Monday, 15 October 2007
Vive la Difference!
When my toddler daughter threw her first major tantrum as we arrived at the Paris crèche one morning the staff, who had previously complained she was introspective and had clearly inherited an "Anglo Saxon stiff upper lip", came out to watch open-mouthed.
My English friends laughed and said welcome to the Terrible Twos. My French friends shook their heads and tut-tutted. When she threw another wobbly, same time, same place, a few weeks later, the crèche directrice helpfully suggested we see the in-house psychologist. He would, she informed us, explore how my barely out of nappies daughter felt about a variety of "issues" including her older half sister's mother; a woman who had died several years before she was born. My French friends agreed a visit to the 'psi' was probably necessary. My English friends were horrified. Maybe, they ventured, she just did not like the crèche. At this point, I realised my daughter needed a healthy dose of Anglo-Saxon common sense rather than referral to a shrink.
So I have decided to take a year’s sabbatical to split my time between France and the UK where my daughter can learn to throw her tantrums in English and we can escape the French obsession with Freud.
It is a daunting prospect, especially the sudden absence of income. I keep telling myself it is only money and, in any case, it has to be done. In September next year La Fille will start school and enter France's relentlessly competitive education system. If she has even half a brain she will be expected to stay in full-time education for at least two decades and perhaps more. She will learn to put pen to paper so that she has exactly the same handwriting as every other French child. She will learn to compose her essays according to a strict template and she will be imbued with Gallic ideals and culture - not a particularly bad thing - to prepare her for life as a French citizen.
But what about her English half? I fear if I do not spend part of the next year in the UK, my half-English daughter will grow up not knowing what Shepherd's Pie, Worcester Sauce and Shakespeare are - in my view a very bad thing - and not even being able to pronounce them. Worse still, she will be convinced raw mince, moutarde and Molière are culturally superior.
So while tens of thousands of Britons are flocking to France to find a corner of this foreign field to buy up, build on or convert, I am Channel-hopping in the opposite direction. Is Britain really going to hell in a handcart as all my friends that side of La Manche insist? Are the streets awash with the vomit of a hundred thousand binge drinkers and are we going to be murdered in our beds unless the front door is triple locked, alarmed and I have a baseball bat under the pillow? I hope not.
I am not entirely convinced the grass is greener in London - though there's more of it than in Paris - but I am about to find out.
Ambitious UK friends think I must be mad giving up work in a business - the media - where you are out of the loop and forgotten if you go on holiday for a week let alone take a year off. French friends who would cut off their wine-drinking arm to get their child into a creche, think my madness lies in giving up my daughter's much-coveted place.
Perhaps it is mad. But surely not as mad as suggesting a perfectly normal two year old go for counselling?