Every Francophile has likely found herself swooning over the quirky and evocative character, Amelie or (my personal favorite) American-in-Paris, Patricia Franchini from Goddard’s Breathless. They’re glamorous, feminine, and a little mysterious. And above all, they are incredibly charming, and I’m sure I’m not alone in wishing I could emulate some of their je ne sais quoi. In a world where we can find “romance” with the swipe of a finger, the concepts of flirtation and charm seem to have gone by the wayside.
While I try not to be too much of a grump about technology (I am only thirty-one, after all), I can’t help but feel a little curmudgeonly about how technology has changed the way we converse. French culture expert Jamie Cat Callan believes she can help pull us back from the brink of artless conversation and rote romance all by embracing the concept of charm, a la our Parisienne counterparts. When we slow down, we rediscover the pleasures of life found in savoring simple moments and everyday conversations.
And really, who doesn’t want a little more romance in her life?
According to Callan, charm is the French equivalent of Zen. “It’s about settling into a moment, taking a breath and a moment to recognize how beautiful and perfect the most ordinary things of life can be.” When we embrace charm, we also embrace happiness. Happiness is, after all, attainable for us all. It’s not about having a specific experience or achieving a goal or acquiring some material possession. It’s about leaning into a moment and appreciating it for what it is. By expressing and embracing the charm that can be found in everyday interactions, we are making an effort to be mindful.
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The Art of the French Flirt
So how can one bring more charm into their world? One way is through flirting — and no, not in the way you might be used to doing it. If you’re single, you likely think of flirting as a way to gauge the interest of someone you’re attracted to — you flirt only with those who pique your romantic interest. And if you’re married or otherwise locked down in the romance department, you probably can’t remember the last time you flirted with anyone, much less your partner. That’s kind of sad when you think about it, right?
For the French, flirting is not limited to romance — it’s something everyone does, regardless of age, gender, or even context. Callan explains that flirting is “a way of negotiating everyday life with a little sweetness and elevating the art of witty banter and intelligent conversation.” That sounds like something we can all get behind, but how can you refine your French flirting technique?
1. Practice flirting in everyday encounters
This means sparking up light and friendly conversations with whomever you encounter — whether it’s the barista, the clerk bagging your groceries, or just someone standing next to you in line. A friendly compliment or a witty remark are simple, yet easy ways to engage with others and strike up conversations. Think about how good it feels when someone compliments your hairstyle or outfit. Pay those good vibes forward!
2. Tap into “flirtation nostalgia”
That is, reflect on your earliest memories of adults flirting, or talk to your parents and grandparents about the ways they courted one another. Consider ways to incorporate those elements that you like into your own romantic life. One thing you’ll probably notice is that for many older people, courtships moved at a slower pace.
3. Put your accessories to work
Feeling shy? Callan points out the flirtatious ways icons like Karl Lagerfeld and Anna Wintour employ their signature sunglasses. Accessories can add a little mystery and seduction to your encounters; making eye contact and lowering your sunglasses or slowly unwinding your scarf not only creates an intriguing visual, but allows you to share a private moment with someone in a public space. Ooh, la la!
4. Learn to flirt with only your eyes
Think about how special it feels to get a wink, or to share a conspiratorial eyebrow raise with a stranger. You can feel the butterflies in your stomach just thinking about it, right? A certain “look” can leave a lasting impression. Try it out on friends to perfect your technique, or if you’re particularly brave, try it on a cute stranger at the grocery store.
5. Create romantic tension
Finally, consider building tension — an essential element of flirtation. Not long ago, before the internet and social media, information about a romantic interest wasn’t as readily available. You had to work at conversation and at getting to know one another. Try employing the art of the “slow burn” now, and resist laying all your cards on the table at once. As you get to know someone, dole out information with intention and savor the process. And if you find yourself rushing to the next stage or milestone, pause and compare the situation to receiving a gift. After all, half the excitement comes from slowly unwrapping it and imagining what might be inside.
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