We spent a fair amount of the day in the company of French parents and their children--all of them strangers to us but all the more instructive thereby as an opportunity for observation. There were two venues--one a fairly upscale restaurant peopled by Parisian families in Sunday dinner mode. The other was the marionette theatre in the Luxembourg Gardens.
The marionette show was programmed for children, so no surprise we'd find a lot of kids there. The restaurant--just say it seemed as if there were some sort of rule that you couldn't enjoy a Sunday dinner with your kinfolks unless you brought along s selection of five-to-eight year olds. Still the main point is that in each place, the kids were fine. They did kid things: they giggled; they squirmed; they ordered hot dogs and (French?) fried potatoes. But not one of them threw a tantrum, or otherwise morphed into a public nuisance. The attitude throughout was one of easy conviviality.
All of which confirms a prejudice of mine: the French are at their most attractive when dealing with their kids. We all know that the English bully their kids (or simply ship them out, which may be the same); the Italians are bullied by theirs (remember the punch line, "he thinks she's a virgin and she thinks he's God). But the French seem to have figured out how to develop just the right kind of rapport to keep the kids engaged and yet not out of line. My friend Rusty asks: they treat them like adults? No, not exactly. They treat them like kids, but like kids who deserve to be taken seriously. My friend Kenny used to say that all he knew about life he learned in kindergarten, although that he learned it as a teacher, not a student. Which is, he said, they want attention, security and reassurance. Which amounts, perhaps, to saying that you treat them like adults who happen to be kids.
It's an odd kind of irony when you consider how beastly the French can be to each other in moments of national crisis (except, in fairness, they really don't seem to have had a moment of national crisis for quite some time). But it's a start. And it makes for a pleasant ambiance in which to idle away a Sunday.