadpoles. When my electric loo failed to pump, I simply closed the lid and began the long wait for an electrician.

Opening it a week later I was horrified to find things swimming there.

Roselyn peered in, nodded: "Mmm, tadpoles." "Tadpoles? No, that can't be," I said, appalled.

"Mmm, you're right," she said. "More likely toad babies."

Of course. n

cookfidelma@hotmail.com

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