Uncovering French Weapons of Mass Seduction

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I once tried to organize an American singles tour of Paris. The itinerary was ideal. I would bring together six eligible men and six eligible women for a week of smart, seductive, well-fed explorations of the city, from day life to nightlife, and perhaps love life thereafter.

I quickly found six eager women—women of class and beauty and culture and career success.

As for the men… what men? Those I told about the tour said they’d already been to Paris with their first wives.

Turns out a man needs to be in love in order to think of the French capital as a romantic or sexy destination whereas a woman need only hear the word “Paris.”

Another word that’s sure to get a woman packing is “naughty.” It’s a term that conveys stolen moments of all that is playful, sexy, sexual, risqué but not crude, and either pricey or furtively free.

A man uses the word “naughty” when telling a 6-year-old girl not to hit her younger brother. But for a woman “naughty” also calls to mind a knowing smile, a short skirt, some optimistic lingerie, a come-hither pair of high heels, a chocolate éclair in the afternoon, sex-toy shopping, an extra glass of champagne, a pole dancing class, a devil-may-care flirt, a knowing tease, curiosity about libertine clubs, and much else if only someone in the know would only tell her the address.

Put “naughty” and “Paris” together and you get Naughty Paris: A Lady’s Guide to the Sexy City, Heather Stimmler-Hall’s glossy, snappy, highly informed “menu of the many sensual delights Paris has to offer to discerning ladies.”

Heather Stimmler-Hall sets out to “awaken your inner femme fatale.” But first the reader is invited to gaze upon and to admire the ageless Parisienne, that fantasy Frenchwoman of mystery, confidence, and femininity, a lady bearing weapons of mass seduction, one who’s not necessarily beautiful but, with the throw of a scarf, knows how to use what she’s got.

“One of the most captivating qualities of Parisian women is their self confidence,” writes Ms. Stimmler-Hall.

This may well be true, yet it’s worth noting that Frenchwomen think the same thing of their American idols. As my Parisian friend L. explains, she and her seemingly confident friends actually dream of adding some femme fatale à l’Américaine to their repertoire so as to channel their inner Carrie or Bree. While the American woman arrives in Paris afraid to be seen as a season or two behind the fashion curve, the Frenchwoman lands in New York aware that she’s a season or two behind the story arch of her favorite TV shows. Yet it appears that women on both sides of the Atlantic pack their Desperate Sex and the City fantasies when traveling abroad.

But what are the men in Paris packing? Though Ms. Stimmler-Hall has no pretensions of providing in-depth analysis of her readers’ potential Parisian suitors’ arms of seduction she does note some essential cross-cultural fusion material that will allow them to flirt wisely. Among her pearls:

“In America, ‘No means No.’ In France, no means ‘I’m not convinced.’”

“Don’t assume your suitor is single. He won’t assume you are – or care either way.”

“With the inherent language barriers and the French male tendency to act first and apologize later, you may find yourself at the receiving end of an unauthorized rear entry.”

That last observation clearly goes well beyond flirting—and so does Naughty Paris.

No, Naughty Paris is not a sex guide. Ms. Stimmler-Hall even makes a point in the introduction of declaring, “This is not a manual for getting lucky.” Nevertheless, she does her best to get her readers primped and prepped enough to attract good fortune. And with the final chapter’s thorough advice and choice addresses regarding fetish parties and libertine soirées, she is fully prepared to show readers how to force destiny.

Having gotten readers into the mind-set that Paris is their temporary playground, the author proceeds to advise them on the various activities of pampering and seduction that may be enjoyed out in the field, from hotel to spa, from lingerie to shoes, dinner to nightclub, from make-up to make out.

I was hoping for some curious sightseeing along the way, but despite the presence of the Eiffel Tower on the cover poking above the title as phallus dei, sightseeing in Naughty Paris is limited to mention of some naked masterpieces and of Frenchmen offering naughty art tours.

Nevertheless, the enticing mix of advice, “naughty tips,” snappy commentary and addresses for boutiques, spas, unmarked doors, romantic venues, dance clubs, and sex clubs, with a few notable films and works of art thrown in for good measure, make this the Cosmo of cosmopolitan guidebooks and a seductive addition to an otherwise stagnant genre.

Most guidebooks settle for regurgitated information with a bit of attitude du jour and some save-or-spend advice. They are largely the work of publishers and editors, not writers or travel journalists. But Heather Stimmler-Hall’s wit, observations, and thorough research shine through here. Naughty Paris is indeed the work of a travel journalist.

After fielding many “discreet inquiries” during those tours, she says, she realized there was a gap in the guidebook market and so set about to write Naughty Paris.

Beyond its introductory insights, the essence of Naughty Paris is its choice addresses and perceptive commentary. Chapters progress with increasing naughtiness: a selection of hotels, spas, and cosmetic and clothing boutiques… snippets of sexy culture… mid- and high-style sex toy shops… pole dancing classes… bars and dance clubs… libertine/swingers clubs and fetish venues. You go girl!

Whether advising readers about high heels or low whispers, the author’s tone is always playful, polished, and informed—and sometimes cautionary.

Throughout, Ms. Stimmler-Hall lets you know that this naughtiness is all just a game, that romance, seduction, and pleasure are all about being confident enough to be yourself (well, maybe not too much yourself), that having the right attitude goes far, that having the right addresses goes further, that having the right bank account can help, and that the best thing about being abroad is not being judged by anyone at home, even yourself.

The lure of the text sometimes drowns in the gloss of the images. While there is indeed much gloss to Ms. Stimmler-Hall’s writing, it’s the gloss of a journalist with a good eye, a wide smile, and a clear marketing niche. Unfortunately, the photographer failed to grasp that there’s a difference between a marketing niche and advertising copy.

The ad-like quality of Kirsten Loop’s photography does a disservice to Naughty Paris by making the author’s discretion, insights, and wink-wink commentary appear on the page as little more than an ad for spas, beauty products, and sex toys. The result is that the book looks too like a catalogue, with the same sexy, full-lipped model presenting all the wares.

Discerning ladies accustomed to high-gloss magazines will likely be more forgiving of the book’s cosmetics than this male reviewer, as they will of the books sticker price of 25€ or $39 (possibly less from online booksellers).

For such discerning ladies, Naughty Paris is your little black book to go with your little black skirt, your little black purse, and your universal weapons of mass seduction.

For men who would like to meet such ladies, you ought to consider joining on my singles tour.

© 2008, Gary Lee Kraut

Also read France Revisited’s interview with Heather Stimmler-Hall.

Naughty Paris: A Lady’s Guide to the Sexy City by Heather Stimmler-Hall. Photos by Look Photography. Published in France by Fleur-de-Lire Press, September 2008. 296 pages. Retail price: 25€/$39. Available in or orderable through bookstores in the U.S. as well as from major online booksellers. Available in the UK through Amazon.co.uk and from www.naughtyparisguide.com.

Disclaimer: Heather Stimmler-Hall and I have raised a few toasts to her Naughty Paris project over the past two years, which has somehow earned me thanks on the book’s Merci! page.

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