Heather Stimmler-Hall of Secrets of Paris is bringing out a new edition of her elegant Paris guidebook, Naughty Paris. I had the chance to interview Heather about some of the concepts in the book. I was curious about some of the Frenchwoman's secrets, and Heather was happy to share what she knows in an email interview.
You've talked about how Paris women have a 'secret garden'. What is this and how might we cultivate our own secret gardens?
A Parisian woman don’t feel it’s necessary to share every aspect of her personal life with those closest to her, not even with her husband. She doesn’t always say where she goes, who she’s with, what she ate, where she shopped. Not that she’s doing anything sneaky or that would upset her partner. She simply maintains a bit of mystery and privacy that she cherishes. Her own private garden.
This might be going to watch cheesy Hollywood films with a pint of ice cream on her own, getting her legs waxed and her hair highlighted at a local beauty parlor, or spending an afternoon alone at an art exhibition that moved her.
Your secret garden can be anything you want it to be, but it has to be private, not shared with others. We’re so transparent these days, just the idea of doing something wonderful for yourself without posting photos of it all over social media is a rebellious idea.
I love that. This is a great way to think about how we can cultivate a relationship with ourselves and to access our true desires. Privacy! What a concept!
How common do you think it is for women to want to feel sexier while in Paris?
In my own experience as a travel writer and tour guide, I find that American women tend to be very conscious of Parisian women and their historic reputation for being mysterious, seductive, fashionable, and sexy. For some visitors this can be intimidating, but for others it becomes a challenge and an inspiration.
First, American women don’t want to appear like frumpy slobs in comparison, there’s our national pride to protect! And then there’s the desire to discover their secrets so we can use them ourselves. After all, the Parisians aren’t all super models. Au contraire. They simply know how to make the best of what they’ve got, and they have (or fake) enough self confidence to pull it off without looking like they’re even trying.
That idea alone can be quite liberating for women who are used to trying to force themselves into an American cookie-cutter version of beauty and sexiness that is hardly attainable by the average person.
Despite (or maybe thanks to) the language and cultural barriers, feeling sexier in Paris is almost effortless for women once they relax and allow themselves to enjoy all the wonderful pleasures the city has to offer.
It's true; I've seen this for myself and the women in my Paris workshops. You almost can't come to Paris and not want to add a little feminine flair.
What gets in the way of women being able to access this side of themselves either in Paris or at home?
Not being able to relax and enjoy themselves, lol! Seriously, it’s not part of our culture to indulge in our own pleasure. Even on vacation we’re too goal oriented, with long “to do” lists and built-in guilt for doing anything that we might actually enjoy. A lot of women see the title “Naughty Paris” and say, “Oh, I’m not naughty!”
But when we deny ourselves pastries and chocolates because we’re on a diet, beautiful clothes and fancy heels because they’re not practical, and a day of simply people-watching on a café terrace with a bottle of wine because we think we “should” be visiting the Top Ten Tourist Sites, we’re telling ourselves that even the simple joys in life are bad.
Pleasure is the new Naughty, without even needing to go anywhere near anything blatantly sexual. Sometimes it's easier when we're on vacation to let loose a little bit, but once we're back home and back to work...that's a whole different book!
I love that 'pleasure is the new naughty'! What surprised you while researching and writing this book?
I’m a travel writer, not a “naughty expert”, so doing the research was quite eye opening, but I would say it was more surprising to discover who was interested in reading “Naughty Paris”.
Let’s just say that I got the most Puritanical reactions from American women under 40 (but usually under the disclaimer of “I have no problem with it, but my friends are very conservative”), while older women were usually more enthusiastic and open-minded.
It’s encouraging to see how so many women really do come into their own after 50 and stop caring so much about what other people think of them. They’re more likely to “get” Parisian sexiness than the women in their 30s.
That's fascinating, and also great to see how women develop as we age. What do you want most for readers of Naughty Paris?
Most people dive right into the “Naughty Nightlife” chapter or focus on the dining and hotel recommendations to start planning the logistics of their vacation, but I do hope everyone takes the time to read the first chapter* to better understand – and perhaps even step into – the Parisian state of mind.
*downloadable for free on the Kickstarter page