Tuesday, 30 September 2008

French Fries at Dawn

At La Fille's parent-teacher meeting on Saturday we learned there is "lots of aggression" in her class. I am not sure what this means but the plastic giraffe and lion have been banished to an out-of-reach shelf. Apparently the weapons of choice for these oppugnant youngsters are not flick knives and knuckledusters, thank God, but plastic carrots and chips. The teacher, who has 30 years experience, seems to be struggling. Afterwards, the Frenchman, having established that La Fille keeps well out of any embrangle and thus there is no threat to her glasses, is unsympathetic. "How difficult can it be? They are only two and three-year-olds," he says. I, who have difficulty controlling one willful three year old, say nada.

I am not comfortable with three-year-olds being described as "aggressive". I suspect a teacher in the UK would be sacked or severely reprimanded for this choice of words. I would prefer "high-spirited" or "energetic" or "hyperactive", but then that might be because so far La Fille has escaped having her head stoved in by a wild animal or toy vegetable. My French friends say this is evidence of British hypocrisy and political correctness and our growing habit of calling a spade an earth displacing implement.

The French teacher's comments would make lurid headlines back home where there seems to be a hunger for anything that talks Britain down. I was astonished by how, long before credit and crunch and crisis became the new 'c' words, people were so pessimistic and determined to badmouth everything about the country. My theory is it is why nobody will have a word said against France. Tell them it is not El Dorado and they go 'La, la, la, la' with their fingers in their ears. Perhaps is it is a safety valve: life in Britain is crap, let's cross the Channel.

God knows what the UK papers would make of the outbreak of legume rage among French toddlers. Instead they are full of interesting things you did not know you did not know.

*According to a medical group Belfast is the city in which you are most likely to have had a tummy tuck; Chester a face lift; Nottingham a nose job, Newcastle and Bristol (how appropriate) breast augmentation and London botox.

*The cost of cheese in the UK has gone up nearly 50% in the last year.

*One in ten British people would rather go to the dentist than host a dinner party.

*A wedding dress made of rubber washing-up gloves the artist turned inside out is on display at a Cumbrian museum. The curator said: "The work demonstrates both the young girl's dream of a white wedding and the mundane reality of household." No...really!

Homesick yet?

Saturday, 27 September 2008

The Word is Out

Britain has no equivalent to the Académie Française to protect its language and perhaps it does not need one given the prevalence of English. But as someone who loves words, I find the idea that several are on the brink of extinction very disturbing.

Of course words, unlike creatures or plants, can be brought back from the dead. Apparently certain entries in Dr Johnson's 1755 dictionary are making a comeback including: 'fopdoodle' (a fool; insignificant wretch); 'curtain-lecture' (a reproof given by a wife to her husband in bed); 'bedswerver' (one that is false to the bed...in other words a deceitful philandering git); the topical 'traveltainted' (harassed, fatigued with travel) and 'wordling' (a mortal set on profit); and my particular favourite 'perpotation' (the act of drinking largely).

However it is with great consternation that I report the threat to 24 words the Collins Dictionary is about to drop through lack of use. Personally I would rather a dictionary contained every word that ever existed and anything less was considered shortened or abridged or concise but there we are. Does anyone care? If they do I think we should start using some of these words and persuade the boffins at Collins that we will not let them go without a fight.

Unfortunately posts like this will not count as the subject is the campaign to save these words. However, if they are used elsewhere in print, broadcast and online before February there might just be a reprieve; a last minute call to the agrestic editor at Collins wielding an abstergent pen ordering him to stay the fatal striking out. I realise we are not saving lives or villages or rainforests or the planet here, and I do not wish to be oppugnant or become embrangled in controversy, but surely the two are compossible. Who knows when one of these nitid gems will serve to illuminate the caliginosity of our caducity and be a roborant in the days when our heards have turned griseous and we have become niddering and fubsy?

You have been warned. Use them or lose them.

Thursday, 25 September 2008


The sky looked moody and metallic yesterday so my friend and I took our children to the Paris Aquarium. What a good idea that turned out to be. The place was so welcoming, so well organised, so pleasant and so clean we nearly fell off the high-heels we were not wearing. It is often the case that those who work in the French public services, and that includes aquariums or aquaria or whatever, can err on the side of grumpiness. I am trying hard not to be negative or racist here, but it is so often the case that the Frenchman would be the first to agree and indeed complain about it. At the Paris Aquarium they were to a man and woman, pleasant, friendly and welcoming.

