I almost spit out my coffee this morning, reading this hilarious send-up of “French Children Don’t Throw Food.”
Digested read: French Children Don’t Throw Food
When my daughter is 18 months old my husband and I (he’s British, I’m American) decide to take her on holiday. Meals are a disaster. Bean creates havoc. I notice that none of the French children are behaving this badly. I wonder pourquoi. ‘C’est par ce que votre fille is called Bean,’ a maman confides in me. ‘Quel type of ridiculous nom is that? No French parent would caller their child Haricot.’
I came to motherhood late and, being a hack and not having much work on, I naturally decided to write a book about it. All I needed was an angle. And then I remembered I was living in France and could pass off some general observations about the few middle-class Parisians I knew as insight.
Americans tend to make a great fuss about the birth; French mothers are more relaxed. ‘If it mourir, it mourir,’ they shrug. ‘We pouvoir always have an autre.’ French fathers are equally laissez-faire; few are expected to attend the birth if there is a football match on TV. And this sense of calm seems to be transmitted to their children.
Bean used to scream throughout the night. I thought this was normal until I talked to Martine, who told me: ‘Tous French bébés sleeper through the nuit.’ ’How do you do it?’ I asked incredulously. ‘It’s facile,’ she replied. ‘No French maman would reve of breastfeeding as it ruins her tits. So we tipper some cognac into the formula et Bob est votre oncle.’ ‘But what if they wake anyway?’ ‘I ‘ave les plugs d’oreille.’
One of the first commands a French enfant learns is ‘Attendez’. American mothers are taught to respond immediately to their child’s demands. ‘Why would you vouloir to faire that?’ said Agathe. ‘It is obvious que all bébés are un morceau d’un fuckwit and haven’t un clue what they wanter. That is why all enfants are made to stander for une heure chaque jour with an ashtray strapped to their têtes.’ What a refreshing change from the babycentric world of Brooklyn!
My mother was horrified that we were going to put Bean in a creche, but in France that is routine. ‘To be honnête,’ dit Marie, ‘once le novelty is over, looking after un bébé is pretty ennuyant. En tout cas, it would be impossible to fitter dans my pilates class to tightener my vagina as well as mon cinq-à-sept liaison with Alain without la crèche. Et mon mari aussi needs the time to voir his maîtresse. So it’s better all round for tout le monde.’
It’s an accepted code of American parenting that the earlier you can get your child to do things, the better. The French don’t bother. Rather, they treat their enfants as adults, so they do not encourage them to read before the age of six. ‘C’est un waste of temps for kids to lire merde comme Thomas the Tank Engine,’ Carla told me. ‘So we don’t bozzer. We attend till they are vieux enough to read Barthes, Sartre et Lacan.’
French parents don’t feel the need to soft-soap their children. When Bean has nightmares, I try to comfort her but a French maman will dire, ‘Vie est un bitch, et puis you die’ and as a result French children are extremely well-adjusted to existential ennui. Similarly, American parents tend to praise their children for the slightest achievement; French parents laugh at their enfants’ drawings. ‘Call ça un ferking Picasso?’
Did I tell you I also had twins? No? Well, let me bore on about them for a couple of chapters. Ah, où étais-je? Oh, oui, sex! Simon and I hadn’t done it for months. Thérèse was horrified. ‘You quoi?’ All French femmes need to avoir it off four fois par jour.’ ‘But what shall I do about Bean?’ ‘Putter her in her chambre until she is douze. Et then sender her off to her boyfriend.’
‘The chose about vous Yanks,’ dit Christine, slugging a carafe of vin rouge, ‘est que vous turner your kids into a project rather than let them be them-mêmes.’ ‘I know,’ I wailed. ‘But what can I do?’ ‘Stopper écriring about them pour un start.’
Digested read, digested: Bringing up bébé.