Move over tooth fairy…make way for THE mouse!

My son’s fifth baby tooth fell out this week. He carefully placed it in a small box under his pillow overnight in anticipation of a monetary exchange by morning (1€ is the going rate in our household). As most of us Anglo-Saxons know, the ‘person’ responsible for this exchange is, of course, the Tooth Fairy. However, in France, the task is carried out by a ‘Petite Souris’ (Little mouse)

It made me think about some of the other differences in traditions here in France in the month of April.

First of all there is a saying ‘En avril ne te decouvre pas d’un fil’ (‘In April don’t take off one thread’ meaning that despite the sunny weather, one should keep the cardigan). This is generally wise advice in my experience.

Then Easter chocolate season begins weeks before the actual date (there’s no difference there with Australia!). Chocolate shops (of which there are numerous in every town and city) are full of high-quality shiny chocolate rabbits, chickens, ducks, bunnies, but especially fish and bells. Yes, fish and bells!

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What’s with the fish?

April 1st involves some little pranks – especially sticking paper fish on the backs of unsuspecting people – and is known as ‘poisson d’avril’ (‘April fish’). I presume that the chocolate shops use this day as an excuse to make chocolate fish throughout the whole month of April. Very small fish, often called ‘friture’, are very popular and are made with 70% dark, milk, or orange flavored chocolate. The quality of the chocolate here is really very good compared with the Cadbury-style chocolate of my youth.cadbury egg

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And the bells?

Easter Bunny (just like the tooth fairy) doesn’t exist in France. Bells with wings are responsible for leaving chocolate eggs in the garden to be found on Easter Sunday. The Catholic tradition dictates that Church bells do not ring between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, to commemorate the death of Christ and his resurrection. The oral tradition says that the bells fly to Rome during this time to be blessed by the Pope, and then return from this trip loaded with chocolate.

Finally, even though the French have plenty of public holidays to mark Christian religious events, Good Friday is not one of them. The children, however, are on school vacation again (The ‘vacances de printemps’ = spring holiday). I was curious to find out whether my kids were spending more days in the year away from school than in it. Here is what I found: The average Australian child spends 200 days a year at school, the average European 186 and the average French child….(drum roll) ….144 days. Ah voila!

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Parenting over here.

ob_ff8aed_image-rencontre-parents-profsBack in February 2015 I reflected on the American ‘Good job!’ versus the Chinese ‘You’re garbarge’ parenting.

Recently two children that had been invited to our daughter’s party were only permitted -by their parents – to attend half of the celebrations …as a form of punishment. That made me think that perhaps it is time for me to reflect on French parenting – especially now that I’ve been living here as a parent for a little while. (I’ve already written a little on the French education system in a previous post entitled ‘What we’ve been up to’ in October 2015).

Actually, French parenting style was very much in the news following Pamela Druckerman’s book release in 2012: Bringing up bebe – One American Woman Discovers The Wisdom of French Parenting. It recounts her experiences raising a child in Paris, where she found French kids to be way more well behaved, polite, autonomous, and willing to eat ‘adult’ food than their American counterparts.

The children grow up in families in which the rules are well-understood, and a clear family hierarchy is firmly in place. In French families, as Druckerman describes them, parents are firmly in charge of their kids.

How that translates into daily French life is …..well….the parents often seem kind of …..strict and bossy. Kids are instructed on what to wear (so that everything matches of course) and to not get their clothes dirty, are expected to sit at the dinner table for interminable meals, their toys are rarely seen in the living room (they are confined to the bedroom), questioning adults is not encouraged and I’ve heard public comments such as these on more than one occasion towards children: ‘tu me fatigues'(you’re wearing me out), ‘arretes de pleurer’ (stop crying for goodness sake), ‘qu’est-que tu me fais?’ (what are you doing to me?) ‘tu es nul’ (you’re usesless) ‘tu es chiant’ (you’re a pain in the arse) and punishments are handed out …such as my earlier example of not permitting a child to attend a birthday party ….which I incidentally find particularly harsh as it punishes the other children involved who were not implicated in the ‘crime’.

