Chic in France

Beate Boeker

“French women,” Jack said, “have a certain je-ne-sais-quoi.”

I hate it when Jack speaks French to me, but I nodded and pretended I understood.

“A certain something,” Jack now beamed at me, his blue eyes shining.

I couldn’t help myself, I beamed back, even though I wanted to tell him to forget about French women and to concentrate on me. That was the least he could do, after all, I had invited him for lunch again at our favorite diner on the corner of 42nd and 3rd, but no.

“They have such chic, an undefinable air . . . “ He made a move with his hands as if he held a treasure, then dropped them. “I can’t describe it.”

Then don’t, I thought.

His long lashes lowered, and he gazed into my eyes.

I swallowed and tried to look just as sophisticated as all these French women, but I had the odd impression that he didn’t see me.

It’s not as if Jack had spent a year or so in France. Not at all. He spent six days, not even a whole week, at the Côte d’Azur last month, and ever since his return, I’ve been forced to listen to him, describing a million luscious French women. We work together at the smallest and most chaotic advertising agency in the whole of New York City, and I thought our lunches kept me sane . . . until he started to rave about the French. It sounds as if every single one of them is a beauty, while we, in the States, have never yet managed to churn out anything half as delectable.

“Don’t forget Grace Kelly.” I lifted my fork as if I was upholding the US flag. “She managed to enchant the whole French nation, and she was American.” Having made my point, I leaned against the plastic covered back of my seat and speared a piece of salad with my fork.

Jack waved Grace Kelly away. “She was an ice-queen,” he said. “Besides, that was Monaco, not France.”

Great. Now I felt stupid.

Jack’s eyes returned to the dreamy look I hated. Unless it had to do with me, of course. “French women move with such sexy elegance . . .”

Now why did that make me feel like an elephant?

“. . . they have fire, a certain je-ne-sais-quoi.”

I didn’t point out that he was repeating himself. Instead, I munched my salad in silence. What on earth could I do to make Jack forget these fascinating French women and concentrate, for a change, on me? True, my hair is neither Grace-blond nor Latin black but something nondescript in between, and I’m not sexy. Never was. My mother says I was the boniest baby she’d ever seen. Nothing cuddly about me. Not then. Not now.

That evening, I went home in a state of dejection. Just as I maneuvered my huge sports bag and myself through the door, I hit my toe against the frame. Hot pain darted through my foot. I groaned. “How can you be so clumsy, Claire?” I dragged my bag through the door. “A French woman would never be so . . . “ I stopped in mid-sentence.

Good God. If I started to rave about French women myself, it was time to do something.

Something radical.

It felt like a revelation and came without warning.

I had an idea.