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Study Abroad in Paris-"Lessons Learned from Madame Chic..."

Updated on July 16, 2013

Thousands of young Americans study abroad and, being a parent, I often worried about how prepared they are for the challenges that are present living in a foreign country. I also wondered how these young people will benefit from the experience. I read a book written by Jennifer L. Scott entitled “Lessons from Madame Chic, The Top 20 Things I Learned While Living in Paris” to address my curiosity about life in that beautiful city and assuage my anxiety of sending very young students far away from home.

The author, while in college, went to France on a study abroad program. She lived with a family in an affluent section of Paris, the city known for its strong influence in the world of fashion and beauty. Part 1 and Part 2 of the book dealt with what is important to the very young – how to look good. She came up with a 10-Item Wardrobe and the no-make up look, among other things. As part of the Parisian family, she observed and learned to appreciate the family’s values evinced in how the mother, father and adult son went on with their daily life and concluded in Part 3 that intelligent choices are the basis for a life lived well.

The author's insights learned at a young age were impressive. She wrote that “Every detail of life can become exceptional if you allow it to be so. You hold the key.” The author asks readers to “commit to living a life of quality, to tune the mind to the concept of fine living. “

What Helps in Making Intelligent Choices

The author noticed that the Parisian family members did not have large wardrobes but a few well chosen high quality clothing. She observed how they managed to look presentable at all times. They probably did not own sweat pants to lounge in. Going beyond clothing, the author suggests that concentrating on the best develops a taste for fine living and discourages the acquisition of clutter. To live within one’s means forces intelligent choices and prevents wasteful purchases.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner were served simply but formally. The formality of mealtimes allowed a sense of ritual and tradition. Meals were the product of a daily walk to the market for fresh produce and a few hours in the kitchen. They did not sit for hours in front of the television eating microwave pizza. They enjoyed reading books and books were topics of conversation especially at dinners at home and with invited friends. Seek loftier ideals through the arts, books, and learning opportunities and the rest will follow.

The family used their good china, tablecloth, and silverware daily. Choosing to use only the best things one has would prevent saving the best for later. People grow old without getting the opportunity to use their best china received as wedding presents hidden in a cabinet. Why?

She encourages readers to capture and appreciate the moment. Derive simple pleasures from the most mundane of things. Slow down and try not to rush your day. Enjoy the moment and you give yourself happy moments. “Paris taught me not how to just exist, but to thrive and make every small moment meaningful.”

Focusing on the best also means treating everyone the best way possible, exhibiting good manners especially to family members all the time.

An Example of the Difference She Noted Between Her Life in California and the way the Family in Paris Lived

The author had a funny way of describing the way she “was used to grazing all day long, cow-like, in and out of kitchen between meals”in California. Modern California homes typically employ an architectural open concept in the living room, kitchen and family room which makes it easy to graze throughout the day resulting in unwanted weight. The old Paris apartment’s kitchen was located far away at the back that the food had to be brought in a cart for the dinner table. To snack, the family in Paris had to walk the extra distance to go to the kitchen. Not able to snack often plus a lesser dependence on cars helped the family to keep their weight down.

The Book Immediately Made Me Look Critically At My Life

This book was a quick and easy read. I progressed quite fast through the pages but the author’s insights immediately moved me to critically look at my life. I am impressed by the amazing feat of a young girl to spur me on as I have lived many years on earth more than she has.

I quickly admitted that I do not put on my best clothes every day. In fact, I choose my ugliest clothes to wear every day. Why would I use my pretty blouse to go to the market? Who needs to look good to go to the market? Definitely, this has to change and I have included this in my resolutions for 2012.

Luckily, other areas in my everyday life would likely pass muster. There is still a lot of grazing in the kitchen during the day but this has lessened quite a bit. It is quite impossible to undertake a remodel and hide my kitchen. Also, the California way of life is very dependent on the automobile but daily 3-mile walks early in the morning allow me to feel the cool air; see far-off mountains, blue skies, running water in the creek, ducks in the lake, beautiful flowers; and, smell newly cut grass. I manage to go to the theatre a few times during the year, read a book, and hike on the wilderness trails nearby. I listen to classical music as well as rock n roll oldies but goodies. I cook for dinner but neither for breakfast nor lunch. I, however, prepare breakfast on Sundays. And believe it or not, our tabletop with a pretty tablecloth is formally set for all mealtimes; however, I still have to take out fine china.

A Book I Recommend

The author did learn many things from her stint in Paris confirmed by a successful writing of a book on precisely the lessons she learned. It was fun to read as it exuded of a young girl’s excitement and wonder at a new city and a different way of living. I gave this book to my niece who just had a baby and is back to a full-time job. I would like her to step back and slow down. For the young, like her, looking at the future, a lifetime seems very long. But unless it is pointed out to her, or she gets lucky like the author who learned early in her years, it will be sad if she misses the opportunity to live an exceptional life of quality.


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