So, I'll just go ahead and explain this "phenomenon" to put to rest all the theories being tossed around by curious weight-watchers. It's not because they eat smaller portions or stay away from sugars and fats; it's not even necessarily because of good genes or, as my husband's grandmother puts it, "French people are made differently." But, the real reason women mostly come in size small and medium here is because living in a country where public transportation is fundamentally necessary to live, running after buses and trains and metro cars is just a daily way of life.
When I was first applying for my carte de séjour, I remember being asked during my mandatory medical exam whether or not I exercised. I thought about it for a moment, and decided not to lie, so I told the doctor that since arriving in France, I'd stopped doing yoga, but felt like I got enough exercise just going from place to place. He must have thought that I was either joking or incredibly lazy, but it was absolutely true.
Counting how many city blocks I've either walked rapidly or run through today, I can honestly say I've registered at least a mile. Easy. And that's including getting lucky enough to catch the bus. Let's see, I ran about a block to catch this morning's bus. Walked at least another 2 city blocks through the metro station before running to get to the last car (which is closer to the exit at my destination station). Then I walked the 7 minutes, or 3 Paris blocks from the station to work, then another 4 blocks to get lunch and come back. And, I made the return trip all over again, but took a detoured bus that required me to run another city block to catch the right one before walking the couple of blocks home. And that's on a lazy day! I came straight home after work today and went to lunch closeby. Add, to all this fast-paced commuting, a 10-pound purse, a coat and heels, and you've got yourself a real work-out.
One could argue that my eating habits have changed too, but I can honestly say that I never deny myself any gastronomic pleasure (except for those few days during the Christmas break after I fed myself to the point of sickness...I'll be nice and spare all the details). I love food. LOVE IT. But, in France I've found that although the quantity of food I eat has not changed, the quality and type of food most definitely has. Rarely do I eat processed or fried foods, but I've never eaten so much dairy (cream and cheese mostly), sugar (hello, patisseries and chocolate!), and foie gras in my life! Most of the fatty foods I used to eat in Texas have been replaced by more natural fatty foods, and perhaps that also has something to do with it. I've seen French women eat me under the table (even a certain 70-something mother of my father-in-law), and I never go out to eat with a French woman without having dessert (lunchtime is no execption). But, as much as I'd like it to be so, we're not having a box of fried chicken and crinkle-cut fries or cheese enchiladas and a Coke. So, I guess it all kind of balances itself out.
I'm not too dumb to realize, too that my freakishly, self-diagnosed high-metabolism has a lot to do with my staying thin, but I also know that I'm not immune to gaining weight. My genes are not as generous as they may appear, and after my all-you-can-fit-in-your-gullet stint in Texas this summer, I was feeling the push against my waistline when I returned to l'Hexagone. Of course, none of this is probably true in any scientifically proving way, but after being here for a couple of years now, it's my observation and a good explanation for why the stores can't keep any small sizes stocked. I'm convinced if every French woman could drive where and when she wanted, there'd be a lot more x-smalls and smalls on the boutique racks. And, in an effort to find more clothes in my size round here, I plan on reminding every woman I know in Paris about this Friday's World Nutella Day. No self-respecting [French] woman can resist this. Miam!
February 5th, 2010