The Independent Traveler's Newsletter                         PAGE FOUR
Shopping Chic in Paris - Part Two
                                                                                                                                     by Maxine Rose Schur

There is not a single purchase in France that does not involve comparison, discussion, explanation and loads of advice.  For your own shopping chic savvy, I will now generously share with you 17 pearls of French fashion wisdom offered to me:

17 Pearls of French Fashion Wisdom

1. Color Your clothes need not match in color; in fact they should be nuancé.  They must agree in their basic color and merely be of different hues. In this way, for example all greens go together, all blues match each other, and so on.  It's an optical thing. Pure science. It is not you, but the eye of the beholder that creates the color matching . . . now doesn't that take the pressure off?

2. Fabric If you're wearing the same colors and they look wrong, it's because they don't match. Now you must ignore Pearl #1 because the problem is this: your fabrics aren't matching. The same color of silk, wool, cotton, linen etc. all reflect light differently and this mismatch can make you look thrown together, not put together. Take care to match or at least complement your materials.

3. Risk  For stunning color, take risks by observing nature.  Mix royal blue with taupe, brown with prune, emerald with orange.  It is the unexpected that enchants.  The rule is no rule. That's why it's OK, even lovely to wear black shoes with brown clothes. Also do what the French love to do, pair dark chocolate with navy. Elegante.

4. Eclectic  Don't match styles overmuch. Mix it up.  It's the French who got the Cubist artist Braque to paint vivid royal blue puzzle shapes on the 16th century gilt ceiling of the Louvre to dazzling effect. Pair funky with fine and you will look intriguingly BoBo (Bohemian and Bourgeois).

Photo courtesy of Dessus Dessous.  Web site http://www.dessus-dessous.fr5. Audacious  When you buy lingerie, it must be audace!  Yes that's the word they use with a straight face: audacious. Audace in France is the lingerie default. In fact, a friend in Paris, advises audace for everything you wear. Her motto is “If it's not sexy,  don't buy it.”   She doesn't mean trashy; she means sensual. Speaking of lingerie, don't forget that in France, your umbrella is considered a kind of external lingerie. Why else would the famous French lingerie designer, Chantal Thomass, also be designing umbrellas? Lace, silk frills, ribbons ~ out in the rain you audaciously go!

6. Terminology To close the advice on lingerie, please do not make the very embarrassing mistake I made once by assuming that our word “camisole” refers to the same thing in French.  I left a trail of laughter across Paris when I ran from store to store explaining with increasing desperation that “I really need a camisole!” a word I learned too late, means “straight jacket.”

7. Cut The coupe of the clothes is the cut or the line, the architecture. The coupe is most important and is simply described as either elegant or not.  Even with an elegant cut, always engaié with some artistic element. A bit of fur, a little flower, a brooch, a necklace.

8. Feathers  Think feathers!  Recently I was nearly out the door after a purchase when the salesgirl ran after me to tape pink and brown quail feathers to the bag.  Small bright feathers flutter on shoes, scarves and on ear lobes. I've seen feathers dyed bright orange and rimmed with tiny rhinestones for table decoration. Even my cheap eye-lining pencil from the Monoprix has a peacock feather hanging from it!

9. Scarves  In winter, never leave home without a scarf.  Buy the big fake fool-the-eye ones in the Metro stations or in the souvenir shops for 5 euros. For women, a scarf is said to be most flattering when it “embraces” the neck and most chic when knotted twice.   In summer though, wear it as a shawl, as a belt, knotted at the side hip, or wrapped around your purse handle, in a bow or hanging like a horse's tail. Sympa!  Whatever you do, don't wear a Hermes scarf, around your neck. Oh, so predictable! You will look what the French call Mamie - like your grandma. 

10. Ageless Nothing is too young for you to wear if worn right. Clothes are said to be sage, (wise) when they suit you. If it doesn't seem sage, too young or too old, perhaps you're just need to re-think it? Stand the blouse collar up, scrunch up the sleeves, unbutton the top button, cover la derrière with a jacket, add a thin ribbon at the neck, and pair that skirt with boots.  Dress too short? Wear it over pants!  Layers are in even for summer and la tunique is everywhere.

