Wednesday Opinion: Why the French are right about children
I have spent the past 5 weeks in France. It has been a liberating experience. As can be expected I fine dined, gorged on creamy pungent cheeses and guzzled glass after glass of excellent wines. In the mornings I pottered around village markets (marche) buying fresh local daily ingredients. In the evenings I sat sipping Pineau watching hawks circle, foxes bob down country lanes and owls swoop as the sun melted into the ancient boscage.
I go to France every year because I believe they understand a few things like, life for example. They enjoy a 2-hour leisurely lunch from 12-2 at home, returning for a short work afternoon. While the weather permits they socialize in their gardens with friends. They do not bow at the altar of Mammon. They are epicurean by nature. The arts being so heavily subsidized means that during most summer weekends there are free classical concerts, open-air performances and folk bands. I live in Manhattan an epicenter of world culture but such revelries seem contrived compared to the simple, local fetes thrown by the town’s Marie (Mayor’s municipal office).
They also have the monopoly on raising happy yet spirited children.
I sat time and again at fancy restaurants with parents and toddlers, and I have enjoyed a meal and good conversation with the adults while the children listened or ate complex meals happily. I saw this type of behavior across the board. Cafes, bars and restaurants are family-friendly hubs for socializing. On trains children as young as 2 will sit and play with a toy, draw a picture or stare out of the windows singing; no gadgets, no tantrums and no child dominance. In France children do not interrupt adult conversations – they understand the pecking order! At dinner if a visitor calls the children will stop eating until the guest departs.
Are French children stifled? Not at all. At night as the sun hangs low in the sky one can hear the sounds of children playing outside. It’s a sound long gone from our own streets and towns. French parents trust in their communities and children and they are rewarded for it. Adults are unafraid to interact with other people’s children. Spontaneous games often break out. It’s how we used to be 50 years ago. A time when children felt secure enough to be children, members of a greater pack and part of a wider cohesive hierarchy called society.