Are the French losing their touch when it comes to seducing members of the opposite sex? Well, if the proliferation of books, DVDs and coaching sessions are anything to go by, many feel they need help.
It's a sunny afternoon outside the Pompidou Centre art museum. Nicolas breaks into a run. He and his coach have spied a target: sparkly t-shirt at two o'clock.
"Excuse me, I've just seen you and I think that with that t-shirt with sequins on you must be a gold-digger or something! Your style is really not bad," says Nicolas.
"Thank you. That's kind," the woman responds.
"In fact, I would have loved to talk to you, I really like your little smile as well. Unfortunately, I have to meet some friends. But if you like, you and me, we can exchange phone numbers," says Nicolas.
"That's kind, but I have a lover," she responds.
Listening in thanks to a discreet microphone clipped to Nicolas' shirt, coach Alex Roth shrugs. Rejection is OK, he says. Toughens you up. He's been there himself. That's why he founded Lifestyle Conseil, one of a number of similar French counseling companies, four years ago.
"When I was younger I was kind of obese, you know? And I was kind of lonely, not so many friends. And one day, I say OK, as a challenge to myself I said I have to lose some weight. I have to go out, to make some friends, to have a girlfriend. It was quite a hard job, but now I can help other men to do the same because I did the job before," says Roth.
Roth tells a classroom of note-taking students a cautionary tale about the importance of good spelling when texting women. A week of seduction school costs $1,300. For seminars like this, field work, and at the end, a party to which all the girls that have given their phone numbers to these apprentice seducers are invited. If all goes well, they'll end up perpetuating a long French tradition of seduction.
From films like "Charlotte and Véronique" to books and plays like "Dangerous Liaisons" and Molière's "Don Juan" -- and even the recent movie "Heartbreaker," whose remake rights have been bought by Working Title Films -- seduction has always loomed large in French culture. This was something French men were good at while those of other nations one might think of had to drink for several hours before so much as saying hello. But is it still true of the French today? Down in the Luxemburg Garden, I asked some present-day Charlottes and Véroniques to share their experiences.
"We were on a boat, a club on a boat, and we had just arrived and a guy came and say, 'Ah you dance so well!' And we said, 'Ah come on, we just arrived so you couldn't see us dancing or anything,'" says Juliette Minot. "[It was] a bad experience because he would say that to any girl."
Others had a similar reaction. The consensus: seduction classes? French men could use them. But back outside the Pompidou Centre, they haven't done the trick yet for Nicolas. How many girls has he approached this afternoon? Everybody's lost count. Possibly suffering from charm fatigue, he begins an umpteenth offensive with "Excuse me, I think you're not bad looking," to which the young woman replies: "Oh yeah? How many out of 10?"
Uh-oh. But despite these inauspicious beginnings he asks if they can "echanger leurs coordonnes" to which she replies "sans probleme." That's French for "no problem." And when he comes back to receive his coach's congratulations his smile, perhaps for the first time this afternoon, is a real one.