French lovers? They haven’t got a clue-seau
My father always told me there are two things you can never criticise a man for: his driving and his sexual technique. Perhaps the two skills are linked.
After all, they are both expressions of physical dexterity.
But if French driving is anything to go by, I’m not surprised the French came second from bottom in a poll of sexual satisfaction last week.
French drivers are constantly trying to overtake you, braking in all the wrong places and going as quickly as is humanly possible. None of those habits translate well in bed.
When we moved to France seven years ago, I admit I was looking forward to being flirted with and having my hand kissed several times a day by Gallic charmers.
Rather as an English man only has to open his mouth for another to despise him, a French man only has to say “ello, ‘ow are you?” to come across as incredibly sexy. The accent works every time.
As the television presenter Josie D’Arby said: “A man could say anything to me in a French accent and it would send me ga-ga.”
It was the accent that first attracted me to my first (and only) French boyfriend 17 years ago. He was called Julien and worked as a fund manager in the City. He was also tall, dark, handsome and rich.
So far so good. His methods of wooing were very different from his English contemporaries. I was sent flowers about three times a week.
He would tell me how beautiful I was every five minutes and really did keep kissing my hand while gazing seductively up into my eyes.
To be honest, I found it all a bit much. As a girl who was educated at a rather downto-earth, rugby-playing university in the north of England, I thought his French ways seemed a little, well, namby-pamby.
But after all the effort he made, it seem rude not to give in gracefully and sleep with him.
I decided to go for it on the night of his birthday, three months after we met. Mainly to save on the expense of a present.
The evening went swimmingly until we got to the bedroom. To start with, he kept me waiting for about half an hour while he covered himself in aftershave and trimmed his nose hairs in his fully-stocked bathroom. By the time Julien finally got to the bedroom, I was almost nodding off.
He seemed more interested in how he looked naked than how I looked. After about ten minutes of watching him watch himself in the mirror on his cupboard door, I gave up and left, never to return to the bedroom of a Frenchman.
And it seems I’m not missing out. Statistically, it’s official; French men are bad in bed. Out of 26 countries polled, the only one below France in terms of sexual satisfaction was Japan.
In France they do have a lot of sex (120 times a year compared with 92 times for Brits), but they just don’t enjoy it. And as for orgasms, well,
forget it. Only 25 per cent of French people interviewed said they were satisfied with their sex lives, while Brits reported a 40 per cent satisfaction rate.
How deliciously satisfying to discover that this preening, priapic bunch are not quite so ‘ooh la la’ after all.
Perhaps I should have realised it already. While researching a book of mine, I discovered that French women are notoriously unfaithful, and this must be why. They’re all desperately searching for that one French man who knows what he’s doing in the sack.
All the same, I was surprised when I saw the results of the poll. Even if I didn’t have a great time with my French man, I imagined them making other women all over the world delirious with desire. How wrong I was.
“French men are all show and no go,” says a Parisian friend of mine who is married to a Scot.
“All that elaborate hand-kissing and flirting is what they’re really good at. But get them naked and they fall apart.”
Another French friend, who prefers to date foreigners, says that French men’s lack of prowess in bed is all down to their mothers.
“They tell them how wonderful they are all the time, so they never think they need to make an effort,” she says.
“Also, they’re supremely selfish and macho.”
So how did the French manage to create this image of supreme lovers of the universe?
I suppose having Paris as a capital helped. I mean, was there ever a more phallic symbol than the Eiffel Tower?
Also, France has always been the home of good food, good wine, luxury goods, fabulous designers; all things that put you in a good mood, which is essential for love.
On top of that, French men really do rate themselves. A friend of mine makes a wine called Arrogant Frog. Enough said.
When I told my husband the results of the survey, he looked happier than when England won the Rugby World Cup final in 2003.
For years English guys have had to put up with French men being perceived as much sexier than them.
A friend of ours even suffered the ignominy of his wife running off with a French man she met at a conference in Monaco.
“I hope she’s having a truly terrible time,” he said when I called him to discuss this poll.
“Life in Lyons with a pharmaceuticals sales rep who doesn’t know one end of a woman from another is about what she deserves.”
So is this the end of the French lover myth? Is it like so many other images we have of France and the French – just that; an image with no substance?
Will we all now look at Gerard Depardieu in a new light and see him for the overweight, middle-aged man he is and not as some sex symbol?
Perhaps not. Myths take a lot more wearing down than just a poll or two. But at least the next time a French man starts dropping his Hs and expecting you to drop something in return, you can think about it rationally and just say “non”.
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 also working on a thriller called Thin Ice that will be published in spring 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