AIX-EN-PROVENCE, France – There are no flip-flops in France.
All right, so that might be a bit of a stretch.
After all, strappy, backless sandals are pretty common in a city where temperatures in the low-80s extend until October.
What French feet (or at least those of the Aixois) seem to be lacking are those plain, rubber, monochrome, stateside-ubiquitous Old Navy flip-flops that I can now – whether with pride or disdain, I’m unsure – call American.
But the phenomenon of which this flip-flop condemnation is indicative stretches far beyond cheap footwear.
The French just don’t have cheap anything.
Sure, at least part of this impression is because of the (depressing) fact that every one of my American dollars is worth a little less than 70 centimes.
But I’m convinced that the real root of the problem is the French’s flip-flop of our spending affinities: We like a lot of cheap, and they like a little of quality.
Even before I left I was aware of Americans’ insane consumerist tendencies – partially thanks to watching “The Story of Stuff” online and partially to not walking around with my eyes closed – but because I’d never left the United States, I had trouble conjuring up the conception of another kind of life.
Then I went to France.
It’s true that the vast majority of French women are impeccably dressed, from the aforementioned awe-inspiring footwear to the expertly chosen jewelry – but it’s not because they throw down more cash for their wardrobes.
The Françaises also have much fewer pieces of clothing, having mastered a trick American women can’t seem to master: dressing for their shape.
Take, for example, one of the directors of the academic program in Aix. In the two weeks I’ve been here, she’s worn the same dress three times, and for good reason.
She looks damn good in it.
Contrast that with the American attitude of dress, which more or less amounts to acquiring as many clothes as possible, and it’s easy to grasp why Americans, well, just aren’t as well-dressed as the French.
Check your closet.
How many T.I.S. IU T-shirts are spun into a wrinkly mass at the bottom? I consider myself relatively minimalistic, and at my peak, I had eight cheaply made, shapeless IU T-shirts.
Sure, the T.I.S. T-shirts are an obscene and unbeatable deal, as they’re always either “buy one, get one free” or, on a good day, “buy one, get two.” But even if the average price of my eight IU T-shirts was $5, in retrospect that was $40 terribly spent.
And I can’t even blame an ignorance of what would be flattering on my body for this irrationality. Blouses buttoned halfway with a v-neck underneath make me look awesome – but, for whatever reason, I rejected that knowledge in favor of stretched-out IU logo splayed across my chest.
I owe the French a great deal.
That flip-flop fight, though?
Far from finished.