Lost and Found in Paris with Les Frenchies Star Colleen Dupont
Updated: Nov 18
How Colleen Dupont lost herself and found her voice – and YouTube fame – in the city of light.
On an overcast October day, I am walking the backstreets of Paris, looking for lunch with Colleen Dupont, one half of the husband-and-wife YouTube phenomenon known as Les Frenchies. Like her onscreen persona, Colleen is a fun, knowledgeable person, curious and easy to talk to, whether coloring in the history of the churches we pass, or offering thoughts on the Rugby World Cup, which has just concluded. So it surprises me when she studies the map on her phone, puzzled, and says, “Aren’t you glad I got you lost in Paris?”
I am, actually.
Because, though Colleen makes Paris look easy, as we talk it becomes clear that getting to this place – with over two million adoring viewers monthly, plus a large and highly engaged Facebook group, plus in-person meet-ups, and yet more in the works – this success required her to get lost in a much more profound way. To arrive here, she had to forget everything she knew about herself and begin anew.
How did she do it? Her secret is relentless, penetrating her self-awareness.
The Les Frenchies phenomenon
We decide on a restaurant – a cute middle eastern spot called Eats Thyme.
“I stopped for eight selfies on my way to meet you,” she says. What’s it’s like, I ask, to find herself a YouTube star at this point in life? She acknowledges that it’s “a little bizarre,” but says, “Mostly, they just want to say thank you. And I’m nothing without my viewers. They appreciate us, and we appreciate them. And gratitude never gets old.”
The YouTube channel is home base for Les Frenchies, with a wide range of videos that are well researched, well produced, and break down things that can be intimidating when visiting Paris. Taking the metro. Going to the Louvre. Ordering in a restaurant. Colleen and her husband Antoine, a native Parisian, empower people to fully embrace the city and actually have the trip of their dreams. They’re like your adventurous friends who moved to Paris and can’t wait to show you all their cool discoveries.
And, in an online universe overpopulated with yoga-toned twenty-somethings, Colleen and Antoine stand out. Both are “of a certain age,” with the gray hair and eye-crinkles to prove it. But it’s their delight that captivates you. It’s contagious. To watch them eat a croque monsieur and wash it down with champagne – Colleen recommends drinking plenty of champagne when in Paris – is to see two people in love with each other and the life they’ve created, sharing it with sheer joy.
Clearly it works. Young, old – they’ve had requests to meet with an 86-year-old on her last trip to Paris, and with teenagers on their first – everyone, it seems, loves Les Frenchies.
As we settle in, she pulls out her phone and shows me Instagram posts of people proudly dressed as Colleen for Halloween. There, women of every description sport her signature striped shirt and crimson scarf – an outfit she is in fact wearing as we talk.
Beyond copying her classically French wardrobe, women say that she inspires them to see the beauty in life, take chances and be brave. In fact, one young Japanese woman actually moved to Paris to study design after seeing the city through Colleen’s eyes.
“It’s humbling,” she reflects, “to think that you could inspire someone’s life choices.”
Making a dream come true
For Colleen, living in Paris was the culmination of a long-held dream. In fact, she fell in love with the city early and hard.
“The first time I came to Paris, I knew I wanted to live here,” she says. “I was with my mom, dad and a sister, and they slept in. I’d go to a café and read my book. And then the Parisians would come, and I thought, one day I’m going to be here. Antoine likes to say that he made my dreams come true. And he does. On a regular basis.”
She and Antoine arrived in January 2021, after raising a family in South Florida, where she grew up in a large multi-generational family.
“Antoine and I met in Florida, where he’d been living for many years. We bought a house, had kids, ran a business. The works. My parents came to live with us when they got older. When my mom couldn’t make the stairs anymore, they moved out, and we had this seven bedroom, five bath house with just us and two teenagers. So we sold it.”
When Covid hit, bringing the opportunity to go remote, Colleen knew the moment had arrived. “I thought, if I can work from anywhere, then I want to be in Paris.”
Moving to France during the Covid lockdowns turned out to be a blessing.
Who am I now?
Going into it, Colleen felt confident about living in a foreign country. Though she wasn’t fluent in French, she did know some. And with Antoine’s family nearby, she had a strong base. But the transition turned out to be much harder than she anticipated.
“I was not prepared for the identity changes that I went through. Because every way that you know yourself to be, it’s no longer reliable.”
Colleen always counted on her intellect to anchor her, but now she wasn't so sure.
“I’ve never been big on material stuff. Or the physical – how I look isn’t that big a deal to me, what I have, how much I make. But my intellect? I used to know how to do things. And I found myself here not knowing. People were being kind and I didn’t even know how to say thank you. Because the word is too small. In Florida, I knew how to find the right gift, I knew how to make the right thing. I knew how to say thank you. But I didn’t know how to say thank you here.”
She tears up as she tells this story.
“I didn’t know how to grocery shop. I didn’t know how to use the washing machine. I didn’t know how to take care of my family. And I just came to the point where I’m like, if I wash dishes with shampoo, it’ll be fine until I figure it out. I was in the store one time, and got up the courage to ask a woman in French, what is this soap for? And she looked at me like, you moron, it’s for clothes! There were times when I just came home in tears. I know myself to be a strong, independent woman, and I didn’t feel strong, I didn’t feel independent and I didn’t feel smart. I didn’t know how to do anything.”
It took many months to find her footing, and she credits the lockdown with easing the transition. But it took a visit to a hairdresser to finally bring home the immensity of the change.
