Using a statement by Napoléon Bonaparte as a guide: A woman, in order to know what is her due and what her power is, must live in Paris for six months,—we read Natalie Ehalt’s reflections on discovering the self, Parisian Bénédicte Mahé’s examination of the cultural level of living in Paris, and Dana Wielgus’ vivid description of the beginnings of growth at the edge of one’s comfort zone. All three women would replace the world living in “Paris” for living “abroad.” And all are praise to the women and men like you who have used their past to create their future. Forging something wonderful: an inspired sense of self.

Natalie, reflecting on knowing oneself, writes: Perhaps in Paris, a woman found herself sufficiently removed from her other life, from her attachments, to recreate herself. Her own opinion, she discovered, was the most powerful.

Enjoy these French Impressions highlights with links to the full interviews published in A Woman’s Paris.

Natalie Ehalt and her passion for Buenos Aires often referred to as the Paris of South America

AWP: Napoléon Bonaparte (1769-1821), Emperor of the French and reactionary pragmatist regarding women said in a letter written in 1795: A woman, in order to know what is due her and what her power is, must live in Paris for six months. In what way does this hold true with your experience living in abroad? How do we understand this statement today?

NE: I haven’t lived in Paris, but I love this idea of women not yet knowing what their power is, then finding it through a transformative experience. My friends and I have talked about how the most trying times, whether traveling abroad or living through a break-up, have a way of empowering a person. I wonder what a woman found in Paris in 1795—and did Napoleon speak of Frenchwomen, or foreigners?

Perhaps in Paris, even for a native, a woman found herself sufficiently removed from her other life, from her attachments, to recreate herself. Her own opinion, she discovered, was the most powerful. (Read Natalie Ehalt’s full interview published in English.)

Bénédicte Mahé living as a French woman in France

AWP: Napoléon Bonaparte (1769-1821), Emperor of the French and reactionary pragmatist regarding women said in a letter written in 1795: A woman, in order to know what is due her and what her power is, must live in Paris for six months. How do we understand this statement today?

BM: When Paris was really at the center of the world’s attention in term of fashion, politics, and art, Napoleon’s statement may have been true. However, today it does not make that much sense. Living in Paris is an experience in itself, but on a more cultural level. I personally think that Paris is overrated and survives on clichés and images of another time. Living in Paris has only made me more intolerant and irascible. But, it has definitely changed my fashion style and the way I look at people (how they dress, what bag they carry)—something I notice when I am back in Brittany or when I travel.

I was reflecting with a friend on this quote and we decided that, for us, the statement is true if you replace “Paris” with “abroad.” It is very important for a woman to live abroad for some time in order to discover herself, how she places herself in society. But nowadays, with globalization, Paris is not that decisive anymore. (Read Bénédicte Mahé’s full interview published in English.)

Dana Wielgus on studying, living and volunteering abroad

AWP: Napoléon Bonaparte (1769-1821), Emperor of the French and reactionary pragmatist regarding women said in a letter written in 1795: A woman, in order to know what is due her and what her power is, must live in Paris for six months. In what way does this hold true with your experience? How do we understand this statement today?

Dana Wielgus

DW: I think the phrase should be slightly altered to read, “A woman, in order to know what is due her and what her power is, must live in Paris abroad for six months.” As many times as people say it over and over, studying, living or volunteering abroad changes your entire perspective on life. There is a quote by Anthony Bourdain that I love: “If you’re twenty-two, physically fit, hungry to learn and be better, I urge you to travel—as far and widely as possible. Sleep on floors if you have to. Find out how other people live and eat and cook. Learn from them—wherever you go.” This is my piece of advice for every young person.

Adventures and growth begin at the edge of your comfort zone—I have grown so much from my experiences with solo travel. As a future teacher, I’ve noticed that many education classes emphasize diversity and inclusion, and I myself have experienced being the one who doesn’t speak the language or understand a certain cultural norm. Traveling gives you confidence which gives you power. (Read Dana Wielgus’ full interview published in English.)

A Woman’s Paris — Elegance, Culture and Joie de Vivre

We are captivated by women and men, like you, who use their discipline, wit and resourcefulness to make their own way and who excel at what the French call joie de vivre or “the art of living.” We stand in awe of what you fill into your lives. Free spirits who inspire both admiration and confidence.

Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening. — Coco Chanel (1883 – 1971)

Text copyright ©2012 A Woman’s Paris. All rights reserved.
Illustrations copyright ©Barbara Redmond. All rights reserved.
barbara@awomansparis.com