Frenchmen are arguably the most romantic males on the planet. N’est-ce pas?

My own opinion unequivocally falls on the “Yes, they are,” side of the debate. (Admitting, up-front, to limited or non-existent experience with, oh, 99.9 percent of the earth’s other nationalities).

By extension, those ascribing to my premise would probably assume Frenchmen have a heartfelt enthusiasm for that special day set aside each year in celebration of L’Amour: St. Valentine’s Day.

Au contraire. French men do not like to be told a specific date on which they are required, by convention, to be romantic—to buy a gift, extend an invitation, present a bouquet, or find a box of chocolates. Non, non, et non.

Artificial markers cannot—indeed, must not—dictate the delicate intricacies of love and romance. Fortunately for French men,  French women hold the same opinion.

Since most of us agree—in theory at least—that the French know more about love and romance than the rest of us, I decided to conduct an unscientific survey on the subject. Residing in France, as I have for 20+ years, I have access. My poll sample includes those in their 40s (Aurore, Michael, Cedric, and Christine) through 80 (I promised not to say).

Here’s what they told me.

Les Femmes

Jeanne-Aelia: I think romance does not need all the flonflon of Valentine’s Day, heart shaped candy boxes, flutes of champagne clinking; rather a great wine one evening, just for the fun of it and kindnesses and small attentions each and every day. Love and thus romance is shown simply, truly, every day, anytime and needs no embellishment.

Sylvie: I make him special little dishes he loves and on occasion do the dance of seven veils. How sad it would be if I only did this one day every year.

Evelyne: No surprise dinners with candlelight and champagne, but oysters every Saturday night when we’re home because my husband loves them. I don’t like the idea of “once a year.”

Edith: I give my husband at least two compliments a day, like little gifts. They are absolutely sincere and can be as mundane as, “I love that sweater on you.”

On Valentine’s Day we’ll probably see a movie and go out for dinner. But we do that at least twice a week anyway.

Dominique: I cook his favorite meals. I go with him to see the movies he likes. Valentine’s Day is nice I suppose, but every day is better.

Aurore: To find time for romance with four young children can be difficult, but we do schedule occasional dinners a deux and yes, one of them might be on Valentine’s Day. More importantly, when possible we take a trip together. We’ve found it’s the only way to re-find one another without interruptions. All the sensations of love and romance sometimes forgotten in the day-to-day routine come flooding back.

Anne-Françoise: We haven’t celebrated Valentine’s Day for years. I honestly don’t know if we ever did. We don’t need Valentine’s Day. Our love is stronger today than ever. We have been blessed. We celebrate our good fortune in one way or another every day.

Christine: We celebrate “our” Valentine’s Day – the day we met. We have done something special on that day since we met nearly 20 years ago. Honestly, Valentine’s Day is fine if it makes someone happy, which I’m sure it does. But I don’t care.

Les Hommes

Fred: Laughing together all the time, even if life is tragic by moments. Never wait until February 14th to give her flowers, and always accompany a bouquet with a French kiss.

Nicolas: I plug in my electric guitar, jump into my cowboy boots, and sing, “Oh, my darling, oh, my darling. . .” (Yes, readers, he’s French.)

Michael: The most difficult is probably not to be trapped by the quotidian, all the obligations of family, work, children. . . One must make time to have a dinner entre amoureux. Every day I remember what the priest said at our wedding: “Always guard and protect your couple before all else.” I never wait for special occasions to walk through the door with a bouquet.

Jean-Paul: I have nothing against Valentine’s Day. But romance is about trust—spending time together and treating one another gently as a way of life.

Claude: A kiss when we wake-up, a kiss good-bye, a kiss hello and always, wherever we go, we walk hand in hand. Often when we watch television we are holding hands. We smile at each other because we are happy to still be together after all these years—46 to be exact. Valentine’s Day? Why not?

Cedric: I think when we were dating, I gave her flowers and we went to a restaurant for dinner, but life has become more complicated with three small children. The idea of doing something spontaneous seems more romantic. I often come home from work with a bouquet for her. We try to schedule a few weekend escapes, just the two of us. Real vacations are for the family, but we need time alone. I have nothing against Valentine’s Day. If it were important for my wife, then I would certainly do whatever would make her happy.

Daniel: Travel is the secret. There is nothing like escaping together with no obligations, no distractions to re-ignite romance. All we do is concentrate on each other and shared experiences. When we return home, the glow from rediscovering one another lasts for months. Valentine’s Day? Don’t get me started. It’s a ridiculous commercial obligation to make people feel guilty if they don’t buy something. It has nothing to do with real love. Nothing.

My-Reason-For-Living-In-France: Of course romance is possible every day, but it’s not about grand displays and extravagant gifts—that’s easy.

It’s the everyday gestures, the telephone call that says, “I love you” in the middle of the day; the spontaneous invitation to a dinner in Paris tete-a-tete; flowers all year long; slipping an umbrella in the back of the car because you think it might rain; dashing into the boulangerie to buy two chausson aux pommes because she loves them more than anything for breakfast; an unexpected gift, just because.  She has never boarded a plane without a love letter from me to be opened when she is in the air.

Valentine’s Day? It’s nice. Is it today?

(I swear he said that.)

Paintings by Nevin Hirik.

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  • drpatallen February 8, 2011 at 3:46 pm

    What a wonderful description of thoughfulness as romance…and in a country where men apparently are thoughtful all year round. It is true that a man can win a woman’s affection with something as simple as bringing an umbrella along, just because it has been rumored that there might be rain. Welcome to our blog, Tish. We will visit yours as well.

    Patricia Yarberry Allen, MD

  • Splenderosa February 8, 2011 at 11:28 am

    Love Tish’s writing, along with her incredible wit.

  • b.elliott February 8, 2011 at 9:03 am

    One more reason I love the French! I am making my reservations today!

  • Elizabeth Willse February 7, 2011 at 12:34 pm

    Reading this, I almost stood up on my desk and re-enacted Les Mis. Yes! Down with Valentine’s Day! Up with romance year round!
    I can’t stand Valentine’s Day. It’s so garish, and commercial. Everyday gestures, that’s true romance.