11. Hats  Tilt your hat  - always.

12. Bauble   A key chain is a major fashion item in France.  The large porte clé,  sometimes called a grigri is a statement. It is a chatelaine composed of numerous trinkets, ribbons, tassels and tokens (and, yes, feathers) in every imaginable color and material.  Each season, an extraordinary new designer selection from cheap to chic arrives in the Paris boutiques. Clamp a grigri on your purse, hang it from your belt, loop it from your skirt (this way it lends a coy chastity belt connotation), wear it on a chain around you neck or merely produce it in a restaurant awhile before leaving, and play with it a bit as you sip those last drops of kir.  Show it off!

13. Jewelry  A necklace on bare skin looks younger than a necklace worn over clothes and an unmatched necklace and earrings look younger than a matched set. Don't argue about this.

14. Movement  Sometimes jewelry just needs to move.  I was told that since I walked fast and was a bit “bouncy” that my jewelry also should have this movement.  A bracelet that jangles just a bit, earrings that slightly swing will enhance your own vibrant energy.  However when you're in slow, elegant mode, wear still jewelry. 

15. Shoes  Don't forget your shoes!  If you're looking down at them and thinking they need a little je ne sais quoi, the answer is they need earrings! That's right. Those big out of date clip earrings you still have from the eighties? Clip them onto your flats or high heels for totally original adornment. 

16. Purses  Don't clutch a clutch purse.  It's more graceful, more soigné to tuck it under you arm, almost under your armpit.  At chest level, the purse looks more interesting if it doesn't blend in, but rather contrasts with the color it is closest to. This means a clutch purse should be matched with color from the waist down. If your blouse is navy, for example, and your skirt is peach, the clutch should be peach, not navy. Got it?

17. Advice   If you find yourself deciding between two colors or styles of anything, always take the one the salesperson murmurs is more fin (fine), raffiné (refined) or doux (soft). What she is tactfully saying, is that this is the one that best suits you. If she exclaims Rock! it might be too punk, too young. But if she cries Tac! (rhymes with Rock) then she is saying Voila! You got it!

Don't worry how much you might be spending.  When you buy something truly innovative, it's beyond style so how can it go out of style?  This thought and the fond memory of the lovely place you bought it and the VAT credit will greatly reduce any guilt you might incur.  For shoppers, Paris is an embarrassment of riches and as that Parisian exile and dandy Oscar Wilde, once advised, “The only way to get rid of temptation, is to yield to it.”  Take his advice and when in Paris, go get your WAOUH!

Maxine Rose Schur - -
Do visit Maxine's web site...find out about her children's books,
travel writing and world adventures!

Update on France: Healthcare & Lifestyle

"The health of nations is more important than the wealth of nations."
                                                                                                    from What is Civilization? by Will Durant

Our apologies to those readers who are not US citizens and who may have little interest in the current healthcare crisis the US is facing.
  But, we hope this gives everyone a better understanding of the French healthcare system and how it serves its citizens.

French Healthcare:  How does it work and  what does it offer?

Over the past 60+ years the politicians and others in the United States have been debating the reform of our expensive and ever-expanding healthcare system, and it would do no harm if those grappling with this now took a look at the French healthcare system for myriad reasons, not the least of which is that it works!  No healthcare plan will seem perfect to everyone, so the need today is to find something that comes as close as possible.

Two years ago, Business Week magazine had an article entitled The French Lesson in Healthcare, citing both the good and not-so-good aspects of the French system.  The good points far outweigh the not-so-good, and it is time that Americans took a look at what the French do to provide the best healthcare for their citizens at the lowest possible cost per person.

First, the French system, according to historian Paul Dutton at Northern Arizona University, is not socialized medicine.  He writes, "The French don't consider their system socialized. In fact, they detest socialized medicine. For the French, that's the British, that's the Canadians. It's not the French system."  Like the US, the French rely on both private insurance and government insurance.  Just like the US, French people generally get their insurance through their employer, but the coverage is not linked to their employment.  If they change jobs, they do not lose their coverage.

The French system is not all that different from a proposed US reform plan, so adapting their system to ours might work quite well. The French are able to select their own doctors and visit specialists, and doctors are free to prescribe medical care they feel is best for the patient without the interference of insurance carriers.  Professor Victor Rodwin of NYU is quoted as saying, "The French approach suggests it is possible to solve the problem of financing universal coverage...[without] reorganizing the entire [US] system." 

So, what exactly are some of the details and comparisons of the French system?

