Totally Frenched Out

From the blogger formerly known as Samdebretagne

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Bringing up Crazy

I wasn't originally planning on writing about this topic at all, because 1) I don't have kids and 2) It just seemed like another one of those "X country does Y thing better" books. But then I saw an interview with the author on the Today Show, and it kind of irked me.  They filmed her in Paris, wearing a beret of course.  She talks about how French parents have a well-defined "box" of rules, but that there is freedom inside that box. They show her kids eating broccoli and she of course takes credit for this - whereas my first thought was whatever lady - that ain't thanks to you, that's thanks to the French school lunch system. Kids here learn to eat a wide variety of foods from a very young age. And then she shows up live on the Today Show (again with the damn beret!) to expound on her previous statements.

As an interesting side note - in the US, this book is called "Bringing Up Bébé", whereas in the UK, it's called "French Children Don't Throw Food".  I find it really interesting that they felt the need to change the name for the British market.  But then again, ever since I moved to France, all I have heard from the Brits is how well-behaved French children are.

I've always wondered where that myth comes from.  I mean, sure maybe the French children of 50 years ago were meant to be seen and not heard, but in my experience, after living in France for coming up on 9 years now, that is definitely not the case.  I've taught in the French school system and been around plenty of children in Fab's family and now in C's family, and frankly, I don't understand what the big fuss is about.  The kids just seem like normal kids.  Sometimes they're good and sweet and sometimes they scream, whine and throw fits.

And hey, if all French kids are so perfect,  why would M6 need to have a SuperNanny show?  It was extremely popular, and ran for six years - and would probably still be on today if the SuperNanny hadn't passed away in 2010.  I watched some of them, and man, did some of those kids need an attitude adjustment.

I also found it extremely ironic that she said that French parents insisted their children always say "Hello" to others, as a way to pull them out of their self-centeredness and remind them that others have needs too.  This literally made me laugh out loud.  If that were indeed the case, they would also be reminding their kids to hold the doors for others, to not stand in the middle of the sidewalk/doorway/escalators and to not stare.  But none of that happens - France is not a "Put yourself in someone else's shoes" society.  And before anyone starts on me for criticizing France, it's not a criticism, it's the way people are raised here. If anything, they are teaching their kids to say "Hello" because it's a cultural expectation and you're setting yourself up for a lifetime of non-service if you don't start every sentence with "Bonjour".

She also brings up the example of a child interrupting a parent. She says that Americans think that there is nothing that they can do about a child interrupting and so they just have to live with it.  Um hello? (or should that be Bonjour?).  I grew up with my mother telling me all the time to stop interrupting and wait until her conversation was done.  This lady just seems like her parenting skills weren't that great to start off with.  She says however that a French parent will take the time to gently explain the child needs to wait.  I don't know about you guys, but this has not been my experience at all.  I've mainly seen the kids saying "Maman. Maman. Maman. Mamaaaaannnnn" with increasing urgency, all the while the parent is ignoring them until the explode and say "Come on Quentin, stop being so annoying, can't you see that I'm talking?". And then the kid sulks away, pouting.

Which brings me to the whole yelling factor.  That is one of the biggest differences I have noticed in child-adult interactions here.  So much of it seems to be adults yelling at the children and belittling them into submission. Not that I think the kids suffer from it, just that it is not seen as necessarily a bad thing to call a child stupid or tell them they asked a dumb question.

In fact, I found this whole idea of "French parents are calm" so ridiculous that I posted it on twitter.  Here are some of the answers I got back:

ChezLoulou: Oh r-e-a-l-l-y? Then why is that I hear French parents yelling at their kids all the time?
Ella: Lol! She should spend a weekend at MF's family's house and she'd write a whole other book! Where is she getting her facts?
Ashley: ugh. Read lots of things about that book. Sound like a complete over generalization of one population. yuck.
AnnMah: Ha ha. I think this is the newest "X parenting is superior." But that it's French, does make me laugh.
KarenLeBillon: French aren't perfect, but DO have gr8 approach to #kidsfood. See amazing French school menus!

There were a few detractors however:
TheBoldSoul: I think they do it less than American parents, frankly. And the French little ones ARE generally better behaved in public
Ednacz: I think they do it less than American parents, frankly. And the French little ones ARE generally better behaved in public

So that leads me to believe that there are both well-behaved and misbehaved kids here, just as there are in every other country in the world. But I thought I'd put together a little quiz to see what the rest of you think:

Update - It's also crazy that she has removed her past books from her website, including the one on infidelity. According to a commenter below, she also asked Marie Claire to remove her article on how she gave her husband a threesome for his 40th birthday.  And we're supposed to take parenting advice from this lady??

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Blogger Alison said...

I didn't see the Today show bit, but I did see a photo of the author somewhere. WHY THE BERET?! Why, why, why? UGH.

February 9, 2012 at 4:44 PM  
Blogger Gwan said...

