The Art of the French Gather: How it’s Teaching Me to Let Go of Perfection

The Pursuit of Perfection and Overwhelm

Imagine an idea that lights you up, but as you begin to mentally process the vast multitude of tasks required to make it happen, you crumble under the sheer weight of internal expectations for perfection.

Overwhelm sets in, and soon, the idea remains just that — an idea. Sounds familiar? That has been me many times over the years. But we moved to France from the US ten months ago, and it has begun to change me in ways I didn’t anticipate.

The French Way: Beauty in the Mundane

When you think of France, what visuals come to mind? I imagine the sublime. Exquisite boutiques, cafes, pastoral landscapes, divine food, chic fashion, and the twinkling Eiffel Tower.

The French, seemingly, have an innate ability to infuse beauty in the mundane, including things like artistic stacking of turnips at my local market! However, I’ve also discovered that they don’t allow this pursuit of beauty to overshadow their zest for joy and interpersonal connection. This is where I’m learning.

Embracing Simplicity and Authenticity

Last week, we found a simple typed note — printed and wobbly snipped from a regular printer paper — in our mailbox. It was an invitation to a “fête des voisins,” a neighborhood party. The organizers didn’t fuss over designing fancy cards or choosing a theme. It was quick, straightforward, unfancy communication. It got the job done and I’m imagining was hella easier for the person organizing!

I felt surprised (and charmed) when I saw this, and that made me stop and think about why. I realized no way would I have done this if I were hosting something similar in the US. I would fear judgment for my apparent lack of effort, or for the event seeming lame or tacky with such a simple invite. I mean, I once hand-wrote adorable, matching snowman invites to invite people on my street in Houston for a cup of hot cocoa and a Christmas light walk. It took 2 hours of my life.

The truth is I’ve found myself swept away in Kardashian-era thinking that every event must dazzle, entertain, and impress while appearing entirely effortless. The idea of spending copious amounts of money on Instagram-worthy paraphernalia has totally crept into my consciousness as an unwritten expectation.

It’s embarrassing to acknowledge this self-imposed pressure. I’d like to think that my intentions are noble, these little touches are just ensuring my guests feel cared for when they see my attention to detail and effort. But, deep down, I know it’s often a reflection of how I want to be seen by those I invited.

Joy Over Perfection

My time in France, however, has been a wonderful revelation. Here, the ingredients to a successful gathering are straightforward: a warm welcome, genuine connection and conversation, an unhurried atmosphere, and a spread of simple food (and wine, obviously!!) to share generously.

Our time here has included numerous French dinners, some of which we’ve hosted. Initially, anxiety gripped me as I didn’t have the same tableware or linens I was accustomed to back in the US. Though I miss them — I adore setting a lovely table — I’ve realized that what truly makes it come together is the convivial spirit the French bring to their gatherings, not the décor.

I had this naive assumption that the enchanting beauty of France was a significant factor in creating the unique charm of this place. While it 100% that’s part of it, it’s much less than what I initially assumed.

The rented home we’ve lived in since we’ve been here is nestled in the French countryside, and while I acknowledge that my experiences might not resonate with those in certain Parisian circles, it’s essential to remember that Paris isn’t the entirety of France, just as New York isn’t the whole of the US. The French “joie de vivre” is tangible, vibrant and special…at least in my beloved Southwest France.

Reflecting on how I’m changing as we live here, I invite readers to consider this: What might happen if we chose to prioritize genuine connection over staged perfection in our social gatherings?

Would we discover deeper, more authentic ways of living and relating to one another?

I know I felt myself longing for that in the US, and I kept assuming the path there was through making everything look a certain way. In reality, it’s there for the taking. It’s simple and it’s in the spirit of the gathering. No excuses or explanations for what you did or didn’t do are needed.

Letting go of the overwhelming pursuit of perfection leaves an opening for more joy and connection in bringing people together. Maybe we can find ourselves closer to the enchanting ‘joie de vivre’ that’s woven into the fabric of French society.

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