jeudi, février 03, 2005

on dissing the French

I didn't really want to get into slagging off the French for being French on this blog. It seemed too easy, for one thing, also a bit impolite (though surely no more than they deserve for their tremendous ability to give one the finger in all sorts of metaphorical ways). Also it's potentially tricky to convey the kind of post-modern ironic-but-not-really way I feel about some of the big cultural chasms that stretch between us Anglos and them Frogs.

The issue that confronts me on a daily basis is of course the question of child rearing. Coming from a fairly laid-back parenting environment - where women commonly breastfeed their babies (and sometimes other people's, but that's a subject for another day, and anyway I did it once too and it really wasn't such a big deal) for well over a year, and sharing a bed with your newborn, your toddler, even a couple of kids, is considered (by some) to be perfectly normal, where worrying about keeping your children's clothes clean is considered to be stifling their creativity - France inevitably reminds one slightly of the stories that our mothers and grandmothers told us about their experiences of motherhood. After childbirth women here are encouraged to breastfeed for 6 weeks in order to help them regain their figure. The amount of parental control you see here is mindboggling. I've come across little girls of five or six whose mothers are already colouring their hair. I've seen kids slapped in restaurants for dropping a bit of food on their shirts. I've seen five year olds spoonfed in order to avoid them soiling their clothes. It's perfectly normal to see four or five year olds being pushed around in strollers with dummies in their mouths, or kept quiet with baby bottles filled with chocolate nesquik.

This afternoon I took the kids to the local toyshop to get a birthday present for their cousin Abel. That's three boys, 3, 5 and 7, perfectly presentable. The look on the shop assistant's face when we walked in should have sent me straight out the way we came, but I needed to buy a present, so pressed on. The kids were looking at stuff - this was a toy shop, remember - not touching, not doing anything risky, or naughty. The atmosphere was so tense that I thought for a moment that we would be asked to leave; a shop assistant had been deployed to follow them around the shop and tell them off. Then as I was paying I heard the door open and someone came in. I couldn't see who had just come in, but I could hear the woman who had been trailing my children and telling them off for doing nothing at all say ''Qu'est-ce qu'il est mignon!" and I caught myself feeling miffed that she hadn't said anything nice about my kids when we had come in. A moment later I realised why: the woman who had just come in was trailing not a child but a dog. A small dog in a tartan coat. "'Qu'est-ce qu'il est mignon," indeed.

I realised then what makes England a much nicer place (I was going to write to 'a much nicer place be a parent' but I realised that my conclusion is wider than that):
1) On the whole, dogs aren't allowed in shops. This has nothing to do with being a parent, and everything to do with not really liking dogs very much.
2) Dogs don't wear coats. This has nothing to do with not liking dogs very much, and everything to do with my innate sense that every living thing has a right to a basic level of dignity.
3) Children are welcome in toy shops. This obviously has nothing to do with the fact that dogs in France have nicer clothes than my children, and everything to do with the fact that a country that can't deal with children in toy shops is a country that can't deal with children.

I am now going to go and cook dinner with the delicious food that I bought in the market this morning. Which reminds me why France is a so much nicer place to live than England. Sometimes.


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2:55 PM  

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