Saturday, February 14, 2009

Polite Society

Over a very nice curry dinner at Jan & Alex' tonight, we are reminded of one of the strongest reasons we had for moving to France several years ago.

The other dinner guests are William (the mayor of Cannes-et-Clairans) and Christine, and their daughter, Paloma. In England, we would have run a mile on seeing that dinner guests had brought young children (I would guess she is about 8 or 9). The usual reason for dragging kids to a dinner party would be for the parents to abrogate all responsibility for their brats for the rest of the evening while they get steadily pissed, said brats getting louder and more obnoxious (and frequently getting pissed themselves having located the booze store in the garage when no one was looking)

Initially, of course, they would completely ignore you, not even looking up from their Nintendo DS to acknowledge your existence. As the evening wears on, they might deign to move from in front of the TV to demand food different to that which everyone else is eating - definitely to include chips - before returning to the TV to eat it on their laps.

French children are different. Paloma immediately stops what she is doing as we arrive to greet us with a polite hello and the traditional three kisses on the cheeks. She participates in conversation when spoken to by the rest of us, always at a very adult level. She sits down with the adults for the meal during which she is a model of restraint, speaking when spoken to, as she eats the same food as the rest of us (despite the fact that the chances of her having tasted such spicy food at home is pretty much nil). Once everyone has finished their food, she excuses herself to watch TV quietly in the other room while the adults chat, and at the end of the evening we receive three more kisses and a polite "good night".

In short, she is a pleasure to have around, and this, we find, is typical of French children.

I realise generalisations are dangerous - that there are a few English children who are raised correctly and there may even be a few obnoxious French children around (though we have yet to come across them).

But the other thing about generalisations is that they are generally true, and this particular one will ensure that French society continues to be one in which politeness, respect for elders and the importance of family life is drummed into children from an early age, and which will - long after English (and American) society, having long since eschewed the aforementioned qualities, has continued its inexorable decline into the depths of hell - ensure that France remains a country in which it is a pleasure to live.

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