Wednesday, April 8, 2009


Danielle the immobilière brought clients to look over the house yesterday. She'd called the day before to make an appointment with me; we settled on 5 o'clock, but she arrived an hour early. I was taking the sheets down from the clothes line when I heard her white Saab convertible pull into the parking, and, sheets bundled over my arm, I went up to greet her.

She took my hand and kissed my cheeks. Look at you, she said, you're practically French! It was hard to see what she meant by that: I was in loose jeans, a looser knit shirt, and clogs. Also small earrings, no necklace, and no makeup. Danielle, en revanche, was in a deep rose cashmere turtleneck (I'm going with 32C, push-up), tight jeans with ample rhinestone trim, and black 4-inch heels with a pointy toe and rhinestone detailing (to match the jeans). Drawn-on eyebrows: check. Blond hair the color the girls' was when they were 2: check. Cloud of perfume: two checks.

The clients were following her in their Volvo station wagon. Our driveway is nearly vertical and gravel en plus, so if you are unprepared for it and driving a manual car, it often takes more than one pass. It did for these ladies. After Danielle and I had encouraged them and waved our hands around sufficiently, they managed to bring the car to a level spot and decant themselves. Two of them: maybe sisters, maybe friends who saw the same hairdresser. Long straightened black tresses; thoroughly made-up eyes; lipstick. Tight peasant-style blouses(I know, it seems like a contradiction in terms, but trust me) open to a level that would have sent even Marie Antoinette back into her boudoir for a scarf (both push-up, probably one 34C and one B). Assorted necklaces bearing assorted pendants. Bracelets. Tight jeans. And then shoes: one set of black pointy stilettos trimmed in gold ribbon, one set of peep-toe Lucite stilettos revealing (of course) a set of well-painted toes. They each moved in their own perfume clouds.

I went before them down the hill and into the house, stashing the sheets in the guest room, alerting E that we had company, quieting the dogs, and tidying the kitchen counter. It meant that I missed seeing them descend the gravel path in their shoes. They examined the garden--or, more accurately, field--in front of the house, looked down towards the pool, and took in the dead olive tree being held up by a plank. (I missed Danielle's explanation of that.) Then they came inside and Danielle led them through the rooms while E, home with a cold, stood next to me and tried not to giggle.

As soon as they had disappeared into the bedrooms, she let out a snort. Did you see their shoes? she said, while waving her hand in front of her face, trying to waft the perfume somewhere else.

We composed ourselves in time for the ladies to emerge from the chambres. I chatted with them while Danielle took a few photographs for her website--yes, we were from America, yes, we had been very happy here, yes, we had wanted to stay, no, the furniture did not come with the house, it was going back with us to America--and then, with much kissing and shaking of hands, the three of them clacked out and made their way back up the hill.

I read somewhere once, or maybe someone told me, that shoes reveal nationality. Germans: sturdy, fashionably ugly (or just ugly). Italians: fashionable, elegant. English: sturdy, practical. Americans: practical, comfortable, often featuring a swoosh or the latest in air-cushioned technology. And French: not practical, not comfortable, aggressively fashionable, a certain kind of completely impractical elegance. I adopted clogs from a Danish friend a decade ago, so while I'm not sporting a swish, I'm a long way from stilettos. A day even in plain flat shoes--some practical loafers, maybe with a nice bow detail--leaves me cranky. I do own a few pairs of heels, but they're the sort you'd wear to meet with the board of directors, not to seduce them. I can no more imagine putting on a pair of 4 inch heels to go look at rental houses than I can imagine walking on the ceiling. No matter how good my French becomes, my shoes will always give me away.


  1. So true!

    I wore a pair of heels for a wedding recently and it just about killed me.

    Before my life in France, I wore heels every day without noticing!

    Hoorah for Crocs.


  2. That is hysterical!

    The clouds of perfume would have put me in the ER. I swear that I'm going to go to France just long enough to apply for a long stay visa for Mexico and then, skeedaddle!

    It's been 26 years and one very serious Vespa accident since I did away with the cartilage in my left ankle and said good-bye to everything but a pair of CLARKS mules with a 2" chunky heel.

    I'm going to go to sleep with an image of those aliens in my mind...