I have also seen newspaper articles etc. on this with some scepticism. However, I try to avoid kids as much as possible, so I don't know that I'm an expert. I will say French kids seem to be quieter/better behaved *in public* than in some other countries, but I don't know what goes on behind the scenes. Just yesterday a colleague was going on about how awful his kid was and how it was lucky he was the second kid (otherwise he might have stopped at one)!!

I assume the UK title is trying to piggyback off the success of "French women don't get fat"

February 9, 2012 at 5:07 PM  
Blogger Crystal said...

As I write this, the little monster in the apartment below us is screaming (again) and the Mom is yelling back. And these are the people who complained about my dog barking...

I tend not to pay attention to these kinds of articles because, as you said, they are usually just a gross generalization. There are good kids and bad kids everywhere in the world, and there are so many other factors that come into raising children other than simply if the child happens to have French parents or not.

Whenever Max brings up the question of having kids, I always just smile and say, "Honey, you see what I did to the dog. Do you really want to have a human child with me?" lol

The beret part made me gag.

February 9, 2012 at 5:40 PM  
Blogger deedee said...

Whenever someone starts generalizing, they are asking for trouble. I read about this book in the Washington post and red signal flags went up...I'd forgotten about Super Nanny. Now that's a good example of misbehaved French children!
Raising polite children requires good parenting plus a little luck...not all kids are the same, no matter how you parent them, some will be rebels and throw their broccoli at you :)

February 9, 2012 at 5:42 PM  
Blogger Anon said...

French women don't get fat and are the BEST mothers!

February 9, 2012 at 5:57 PM  
Blogger Global Librarian said...

This book also irked me.

My children (2 & 3 years old) are very well behaved. And broccoli is one of their favorite foods. In general, all of my friends here in the US also have very well behaved children. As did my friends in Switzerland.

I think that the poorly behaved children are more obvious and get far more complaints. And they happen in every country.

February 9, 2012 at 6:53 PM  
Blogger Linds Frank said...

The beret was ridiculous, and I just wondered when she'd whip out a baguette!

February 9, 2012 at 7:30 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

She made me cringe as well! I'm bringing up bébé here in France now and trust me the techniques that I "hear" from my neighbor Yelling parent Crying child are not exactly winning it for me...In public they are the "perfect" family...behind closed doors...YIKES! I think in the school system and parenting that yelling and berating is how they get the kids to behave NOT through calm love as she describes it. I worked in elementary schools as well so I've seen it first hand. The beret made me want to vomit...bleh! Nobody wears berets here!

February 9, 2012 at 7:49 PM  
Blogger Amber said...

You're spot on, Sam. Do you remember me talking about the fiasco I had at Christmas because I snapped at my nephew to get his feet off the dinner table? ... I think that says it all right there. I've seen them hit their children, spank/smack/whack/you name it more times than I can count, and I see lots and lots of misbehavior and disrespect. I hesitated for a long time before agreeing to have a baby in this country and luckily for me, J wants to move to the US in the future so that V has a better chance of growing up creative and open minded (J's words!) He thinks we give kids more opportunity in America, and that we have more confidence.
I might just be bitter though cause I got called a C-word by one of my students this week.. you know, one of those well-behaved French students that was a well-behaved French child too, I'm sure.

February 9, 2012 at 8:41 PM  
Blogger Canedolia said...

I think French people are more likely to tell their children "no." There's less negotiation here than in the UK, where middle-class parents are endlessly bribing kids into good behaviour.

I also think the French are more likely to discipline other people's kids and not take offence if someone does it to theirs. I like that, because it shows an expectation of respect for other people in general and actually makes it easier on the parents because there is less of a burden on them - it's just accepted that children do misbehave but that everybody can teach them not to. (Amber, I read your post about the feet on the table incident and was pretty shocked - goes to show that all of this is definitely sweeping generalisation!)

What's funny though, is I think all this makes very little difference to how the kids actually turn out. I lived in Italy, where parenting is really different, and people don't grow up any better or worse behaved there in the end. I reckon it has a lot more to do with how adults in a particular culture feel comfortable dealing with the way children, the world over, all behave. And yeah, no need to go on telltale wearing a beret to talk about it!

February 10, 2012 at 12:55 AM  
Blogger Anne said...

Finally some sense on this issue!

February 10, 2012 at 3:05 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

This is really funny. You totally had me at the "(or should that be Bonjour?)"

I'm an American mom in Italy and so I don't know about the French kids, but I agree that kids are kids and they are different. Meredith totally hit the nail on the head. It is both nature and nurture.

I will say that the kids here have to say "Buongiorno" or "Ciao" here too and it is VERY important to greet people. Saying "please" and holding doors are not as important as they are in the US.

As for the "Mamma Mamma Mamma Mammmmmmmaaaa" I did not get this until I had children, but there is a point at which you stop hearing it. I swear. It does not register. You are just trying to get your shit done and your kid is screaming for you but you seriously block it out until the person you are talking to winces. It must be a survival instinct.