Like other European states, France criminalizes violence against children, but it also allows parents the right to discipline their children at a low level. France is the only country in Europe where spanking is still legal, and, according to surveys in France, it is still commonplace (ahaparenting.com)

And very unlike the Americans who praise everything a child does (whether it’s truly warranted or not) with a loud ‘good job’ and ‘aawwwesome’ the French (generally speaking) are not often heard saying ‘that was really good’ but rather expressions such as ‘pas mal’ (‘not bad’) or ‘tu peux faire mieux’ (‘you could do better’)

To sum it up in a nutshell – and grossly generalizing –  I get the feeling that the goal of parenting here is to bring-up a well-behaved child who listens to their teacher and does their homework, who is polite, patient and obedient.

But after reading this article: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/03/the-truth-about-french-parenting-and-i-would-know/254521/  I would have to agree that I don’t think I actually want obedient children, because those are the kind of kids that are more vulnerable to peer pressure. I hope to aim to put an emphasis on kids who are able to think for themselves, who question everything (or almost everything!), and who follow their interests/hearts.

It is interesting to note that there does appear to be a bit of a backlash to the traditional style of parenting with more information appearing around topics such as ‘positive parenting’.

To finish, it is comforting to read what Steve Petersen had to say about children and their upbringing: “development really wants to happen. It takes very impoverished environments to interfere with development … [just] don’t raise your child in a closet, starve them, or hit them on the head with a frying pan“….. so there is nothing to worry about. Carry on!

And speaking of parents…I’ll be visiting mine in Australia in a couple of weeks…I’m looking forward to it mum’n’dad.

 

What we’ve been up to….

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As the days get shorter and colder we’ve made an effort to squeeze in a few more outdoor adventures over the last few weeks including a local working wind-mill and a few visits to Nantes.  Nantes is about an hour away and is a pretty cool city with many interesting things to do and see including this gigantic mechanical wooden elephant which the kids rode and they are still talking about it. In 2004 Time voted Nantes the most ‘liveable’ cities in Europe.

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There are no more juicy blackberries to pick on the sides of the country roads so we went to collect clams from the muddy sand along the Passage du Gois (about 30 mins away) which one can cross only during 2 three-hour periods daily  (1:30 hrs before low tide, and 1:30hrs after low tide).

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To eat them raw you need to be very swift with your knife otherwise they ‘clam up’ and are impossible to open……a bit sweeter and ‘nuttier’ than oysters.

I have somehow ended up (not quite volunteering) teaching (for free) my daughter’s class of 27 7-year-olds English twice a week. The students are very enthusiastic which is more than I can say about the class teacher: The teacher said that to give the students some photocopies of the songs that I’ve been doing with them would take too long (?!?!) and for some unknown reason, she won’t give me a list of the kid’s names. It’s a stereotype to say that French teachers are rigid, lacking imagination and creativity, unlikely to give positive feedback and reluctant to receive feedback or have students ask questions….but my feeling is that this could very well be the case here. Very disappointing.

A British teacher (Peter Gumbel) at one of the leading universities in Paris  wrote a book about French schools, saying they “humiliate pupils” and that “the system focuses on the transmission of knowledge and doesn’t even remotely address the child or their wellbeing”. – The Guardian 5 Sept 2010

“Why is France the only country in the world that discourages children because of what they cannot do, rather than encouraging them to do what they can?” Gumbel writes. “I believe France is missing a key element of what’s wrong with the school system, an element that is immediately apparent to any foreigner who comes into contact with it: the harshness of the classroom culture.” and I’d have to say that after viewing a 45min video of excerpts of the school day at a class meeting last night ‘harsh’ was one of the many words that came to mind. As I watched the teacher telling the children not to talk (nothing but whispering is aloud in the classroom until after lunch-time recess) and shuffling the kids along and asking them  what ‘il faut faire’ (what they ‘need to do’…as if there was one and only one correct response) I was wondering WHY the teacher would actually want to show this to the parents….although the little 5-year-olds DID appear to be very ‘sage’ (well behaved) which is as important as being polite (see previous post ‘Back to France in August for a discussion of politeness). After the meeting I was relieved to find one other parent who was as ‘surprised’ as I was by the teaching methods…but she simply said with resignation…”c’est la France”… ‘It’s France’…. and then mentioned that she was considering moving to Quebec.

To finish on a positive note (because don’t get me wrong, there are some/many), here are some recent gifts from neighbors – delicious treasures from the last days of summer:

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