Returning to Paris, I feel very scruffy. I am not sure if I am in fact more scruffy than usual or have been made to feel it after reading more articles about how slim, sexy and super groomed French women are and how we Britons are a bunch of snaggle-haired lardy-bottoms by comparison.
The latest assault came from the spoof diarist Hortense de Montplaisir (at least I am assuming such a ridiculous name is spoof) whose book, 'Le Dossier: How to Survive the English', has provoked another airing of Anglo-French stereotypes so worn it is a wonder there is anything left on which to hang them. Descriptions of French women in British newspapers and magazines can nearly always be summarised thus: they are whippet-thin, immaculately dressed, coiffed and manicured, neurotic smokers who spend inordinate amounts on lacy bras, knickers and nighties to keep French men in general, and their husbands in particular, happy and to stop the latter from straying. (This is about as sweeping as saying all French men wear berets and have a string of onions round their neck.) I think we are supposed to infer from this that our Gallic sisters, untouched by feminism, enjoy more exciting, fullfilled and happier lives than we poor "sluts" - Madame de Montplaisir's term not mine - in pants the other side of the Channel. No bra-burning for the femmes of France, then, and who can blame them? Would you take a lighter to several hundred pounds worth of coordinated corsetry?
I am not sufficiently acquainted with the underwear drawers of enough French women to say whether this tirelessly repeated description is true or simply another urban myth, but I do question the implication in all this that they are more excited, fulfilled and happy for it. If this is true then why, sadly, do two and a half times more French women than British women commit suicide every year? And why do they - and the men they are supposed to be making happy in their extravagant undies - take more anti-depressants, tranquilisers and mood-altering drugs (sorry, I do not have the statistics for Viagra) than any other country in Europe?
Still, I thought, looking despondently at my grubby nails and bitten cuticles, perhaps I have let myself and my 'lingerie' drawer go a little of late. Maybe I should invest in a few pairs of frilly knickers to lift the winter gloom and give the Frenchman a good laugh.