10 Tips for Living the French Way, from ‘Joie: A Parisian’s Guide to Celebrating the Good Life’

When it comes to effortlessly chic style, we’ve looked often, over the past several years, to Ajiri Aki.

It all started with our first post, five years ago, on Madame de la Maison, Ajiri’s shop filled with the French antiquities she sources at marchés aux puces (see Vintage French Style You Can Rent); since then, she’s weighed in on everything from throwing a dinner party for two to her own design influence as a Nigerian-born, Texas-raised alum of the NYC fashion world now living and raising kids in Paris.

So we were thrilled to see that Ajiri’s compiled what she’s learned about French living into a book: Joie: A Parisian’s Guide to Celebrating the Good Life, just out from Clarkson Potter. Here are 10 tips gleaned from the book on creating a home, entertaining, finding a uniform, and everything in between.

Photograph by Jessica Antola, courtesy of Clarkson Potter.

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Above: Ajiri and her kids, Noomi and Baz.

On simplicity (and shower curtains): “A fellow expat once used a fascinating analogy to point out how Americans and the French approach presentation differently. In the United States, she said, we usually have two shower curtains: one that actually protects us and one we show to the world. In France, buying one shower curtain—that is both ‘proper’ and practical and that can be maintained for years—is standard. I think we can apply this to beauty, too. Less is, indeed, more.”

On reclaiming the lunch hour: “It wasn’t until I moved to France that I realized the importance of the lunch break—le pause déjeuner. And, in fact, this sacred midday break has changed the rhythm of my days. … French workers either go out to a brasserie or restaurant and enjoy two to three courses at lunch, or they grab takeaway and return to the office to sit at a grand table, where they eat all together, never alone at their desks. And there is zero talk of work. …  Anyone who brings up work gets immediately shushed with Oh, no no no! C’est la pause.” Reclaim lunchtime by enjoying a meal on a park bench, by a window, or somewhere that’s not your desk (perhaps even without your phone).

On crisp linens (without the iron): When it comes to linen and wrinkles, “personally, I find that it adds a nice texture to the table, but if you’re a purist (yet still want to avoid busting out the iron), here’s a little secret I learned from a French grandmother: 1. Wash your linen, remove it from the washing machine, and use your hand to smooth out the wrinkles. 2. Fold it while still damp and set it aside for an hour, or overnight if you’re lazy like me! 3. Unfold it and hang it to dry if still damp.”

for a picnic à la française, ajiri suggests packing six essentials: l 15
Above: For a picnic à la française, Ajiri suggests packing six essentials: linens (“both a large (blanket-size) one for your derrière and napkins for your hands”), a kitchen towel (“to wrap your bread or wipe off utensils”), a cutting board, a serving tray, finger food (“cheese, charcuterie, spreads, veggies, fruit”), and a baguette.

On centerpieces:One of my pet peeves with regard to dining is having to strain, duck, and dive to see or speak to the person across from me—which is why, when it comes to centerpieces, I like to keep them low.” Ajiri suggests scattering votives, small bud vases, flower petals, or even fruit and veg down the center of the table instead of elaborate arrangements.

On throwing a dinner party: “In 2010, UNESCO recognized the French gastronomic meal an ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. … According to UNESCO, the appellation is for more than simply a meal, but for everything that goes into the meal, such as buying the bons produits from local producers, selecting wine that pairs with a three- or four-course feast, and setting a beautiful table. In other words, it’s the whole package and a sensory experience.” Not ready to throw a Sunday fete with all the fixings? Invite friends for an apéro of drinks and snacks (“a cherished way to gather that is no-fuss because it usually doesn’t involve cooking”).

On attending a dinner party: “DON’T arrive on time. You’ll catch your host or hostess rushing around trying to finish up everything or get dressed. DO give them un quart d’heure de politesse, a ‘polite fifteen-minute-late arrival.’”

“there’s no rush to determine what works for you, but as you 16
Above: “There’s no rush to determine what works for you, but as you embark on the process, remember this: You don’t need to be polished all the time. Focus on items that bring you joy and make you look good,” Ajiri writes on finding your personal style (and, we’d argue, interior style). “I started collecting scarves because they remind me of Nigerian women, and wearing them has become part of my ‘look’.”