FamilyHow to....Life

How to…be French

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It’s probably completely passé to say so, but I am a Francophile. I love the country, the style, the labels, the food… I know, I know, the modus operandi is set to ‘rude:  sales assistants sniff in horror and look straight through ‘madam’ unless madam is size six waif; you can never get a reservation at a decent restaurant at a decent hour – and then if by some miracle you do, the service is abysmal because the waiters they’re, well, French – and the French are just rude (particularly to Les Anglais), aren’t they?

Except they’re not. Even in Paris – the centre ville of rude – I’ve never found this to be the case. Witness my friend Anne, who is the kind of mother who thought nothing of hopping on the Eurostar to Paris when her little boy was so tiny that most of us would have considered a trip to a café AND the corner shop WITHOUT forgetting what you went in for, a major accomplishment. She also took a sizeable buggy – a hand-me-down from a friend which looked like it could tackle mountainous terrain. Nightmare – oui?

Non. (I must stop doing that. Pretending to be French is not, in this sense, a good idea.) They arrived at the Gare du Nord in the midst of a storm of biblical proportions (I am probably over-stating this, but I want you to get the idea that the streets were lashed with rain). The queue for a taxi was, naturally, fathoms deep. And Every. Single. Person in that queue insisted Anne go to the very front with the bebe. Then, when they went out for supper, far from being snootily turned away, waiting staff would reorganise the space so Anne and her husband could tuck the buggy into a cosy corner and dine next to it whilst their (angelic) son slept. (My child would never do this. She was born with EPS (Elusive Party Syndrome).

I know. Extraordinaire. (Sorry, I did it again.)

I digress. What you need to know is that I was always going to be All Over Pamela Druckerman’s French Children Don’t Throw Food (Doubleday) – last year’s parenting manual for the middle classes.

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Druckerman is an American who moved from New York City (arguably the capital of neurotic helicopter parenting) to Paris with her foreign correspondent husband. She had three children (a girl and twin boys) and learnt to parent the ‘French way’. To wit: French bebes do “their nights” from about two weeks old  (if they’r slow) because their mamans expect them to (and do not rush in at the merest whimper, hissing, ‘Check he’s still alive’ at their partner); have better social graces than their foreign counterparts; and can sit through a seven-course taster menu. Plus, their mamans go back to work (in part because of the amazing state childcare provision – living in London I can but dream of such a thing…), dress well, and have no-doubt-excellent sex with their partner (who isn’t relegated to second place by the arrival of children).

It’s not really revolutionary, per se. In fact, a lot of people will – I suspect – read it and think ‘well, that’s just common sense’ or ‘that’s how we do it’ (confession: I did both. I speak of the parenting tips, here; I’m not giving you the lowdown on my bedroom habits). But there’s a lot of useful stuff here. It made me much more hardline on snacks (notably: they are not rewards, they are given at set times. Okay, sometimes they are rewards. It is not easy being French.)

Still, I like the look of her new book, French Parents Don’t Give In: 100 Parenting Tips from Paris (Doubleday).

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Notably:

You will not be poisoning your baby if you give it formula milk. (My local health visitors could do with this gentle reminder as they suck through their teeth in horror at the mere whisper of a thought of formula milk…)

Everyone eats the same thing. (I am All About this. If we can all eat together and eat the same thing, we do.)

Children must try everyone once. If you don’t like it, fine, but you must try it

Keep toys and child paraphernalia out of the living room. (I appreciate this is easier said than done. We have a semi-open-plan living/kitchen space, so they toy area is always visible – and therefore always tidied at the end of every day, so the house feels like an adult space again).

Children must always greet new people and say goodbye.

Bedtime is bedtime. And thus adult time with your partner.

Children must not interrupt grown-ups – and if they do, they must learn to wait. (But this works both ways: don’t interrupt your child).

‘Working mothers’ guilt’ is a waste of energy and spoils the time you do have with your children. (This one is definitely a work in progress.)

 

Pictures: Elliott Erwitt, Random House

 

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