“Being in Covid, we didn’t get haircuts. I don’t know how many months it was, but I needed one. And I don’t know how to talk with a hairdresser in French, to say what I want. But I made my appointment anyway. There were only three people in the place. Three ladies. Me and the hairdresser, and one other woman. I told the hairdresser, de comme tu veux – do what you want. She was stunned. The other woman understood and asked, ‘you really want her to do anything,’ and I said ‘yeah, it’s not important. Just make me pretty.’ Whatever pretty is. I start to tell them about why I'm here, and these two women tell me, it takes so much courage to do what you did. It had never occurred to me until they said it that it was brave. So I’m sitting in the chair, sobbing as she was cutting my hair and she’d stop and let me bounce for a minute and then cut some more. That was the first time that I understood that this is not an ordinary thing.”
Reflecting on the experience, Colleen says that living overseas has made her comfortable making mistakes in a way that she never was before.
“Like I said, I anchor my identity in intellect. I’m street smart. I’m clever, I’m resourceful. I’m all of that. And when I’m not that, what am I? What is the value of me if I don’t have that to hang my hat on?”
This, it turns out, is the fundamental question, and answering it has allowed her to shine so brightly in Les Frenchies.
How Les Frenchies came to be
In the beginning, Colleen and Antoine were not imagining a Paris channel. But, as they searched for videos that would help them discover their new home, nothing resonated.
“It was a lot of young Instagram types, or people who, well, sometimes it feels like they’re having therapy in public.”
By creating what they themselves wanted, they have found a niche that’s all their own.
“The first video that really took off was one we did about using the metro. And that was done for me. Antoine was going back to the U.S., and I said ‘I’m just going to stay home until you get back.’ He said, ‘no no no! you can do this!’ So we taped him showing me how to use the metro and put it online and it was just – that was the beginning of the end, really – or the beginning of the beginning. And from that moment forward it was, what are the useful things that I want to know if I’m exploring Paris?”
But Colleen saw herself in a background role, definitely not on-camera.
That changed one day when she and Antoine were helping harvest grapes in Champagne. “It was very fun,” she says. “At one point I asked him, ‘are you filming,’ and he said, ‘yeah,’ and I looked up and said, ‘but you’re not filming me!’ He loves to laugh about that, but in that moment, I realized that I had things to say, that I couldn’t squash my voice. My fear of being seen or judged was just so much smaller than what I wanted people to have.”
But the internet is a harsh place, full of judgment that's often very, very personal.
She laughs, “I mean, I don’t look like a YouTube star. I’m older, I’m chubby. I never got rid of my Covid pounds and I had them to lose before that started. I’m not into fashion.” Her signature outfit is actually an ingenious way to avoid shopping, something she doesn’t enjoy. She purchases multiples of the same items to simplify the process.
“People would say, ‘doesn’t she own any other clothes?’ And then Antoine would answer – I love my husband – ‘that’s funny, nobody mentioned anything about the same shirt I’m wearing.’ We’d get comments like, ‘oh my god her teeth!’ and I didn’t think there was anything wrong with them!”
“The thing is,” she continues. “I’m going to be judged anyway. Maybe I don’t look the part, but that’s who I am. And who I am has something to say.”
She has come to realize that the judgment is not really about her. “Insecure people say stupid things. People who know themselves don’t do that. If all you got from that whole video was my teeth or my shirt, you missed the point. You missed it. And I’m not talking to the ones that missed it.”
There’s a direct link, too, between the judgment and one’s own unprocessed guilt or shame. Colleen believes that women can release these emotions, freeing up enormous energy and power. If her success is any example, there is truth in these words.
“At the core of guilt and shame,” she says, “is the idea that there is something wrong with who we are or something we have done. And they carry secrecy. Being silenced. Not having a voice. By choosing to not have a voice – whether we are the active chooser or are endorsing someone else’s wish for us to be silenced – we settle.
When we silence ourselves, we shrink. We make ourselves small. And we underestimate the impact that selling out our voices has on our lives. As if some external consequence is more important than our self-expression.”
And self-expression is the name of the game for Colleen. “Who you are is not your job, it’s not your house, it’s not your education. It’s not your hobbies. Who you are is something else. So if you truly know who you are, then you can actually express the self. And when you’re expressing the self you don’t have to make anything up. You just be. And to me, that’s the only way to be in the world.”
Lunch over, Colleen offers to say hello to my family, who are dining nearby. My husband, son and his girlfriend are all big Les Frenchies fans, so I know they’ll be thrilled to meet her. The overcast day has turned to rain and we share her umbrella as we walk.
I’m curious to know what’s next for Colleen and Antoine. Plenty, it turns out. They’re busy developing multiple projects, including an audio tour of the Louvre as well as expanding their selection of guides to the city. But she has a bigger vision in mind, too, something that expressing her voice through Les Frenchies has unleashed.
“For years I’ve wanted to do what I call ‘mavens on the move,’” she says. “The idea is that women of a certain age have a lot of lore and it would be a shame to die with that. On the other side, you have young women who are creative, innovative with so much to offer. Bringing the two together in a some kind of a retreat, the generational piece, that interests me.”
Sign me up! Would it be in France? Bien sûr! (If you're interested in learning more about the Les Frenchies women's retreat, sign up for updates at their website.)
“Paris is a vehicle,” she says. “It’s not what I do but it’s a vehicle for what I do. And what I do is, I meet everything new. Discovery and nurturing. That’s intrinsic in me. The discovery is going out and finding, and the nurturing is making people feel ok when they do it. That’s my self-expression.”
When we get to the restaurant where my family is eating, heads turn. Faces light up with smiles of recognition. Colleen Dupont, in her striped shirt and bright red scarf, is living life on her terms – in Paris, with her beloved Antoine – and she has arrived.
This interview was conducted in Paris, on October 18, 2023, by Jean Shields Fleming, Certain Age founder & editor.
Photos of Colleen and Colleen & Antoine courtesy of Les Frenchies Travel.