The fish were fantastic. The girls squealed with an almost hysterical combination of delight and fear every time a particularly large ugly mug fixed them with its beady eye and were so excited that one of the crocodiles moved they almost wet themselves. Some idiot had thrown a coin onto the back of one of the crocodiles and it had stuck there; why do people do that? Still, these reptiles have been in the aquarium since 1948 so I imagine they have become inured to the spectrum of human stupidity. Been here more than half a century, seen it all, eaten the t-shirt. La Fille skipped from tank to tank jumping up and down going: "Oh look it's Nemo, it's Nemo, it's Nemo,"..."Oh look it's Dory,"..."Oh look it's the one from Shark Tale"..."Oh look..." as if real life was one big rolling Disney/Pixar/Dreamworks production. Meanwhile, my friend was saying to her daughter: "Oh look it's a clown fish like the one in your favourite book."

There was more astonishment to come. In the corner of the entrance hall there was a café, actually it was more of a large counter, offering salads, sandwiches and drinks. Not only was the man behind the counter extremely friendly, but the food was good and as the sky had cleared we sat outside on the terrace enjoying the tenuous sunshine. Then one of the girls wanted the loo. This is the moment you wonder whether it might be better to find a quiet corner of a nearby street rather than use the public facilities. Again surprise, surprise; modern, super-clean, working loos. Couldn't ask for more really.

On the way home my friend and I laughed like drains over a sign in a local brasserie for "Milkshakes with or without alcohol". She said: "Do you think we could ask for a milkshake without milk?"

Later I told the Frenchman about the aquarium. He seemed genuinely surprised. I said: "Do you know I think those toilets were the cleanest public ones I have seen in the whole of France. You could have eaten your dinner off them." The Frenchman who was in fact eating his dinner at the time, almost choked.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

You couldn't make it up

Nothing to do with Paris OR London...

I was just looking on the blog statistics (a word that it easier to write than say according to British researchers) to find who was reading and from where and came across something very disturbing.

Someone in Denmark found this blog after typing: "smack smack smack bare bottom man in public over mrs knee" into a Google search. I promise I have not made this up. I went down the results this inquiry produced and I cannot for the life of me see any reference to this blog. Phew! I know readers are hard to come by, but even so.

For some reason it made me think back many years to a very funny story told by a good friend and former colleague, working on The Sun, who swore it was true. A woman reader called in to moan and complain about something in the paper and was giving the young newsdesk trainee a hard time. The editor, Kelvin MacKenzie, passing the newsdesk and hearing enough of the exchange to gather what was going on, grabbed the telephone and shouted words to the effect of: "Madam, that's enough. You are banned from reading The Sun. You are banned from buying The Sun. You will never read or buy The Sun again, do you understand?" I'm not sure who hung up first, but a few moments later the same woman rang back. She said: "Excuse me, but does the ban include my husband?"

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Answering my own questions.

It is Saturday, it is sunny and frankly I don't know why I'm bothering because I am clearly talking to myself. Oh well, just call me Alice's new best friend...

La Fille: "I don't want to go to school."
Me: "You don't have to. It's Saturday."
LF: "No, I don't want to go to school again. Not just not today. Not any day."
M: "That's different. You have to go to school. Everyone goes to school."
LF: "But I've been. Several times. That's enough. I don't want to go any more."

Oh dear.

The French have a strange way of trying to persuade their children to go to school. Here is a selection of book titles I have spotted over the last couple of weeks to help with La Rentrée.

"The teacher. She punished me".
"School. I'm not going".
"The Infant School Monster".
"How Stressful for the Teacher".
"A Day Far Away From Mummy".

Friday, 19 September 2008


I am not going to wade into the French education system of which I have limited experience. So I am relying on those who know more than I do, like the erudite and unfailingly reasonable Cimon, who comments here, to tell me if the following is what I can expect over the next 20 years.

We have organised our entire month around the first parent's morning at La Fille's school. It was supposed to be tomorrow. It went on the calendar in big black capital letters encircled by a big black jaggedy line. Everything else fell into a subsequent place: a trip to the UK; a weekend in Belgium; a visit to a much-loved friend with a long-term illness. We were told not to bring La Fille so we had to arrange child care.

This morning, not first thing this morning but shortly before midday, less than 24 hours before the planned meeting, I was handed a slip of paper saying it was postponed until next Saturday. There was no explanation for the last minute change. We don't have busy social lives however there is something on the calendar for next Saturday. As it doesn't boast a jaggedy line it will have to be cancelled. But wouldn't you know it the babysitter cannot babysit next Saturday morning. I am trying not to swear.

