Are British women vulgar? Yes! says Kristin Scott Thomas
Kristin Scott Thomas slammed British women in Marie France this week, calling them ‘drunk, vulgar, lacking in style and orange’ due to fake tan. Helena Frith Powell said she too was ‘tres British’ when moved to France but has changed…
French women are born to seduce,’ a male French friend once told me. ‘And what are English women born to do?’ I asked. He thought for a moment. ‘Cuddle their dogs.’
Your dog doesn’t care what you look like, though your husband or lover does, and this is the mistake that, according to actress Kristin Scott Thomas, English women repeatedly make.
In an interview with French beauty magazine Marie France this week, the 55-year-old actress, who lives in Paris, launched a cultural missile over the Channel, describing us English women as vulgar, drunk, lacking in style and orange on account of our fondness for fake tan.
‘The English are terrible . . . they wear mini skirts when they don’t have the legs for it. In France, that would obviously be in bad taste. French women would never get drunk on a Saturday in a mini skirt in November.’
Warming to her theme, she continued: ‘They follow all the latest trends, even though they all look the same . . . and they love tanning, especially fake tan, which means, by summer, everyone is orange.’ All of which, it pains me to admit, as an English woman living in France, is depressingly true. When my family and I first moved to Languedoc in 2000, I was very much an English woman. Not in the getting drunk and falling over manner, but I dressed in a way that my new French friends called ‘eccentric’ or ‘tres British’.
The latter, of course, was an insult — although it took me a while to work that out.
I wasn’t too bothered about what my hair or nails looked like, and I thought matching underwear was for your honeymoon. Much of the time, I now realise, I looked like a slob.
My first aim of a morning when getting dressed was to find something comfortable — not to look good — choosing something that wouldn’t suffer unduly if my young children threw up all over it.
For a French woman, however, dressing well means dressing stylishly, whatever the occasion.
For an English woman wishing to make an impression, it usually means trying to be either fashionable or sexy, however stupid you look.
As Kristin puts it: ‘French women make getting dressed seem simple . . . and they can be attractive without abusing their sexy side. There is no vulgarity, it’s all about subtlety. The English are terrible and very much the opposite.’
Of course, there are exceptions — but, in the main, French women have a stylish gene that we seem to lack.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a French woman over the age of 35 wearing a mini skirt. And this is not due to false modesty; she just thinks it’s vulgar.
And a French woman who doesn’t have the legs to carry off a mini skirt, whatever her age, will find something else that flatters her figure.
‘A French woman will own three or four really chic items of clothing and always look great,’ says a friend of mine. ‘An Englishwoman will spend the same amount of money on ghastly cheap dresses from the High Street, all of which look dreadful.’
In other words, while French women have a strategy, English women rely on a simple tactic. They think sexy equates to revealing as much flesh as possible, even in mid-winter or at the Grand National.
A French woman, however, learns at her mother’s knee that less (clothing) is not necessarily more.
The art of drinking in moderation is also something at which English women spectacularly fail. Don’t get me wrong, French women do drink. But I have never seen one drunk. It is a culture that does not exist — even among the young.
A teenage daughter of some French friends of mine did a term in an English school and was absolutely horrified by the way her classmates drank. ‘They were like animals,’ she told me.
I remember going to my first dinner party in France. I sat opposite a woman called Aude. She was thin and stylish, with perfectly-manicured nails and a neat Anna Wintour bob.
As I downed glasses of wine and scoffed what I could, I noticed Aude drank only one glass of wine throughout the meal and ate like a bird.
‘Are all French women born with incredible amounts of willpower?’ I asked her.
She had no idea what I was talking about. To her, eating and drinking a small amount was far more normal than tucking in with abandon. It had nothing to do with willpower. ‘It is just how we behave,’ she told me.
Where does this difference come from? Excessive drinking has long been a part of our cultural heritage. Things have not changed much since Hogarth’s day. And although we may have swapped flagons of gin for large glasses of wine, our reputation as a boozy, rowdy nation persists.
The kinds of women Kristin refers to often go out with the sole aim of getting legless. One French friend who spent a month in Manchester for work came back utterly horrified.
‘I don’t understand why they do it,’ she said. ‘Do they have to drink so much because the men are so ugly?’
I think there is an element of laddish culture involved. For an English woman today, being ‘one of the boys’ is seen as a good thing. An English girl is now just as likely to order a pint of beer in a pub as a glass of wine in a bistro. I’m all for equality, but do we really need to start boozing like George Best?
A French woman would find it an insult to be likened to a man. They don’t want to be lads; they want to be ladies. This could be, in part, because French culture is still much more macho than ours: French women are judged on how they look and their ability to attract and seduce a man.
For a French woman, her day is not complete until she’s seduced someone — not literally, of course — but, as one French girlfriend says: ‘Even if it’s just a look from the bus driver, I need to feel appreciated.’
Kristin also talks about the French attitude to ageing, saying: ‘In France, people are less afraid of older women or of getting old.’
While we in England are ready to write off women over 30, in France age is no barrier to being seen as sexy and attractive.
Last week’s cover of French Elle magazine featured a TV presenter who is hitting 60 looking gorgeous and talking about her young lovers, while supermodel Inès de La Fressange is still revered and constantly gracing magazine covers in her late 50s.
In England, however, there is the attitude among women that, as soon as we marry and have children, most of us feel the war to be over.
Our sexy underwear (if we ever had any) has long faded in the wash, and there’s no point in replacing it.
In defence of my compatriots, there is nothing more glorious than an English rose. But English women would do well to remember: a rose wilts without care.
Helena Frith Powell is the author of Two Lipsticks And A Lover, published by Arrow Books.
Helena Frith Powell was born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and Italian father, but grew up mainly in England. She is the author of eleven books, translated into several languages including Chinese and Russian. She wrote the French Mistress column The Sunday Times about life in France for several years. She is a regular contributor to the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, The Times, Daily Telegraph, Tatler Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar.
Helena has been the editor of four magazines, including M Magazine, a supplement for the Abu Dhabi based National Newspaper and FIVE, a high-end fashion glossy, also published in Abu Dhabi. Helena was also editor in chief of 360 Life, a quarterly glossy magazine published with the Sports 360 Newspaper in Dubai, part of the Chalhoub Group.
Helena contributes regularly to UK-based newspapers and magazines and holds a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Cambridge. Helena is working on a thriller called Thin Ice that will be published in 2021 as well as a novel about the relationship between Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield called Sense of an Echo.
Her latest non-fiction work Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles came out in hardback in 2016 and in paperback in April 2018.
Helena, who was educated at Durham University, lives in the Languedoc region of France with her husband Rupert and their three children.
More France Please, we’re British; Gibson Square 2004
Two Lipsticks and a Lover 2005; Gibson Square (hardback)
All You Need to be Impossibly French; (US version of above) Penguin 2006
Two Lipsticks and a Lover; Arrow Books (paperback) 2007
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (hardback) 2006
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (paperback) 2007
So Chic! (French version of Two Lipsticks) Leduc Editions 2008 (also translated into Chinese, Russian and Thai)
More, More France; Gibson Square 2009
To Hell in High Heels; Arrow Books 2009 (also translated into Polish)
The Viva Mayr Diet; Harper Collins 2009
Love in a Warm Climate; Gibson Square 2011
The Ex-Factor; Gibson Square 2013
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles; Gibson Square 2016
The Arnolfini Marriage; Amazon Kindle December 2016
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles (paperback); Gibson Square spring 2018
The Longest Night; Gibson Square spring 2019