Just after Christmas we went to a party at the home of a French family we are quite friendly with. Like us, they have three children aged between nine and 13. Unlike us, these children look and behave like they have leapt straight from the pages of a ‘how to bring up perfect children’ manual.
When we arrived, instead of cowering in the corner in their hoodies like any self-respecting English teenager the three of them stood in line to kiss us bonjour. They were dressed immaculately, in the kind of clothes that my girls would refuse to even try on if bribed, their hair was washed and nicely combed. They spent half the party handing food around to the guests and the other half performing a perfect recital. The little girl is already a Grade 4 pianist and she is only 11. My 13 year old is still struggling with Grade 1. Their son, aged nice, plays the flute perfectly and the oldest girl is a cellist.
I left the party deeply depressed. As if dealing with perfect French women isn’t enough, we now have to compete with their impeccable offspring too.
I remember when we lived in France being endlessly furious with our children who would run around restaurants like they were football pitches, while their French contemporaries sat at the table calmly eating their snails and probably discussing the benefits or otherwise of existentialism. There was one particularly bad occasion when Olivia was only about four and we were told by the neighbouring table that our daughter was clearly too young to be taken out to lunch. I think they felt the same way about her parents.
There is now a book out called something like ‘French children don’t throw food’ that purports to teach us all how to bring up perfect little people who will instinctively know how to tie a scarf and shrug in that Gallic manner. I do have it, but have not yet dared read it for fear that it is all too late. Maybe I was supposed to tie them to a chair with my scarf at an early age to get them used to sitting still?
Anyway they are all off to boarding school in a few weeks’ time, that marvellous British institution that will teach them, if nothing else, how to wield a lacrosse stick and not be a sneak.
Admirable qualities some other nations could do with a bit more of. Even if they can sit still at lunch.
Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2013