February 10, 2012 at 3:10 PM  
Blogger Lisa C. said...

Ahahahaha...a beret!? Stop! I just googled The Today Show bit and can't find it, I need to see this!

Oh and Séb's 15 year old brother called me "débile ou quoi?" at the dinner table last weekend because I made the mistake of using the masculine article for a noun when it is feminine.

Darling little angels.

And I don't know about anyone else but I find the name "Bringing up Bébe" really irritating...

February 10, 2012 at 9:23 PM  
Blogger A Tank said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

February 11, 2012 at 1:31 AM  
Blogger The Paris Chronicles said...

I'm fixing to write up my own post about Druckerman's book, which joins the kilometers of other fluff pieces, such as Elizabeth Bard's Lunch in Paris, Kim Sunee's Trail of Crumbs and Sarah Turnbull's Almost French. These "writers" who see France uniquely through their own priviledged lens really get under my skin. Not every American arrives in Paris and marries a wealthy white guy 5 minutes later and goes on to live a life free from finanical worry. Druckerman concentrates uniquely on her and her husband's socio-economic class and their peer group (as do the other "writers") and it is all just so boringly haughty.

Where are the books about raising kids in the 93 or another part of Paris with a higher criminal deliquancy rate? THOSE ARE FRENCH PARENTS TOO! But no female expat author, with the exception of Beth Epstein, looks outside her own world.

The best thing? Druckerman insisted that Marie Claire pull off their website the "little article about the threesome" she arranged a couple of years ago for herself and her husband. She feared it would hurt her book sales if readers found out that she might not be the "reference point" as an Expert Parent should they stumble across her bit of soft-core porn.

Too bad you can't hide in cyberspace!

February 13, 2012 at 11:15 AM  
Blogger Ksam said...

Wow, I had no idea she'd written an article about threesomes - I found a copy of it online here:

No wonder she wanted it removed before the book launch!

February 13, 2012 at 11:25 AM  
Blogger PutYourFlareOn said...

I agree with you, Sam, on everything except the yelling. I have seen American parents and French parents yelling at their kids a lot. Hell, I yell at my kids. Parents yell, kids yell. What the hell? It happens.

I haven't see the Today show spot but I can imagine it. How cliche. and a beret? Seriously?

Being a an American raising my kids in France I have never once thought about how do parent my kids. I just follow my instincts. This is the best advice my father gave me right before I had Maximilien and I follow it everyday. Instincts are proper to each parent and are not cultural. But this is way too simple of advice and people are always looking for things to argue about. Like to breastfeed or bottle feed? Seriously, one culture's parenting style vs another? is this really relevant? Parents should be helping each other. Articles like this just set us up against each other. So over it...

February 13, 2012 at 12:24 PM  
Blogger Alisa said...

TOTALLY agree with you on this - several friends have asked me about this since the book came out. I have lived here for 14 years, have two children in the French school system and know plenty of French parents - they don't have "the answer" to raising little angels any more than Americans do.

Did this woman never hear of the "enfant roi"?? It's a French concept mentioned in many a cultural book.


February 14, 2012 at 7:28 PM  
Blogger Passport Stamps said...

I'm with you. It's more about the systems and less about the parents. If the school system provides fresh vegetables to young kids of course they are going to grow up with better eating habits than their American counterparts.

February 14, 2012 at 11:05 PM  
Blogger GL's D said...

I just read French Children don't throw food in the Local French news in English. Photo of the author, NO BERET! Now, about this three sum, naww forget it.

February 15, 2012 at 4:46 AM  
Blogger Parisbreakfasts said...

I read the book and liked it. Well-written, well researched and very funny. Druckerman makes clear she is conflicted about following Fr parenting techniques with her own kids. Plus she notes she is referencing a small segment of French society. Interesting too that the US army has about 800 crech-style preschools available for army children.
Some idiot PR publishing person insisted on those berets I'll bet.

February 16, 2012 at 4:56 PM  
Blogger marianne said...

I think I'm out of the loop because I hadn't even heard of these books, but I can attest to the fact that French children are NOT better behaved than other kids. I was a nanny here for a year a number of years ago and I now have a niece and nephew who always interrupt and never listen to their parents (but admittedly eat better than my Canadian niece and nephew!). I think that the comment on yelling is also valid. How many times have I heard French parents yelling "you never listen to me!" which is just reinforcing the concept, in my opinion. Yelling just seems to be a way of being that I notice with parents and their kids as well as coworkers and friends just expressing their opinions or feelings. It stresses this low-key, West Coast girl out! Can we all just lower our voices a tad?

February 17, 2012 at 11:08 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I suspect a lot of books like these are written to obtain a book deal, and cleverly marketed to incite debate and sales. Why else would the WSJ excerpt have been titled "Why French parents are superior?" I haven't looked at the NYT list this week, but I bet it's working.

February 23, 2012 at 6:47 PM  

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