  • according to the most recent World Health Organization study, they rank first in healthcare in the world; the US ranks 37th, only somewhat better than Cuba and one ranking higher than Slovenia.  In 2008 researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine measured something called the 'amenable mortality', a measure of deaths that could have been prevented with better healthcare. The researchers studied 19 industrialized nations. Again, France came in first. The United States was last. So, next time a politician says that the US has the best healthcare in the world, there is good reason not to believe it!
  • French healthcare is financed with a combination of public and private financing - it is not socialized medicine!
  • French life expectancy is several years longer than for those living in the US
  • their infant mortality rate is half of that in the US
  • the country has more doctors and hospital beds per capita than in the US
  • they have far lower deaths rates from heart disease and diabetes
  • and the French have half the death rate for respiratory diseases of the US, even taking into consideration that they have a higher percentage of smokers than the US. (Note that France has the cleanest air of all industrialized nations, which many attribute to their use of nuclear power as opposed to carbon-based fuels used in the US.)
  • despite the high cost of France's healthcare system, they spend 10.7% of their GDP on healthcare, while the US spends 16%...more than any other country.
  • the French system works in many ways like Medicare with the healthy paying to care for the sick. 
  • every employer and employee contributes to the French system
  • everyone gets the same coverage through national insurance funds
  • the French government pays for the unemployed who cannot get coverage through their family's insurance
  • in France, they go a few steps farther in that there are no deductibles, very modest co-payments (none paid at all by the chronically ill), and almost all French purchase supplemental insurance to cover any out-of-pocket expenses and for eye and dental care.
  • chronic diseases and major surgeries such as heart bypass operations are covered 100%. 
  • cancer patients can receive a major drug at no charge, while the same drug in the US would cost the patient $48,000 a year.  "France guarantees that every cancer patient can get any drug, including the most expensive and even experimental ones," says Dr. Fabian Calvo, deputy director at the relatively new National Cancer Institute. "As soon as there is a breakthrough," he says, referring to signs that the drug is safe and effective, "even if the drug has not obtained (government) approval, you can get access for that." 
  • since the end of World War II, the French government has PMI in place - Protection Maternelle et Infantile - ensuring that every mother and child in the country receives basic preventive care.  According to Business Week's article, children are all evaluated by a bevy of pediatricians, nurses, psychologists and social workers, and if a parent doesn't bring in a child for a regular checkup, social workers visit the home to encourage a doctor visit.  Mothers are given financial incentives to make sure they have both pre- and post-natal visits.  The French believe that healthy babies and children make healthy adults.  Who can argue with that?
  • the cost comparison: the United States spends about twice as much as France on healthcare. In 2005, U.S. spending came to $6,400 per person. In France, it was $3,300 with 99% of the French covered. 
  • France's doctors receive less monetary compensation from the government than American doctors would probably accept.  But, French doctors aren't repaying huge student loans as medical school in France is free of charge. 
  • malpractice insurance premiums in France are very small, and the government pays the social security tax for most French doctors, which could be a huge percentage of their income.
  • France has been successful thus far in controlling the cost of diagnostic tests and procedures which can be very costly.  The government has price controls in place.
There are problems, of course, and inflation is one of them. The French government is in the process of making major changes to operate more efficiently without denying anyone coverage.   Costs have grown since 1990, and the system is currently running at a deficit ($9 billion in 2007 as reported by NPR), so President Nicolas Sarkozy has decided to start charging patients more for some drugs, ambulance costs and other services. As in most countries, cost-cutting debates are ongoing. Changes, however, don't seem to bother most French citizens.  They know that they have the best healthcare system at less cost than most other nations.

French Lifestyle: Results from the latest OECD survey

A survey of societal habits of the 18 member countries of the OECD - Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development - called 'Society at a Glance 2009' - indicates that 

  • the French sleep an average of 9 hours per night (the longest of any country surveyed)
  • they spend more time enjoying their meals than any other country
  • French women live 84.4 years on average, second only to the Japanese of all the countries surveyed
  • French men live an average of 77.3 years, only two years less than the Swiss and Icelandic men who rated highest on the survey. 
  • right behind Iceland and Denmark, the French spend the most public money on childcare and nursery schools
  • and they work an average of 37 hours per week compared to the US average of 41 hours.
Of course, we all know that the French and other Western Europeans have many, many weeks of vacation each year.  Americans might have several weeks on the books with their employers, but the difference is that the French take their holiday time and go off on a vacation, while many Americans don't take advantage of and enjoy that valuable leisure time. 

We hope this will convince you to slow down, sleep more and enjoy your leisure time and that you've enjoyed this glimpse into healthcare and lifestyles of the French. 

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