Have you heard the news? The French are way better than us. No really. They are all thin, are good parents, and have as many ways to tie a scarf as we have cable channels. And that’s just the French, you should get a load of the rest of western Europe. Now before we all slink back to our McMansions to drown our inferiority in a box of wine; let’s think this through.
Europe is old. Really really old. They are the grandparents at the family function, in their appropriate attire, watching the young over-sugared Americans run amok through the catering hall. It’s not exactly that they are better, it’s that they know better.
They know that food is to savor, not to eat on the subway or in the car. They know that flavor always trumps portion-size and that good ingredients don’t need sugar or batter. Meals are social and not a shared experience between the diner and the television. They also invest in beautiful clothing that lasts a lifetime. Therefore their size must stay relatively constant.
The French are also in it for the long-haul when it comes to parenting. They aren’t so interested in ensuring their cherub never knows a moment of woe. They are committed to raising well-rounded, competent human beings. They have no need to be their child’s friend, as they relish their adult life. They do not dress like their children either as they have those gorgeous clothes in their closet. There is a division between the adult world and the child world that we once actually had in this country. Perhaps it was the blush of youth, but before we knew any better we were confident.
In New York, a city filled with posh private schools, European parents (here on business) are sending their children to public school. They find the notion of fancy cafeterias and homogeneous classmates, abhorrent. Public schools were good enough for them…(you may be old enough to remember hearing that in your house!) For those who are concerned about their children keeping up with their French, they send them to one of the several bilingual public schools in the city. Street smarts and competency are more important to them than amenities. They’ve been around a while, they know what it takes to make your way in the world. Competency and self-esteem can not be bought.
Let us not despair just yet. Might I suggest, sitting down for a leisurely cafe au lait, and consider integrating just a bit of La Belle Vie into your own life. If the idea of stopping at the market every other day for fresh ingredients is a bit daunting, try for just one additional trip a week. Is the idea of owning one black pencil skirt for twenty years too foreign? Instead, before you pick up another black skirt at BananaGapTaylor, count to ten. If letting your child take responsibility for their own homework is just too much of a leap, consider having them cook one night a week. Take their personal education as seriously as their formal education, and have them sit with you while you pay the bills.
Confidence comes from trying new things. Succeeding will never be as educational as trying. Draw inspiration from the French but don’t let them get you down. They have their own idiosyncrasies; the whole country smokes and they are always on strike. But they do have the courage of their convictions, and that really is worth emulating.
February 23, 2012 at 9:43 am
There is surely no reason to idealize the French (I spent three years in France) for the upbringing of their children (or the Chinese, for that matter), Everybody should have the possibility, if he or she wants to, to spend a longer period abroad, be it in school, at university or when working (and thus find out how life is elsewhere). But there is one prerequisite that helps to make such a move abroad: it is to learn foreign languages at school, and to learn more than one. When I attended school in the 1970ies here in Germany, I learned English, French and Spanish. My daughters (aged 13 and 16) learn French, English and Latin (plus Korean because their mother is Korean). They attend a public school where “societal” subjects like History or geography are taught in bilingual programs (French & German). And later on they will go to a public university with no tuition fees (my taxes pay for that). When S. Freud lectured in the US more than a century ago, Americans followed his classes in German! Would that be possible today? Maybe not in the US, but in China! In 2009 I gave a lecture to 100 students at a technical college in China: My interpreter was not needed: they followed the whole speech in German – for two full hours! Therefore: language learning at school is a must, not an option!