When I was pregnant with Tadpole, I developed a heightened sense of awareness of other pregnant women. Suddenly they seemed to be everywhere I looked. I suspected that, in reality, they’d been there all along. My radar simply hadn’t been picking them up.
Sure enough, soon after Tadpole was born, my blinkers went back on and I was probably as guilty as the next métro passenger of failing to pull my nose out of my newspaper and stumble to my feet to give up my seat when an expectant mother joined the carriage.
Since my wedding day, I’ve developed a new obsession. Whether I’m sitting outside a café watching the world stroll by, doing my grocery shopping at Franprix or dropping off Tadpole at school, my eyes are irresistibly drawn to the fourth finger of everyone’s left hand, curious to see how many people around me are wearing a wedding ring.
‘Is it noticeable?’ I ask Meg as we drain the last dregs of our beers outside Aux Folies one evening. ‘I’m hyper aware of it right now… I think it’s because I’m not used to wearing a ring on that particular finger.’
At that moment the proprietor sidles up behind us. ‘Are you ladies leaving?’ he says, looking disappointed at the prospect. ‘Because if you’re staying, I was about to offer you a free round…’ Never one to turn down free drinks, we order the same again, smiling sweetly at our benefactor.
When I remark upon the fact that I’ve never had free drinks at this particular bar before, Meg grins widely and points at my décolleté. My favourite item of clothing so far this summer has been a short-sleeved, knee-length t-shirt dress with thin navy-blue and cream horizontal stripes. It has (what I think is called) a cowl neck, and this has relaxed somewhat with every successive wash, revealing a little more flesh each time I wear it. ‘You’ll notice,’ she adds, ‘that the barman has been lingering behind us every time he brings out someone’s drinks… I’d say he’s admiring the view.’
I hastily rearrange my dress, trapping a little material under my bra straps as insurance against a wardrobe malfunction. ‘Well, I don’t mind free drinks,’ I say, ‘but hopefully he’s noticed I’m wearing a ring and won’t attempt to chat me up…’
‘Honey, we live in France,’ Meg says drily. ‘Which means you’re still fair game, as far as French men are concerned. In this country, a wedding ring is like a red rag to a bull. Remember that French guy I dated who said his mother taught him it was his duty to sleep with as many married women as possible? She claimed they were those most in need of having their sex lives spicing up…’
Hiking my dress up a little further, I wonder if this is woefully inaccurate cultural stereotype, a scene from a Nancy Mitford novel or an accurate assessment of how French men regard marriage.
Now that I’m wearing a ring, I guess I’m about to find out firsthand.