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Friday, February 3, 2012

Bringing Up Bébé: You'd Be a Better Person If You Were French

Posted By on Fri, Feb 3, 2012 at 5:59 AM

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It appears there's money to be made in stoking the self-loathing of the American people -- hence this article on the Chronicle's Mommy Blog. It plugs the book Bringing Up Bébé, in which an American expat expounds upon the enlightened parenting techniques of our Gallic brethren, and contrasts them with the lax, slothful methods used to produce loathsome wastrels like you good people (and your humble narrator).

Americans have long romanticized all things French -- an inclination that can be effectively cured via first-hand experience of a French rail strike. Self-reflection is healthy, but lamenting about how much better everyone else has it is not. It warrants mentioning that the French do both: The schools, the culture, the behavior of the young are all so much better in Germany or Italy -- or the United States, the French constantly grumble.

I don't have French parents, but I do have French parents-in-law. I'd write this book off as n'import quoi, but it'll be more fun to break it down point-by-point. Per the Mommy Blog, here's where the French have us licked in the child-rearing department:

1) French kids sit quietly in their high chairs eating their vegetables and fish, while American kids are whining and throwing food.

It's these kinds of broad generalizations that we are due to karmically suffer in return for the antics of Newt Gingrich. In any event, the French are not a nation of throwers. They excel at kicking things -- be it soccer balls or melon balls.

2) French kids aren't required to clear their plate but they do have to try everything, while American kids refuse to eat anything but french fries and macaroni and cheese.

Hilariously, the French equivalent of the school lunch lady really will get on your case if you don't clean off your plate. But, even more hilariously, I have regularly transported or mailed packages of macaroni and cheese to my brother-in-law in Nantes.

3) French parents have the ability to focus on one parenting style and stick with it, while American parents read dozens of different parenting books, overwhelm themselves with information, and are constantly changing and questioning the way they parent.

This is just the situation to be remedied by -- a parenting book!

4) French moms are sexy and skinny and quickly lose their baby weight, while American moms are forever dieting and wearing pajama bottoms when dropping their kids off at school.

Curlers! You forgot the part about the curlers! Incidentally, American parents who cook up eggs for dinner run the risk of being labeled lazy rednecks. French parents who do the same will be labeled "French."

5) French children greet adults with a friendly bonjour while a typical American 4-year-old cowers at her mother's leg. Ever notice how American children don't look adults in the eye?

The kids who rob folks on Muni seem to be pretty good about looking people in the eye. A world in which every stranger isn't perceived as a potential child rapist also helps elicit friendly greetings from the young.

6) French babies sleep through the night by two or three months and French parents never use the "cry it out" technique, while most American parents don't get a night of uninterrupted sleep until the child is at least 1 year old.

All of the young French parents I know -- and that'd be a lot -- are pretty goddamn tired. It's a shame the cups of coffee are so small in France. Dunkin' Donuts would do good business over there. And it'd be a lot of fun to hear French people say "Dunkin' Donuts."

French people earn less money than we do, but polls indicate they're happier and enjoy a better quality of life. The social safety nets in both of our countries are collapsing -- but, for the higher investment they make over yonder, they receive free health care, free schooling, and generous support for middle-class families.

Of course there are catches -- in the French academic system, an indifferent student can ruin his or her future before he's a teenager. Second and third chances of the sorts former community college students receive simply don't exist. You screwed up the test at 14 and now you're a clock repairman, Jacques. Deal with it.

You can whine about it while your kid eats all his fish and vegetables -- without whining.

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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