Further to my anxiety about traveling in Europe as a frumpy American, please see Paul Rudnick’s latest in The New Yorker, 3/26/2012:

The French woman is known for being effortlessly chic. I have, in fact, offered tutorials on elegance to American women. I will hand an American an Hermès scarf and ask her to tie it somewhere on her body, anywhere but around her neck. A French woman might use the scarf to secure a ponytail, or she’ll knot it loosely around the strap of her Chanel handbag. Sadly, most of my American pupils either use the scarf as a makeshift sling or eat it.

I have attempted to counsel many American women against overdressing. I told one woman, “I’m going to turn my back, and I want you to take off three things.” A moment later, when I faced her, the woman had removed her teeth, one of her eyes, and an Ace bandage.

Obviously, this is a humor piece — but it’s only funny because it’s an exaggeration that has a basis in fact. As George Bernard Shaw once said, and as playwright, Rudnick would be doubtlessly aware, “my way of joking is to tell the truth.”


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Alison J. Stein

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