Did you know that the protocol, etiquette or behaviour are becoming trendy? The courtesy is having a revival. This charming behaviour of the elegant men, that make the women feel so special, is one of the reason that make the French men so lovely... In deed, the French art de vivre has granted to the women a superior place in the social hierarchy, which is very uncommon compared to most of the civilizations worldwide. To understand French culture, you have to keep in mind that it is a mix between northern and southern specificities.
The courtesy is a mix of politeness, charm and elegance. It is a refined relationship between men and women, made of kindness and seduction. It has been elaborated during a long process in the Royal Court and the Lord's domain.
In the Middle Age, the aristocraty has created a specific love: the courtly love ou amour courtois. The knight was fighting in the name of his Lady, or his beloved one.
Later, in the 17th century, Louis XIV wanted his power to be absolute. Through the Court of Versailles, he wanted to dominate the violent noble men and to make sure that they wouldn't rebel against his authority. Thus, he wanted to mellow them with fashion, music and love. It was the centre of interest in the Cour de Versailles. Louis XIV settle a code of protocol in which the women were above the men in order to reinforce his power.
In deed, during the 18th century, the travelers were amazed to discover how free and powerful were the French women of the aristocracy in Paris and Versailles. They could have lovers, and men were very busy with the art of faire la cour, which means to seduce a lady with delicate and tender attention, and to please her with kind words during a long period (sometimes several years) in order to conquer her heart. Men were fighting a duel for the beautiful eyes of an elegant lady, and it was a very envied privilege to have caused several deaths. Besides that, women were presiding over literary salons where people gathered to exchange ideas, but mostly to enjoy good conversation, wordplay, and a quest for beauty and refinement. They played a considerable role in spreading a new art of conversation and correspondence, and Madame de Sévigné was definitely the most famous and talented of those modern ladies.
After the French Revolution, Napoleon settled the Empire. He was a provincial, not aware of this art de vivre in Paris, and added to this, he came from Corsica, a mediterranean Island. His idea of the women rights was not very civilized. The Code Napoleon made the wife the property of her husband. He could cheat on her, but if she did, he could left her with nothing...
Then, the 19th century was the period of the triumph of the bourgeoisie. Its code of protocol was pretty severe.
By the way, besides the two world wars and its barbary, the refined relationship between men and women still exists in France.
The Woman appears to be an ideal. She is not reduce to a role of sexual object. The Woman has never been as respected as when she was set on a pedestal. This is the sign of a sophisticated society. The heritage of courtesy still exists in the French society and distinguish the elegant men from the common crowd.
I have often noticed that the American find the French very flirty. In fact, they are playing the game of seduction, but there is no stakes. There is no specific goal: the game in itself is pleasant! Men love to feel adorable and women love to feel extraordinary, dont' we?