The Frenchman has been warned

Paris is especially beautiful in early Autumn. Today was a fine example; one of those near perfect crackly mornings when the sun has undergone some magical alchemic transformation from burnished gold to platinum and is bright enough, but not quite warm enough, for sunglasses...so of course I'd forgotten mine. The city's poor trees forced out of parks and sidelined to stand permanent guard over busy boulevards and rues are still green but their leaves have tell-tale signs of tarnish which means they will soon copper and fall. Window boxes are full to bursting with flowers that no longer smell and have arrived at the point of no return; the metallic air has turned the sounds of the city into tinny chimes signaling the imminent arrival of winter.

It's an uneasy time for wardrobe choices. A summer jacket or cardigan is fine when racing along dragging a child who is late for school but stop at traffic lights and an unexpected whip of air, hanging around looking for the underdressed, will chill you to the bone. This morning I dug out a crumpled wool coat from the back of the wardrobe for the aller-retour to school. It was like running a marathon in a ski suit, even at red lights. Back home was chillier inside than out because the Frenchman had opened several windows before leaving for work on the principle that rooms need to be "aired". I put the coat back on.

Actually it wasn't an aller-retour this morning as I diverted my return via the gym to check out how much it would cost to join. I used to be a member - and I used to go - before I had La Fille and promised myself I'd join again after she was born. Then when she went to the creche. Then after we found a lovely babysitter. Then when she went to school. That's a lot of unkept promises and extra kilos, so I promised myself I would join today. I didn't because it seemed an awful lot of money and I told myself I needed to work if and when I would find time to go before forking out that much.

Autumnal Paris is beautiful but spoiled by the niggling inevitability of winter. From now it will get gloomier and nippier by the day and the mornings will turn from crisp to brittle and the trees from burnished to bare and the chill to a breathtaking, numbing cold. And it will be me, not the Frenchman, taking La Fille to school at the gloomiest, nippiest, brittlest, most freezing brass-monkey time of the day. And I will not be able to warm myself up with a quick 60 minutes of Body Combat because although I really, really love pretending to punch and kick and knee-groin some poor unsuspecting imaginary person, I'll still be dithering about joining the gym. And the Frenchman will still be leaving the windows open even after the central heating has been sparked up and even after I have asked him one hundred million times not to. On second thoughts maybe the extra layer on my thighs might save me from hypothermia and I could practice the Body Combat at home and save the money.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Do as I say...

A friend used to have a favourite t-shirt with a picture of some fish, a fishing hook and "Three Second Memory" printed underneath. I know it's an urban myth, and deeply insulting to man's earliest ancestors but I need to get La Fille one anyway. She refuses absolutely to tell me what she has done in school. All she was say is "I don't remember". If I am really lucky she will tell me she did a drawing of a dolphin - always dolphins - especially for me. (Even this will 'Papa's picture' as soon as he arrives home.) But that's it. If I say: "You can't possibly have spent the whole morning painting dolphins, what else did you do?", she changes the subject or precociously affects a furrowed brow of theatrical proportions and says: "I don't remember."

It struck me sitting in a chilly, shadowy, pigeon-poo splattered corner of the park today that we know very little about what our children get up to when they are not with us; and even less about what the people supposed to be looking after them get up to. If you meet teachers, nursery nurses, nannies, babysitters face to face they are charm itself. If you see them with the children in their charge they often morph into something entirely different as if some time after you left they nipped into the pharmacy and downed a vial of foaming green liquid.

Today being a Wednesday there was no school. Before France became officially, and tub-thumpingly secular - something you'd never have guessed from the Pope's visit last weekend - Wednesday was appropriated by the Roman Catholic church for children to learn their catechism. I read somewhere the priests chose Wednesday because they thought nobody would go if it was a Saturday. Consequently, no classes on Wednesday but classes on Saturday until now when they too have been dropped. French children do a four day week; you can imagine how easy this is for working mothers who juggle.

We were going to go to the children's monthly reading session at the American library in Paris but first thing this morning La Fille developed fluorescent green snot and started sneezing and coughing. Somehow I didn't think we'd be welcome with other children in a confined space. So I wrapped her up warm and we went to the park. This was not the cleverest of ideas because the first thing she did was take off her shoes guaranteeing day-glo snot for at least a week. Also, it being Wednesday and there being no school, everyone else had decided to go to the park too. This included organisations that look after groups of children on Wednesdays when their parents are working as most are Wednesday being a normal working day. One such party of five or six year olds from an out of school playgroup arrived. The woman in charge organised them in a circle in front of the park gate and began railing at them like a demented silver-haired witch. From what I could guess from the way she was wagging her finger, crossing and uncrossing her hands and sticking her pointy nose centimeters from their faces, most of the French language's most fun verbs were being garroted by a 'ne...pas' (don't) and once or twice drawn and quartered by an 'absolument pas' (absolutely don't). Of course, the kids ran in and immediately congregated in knots behind the bars and ropes to do all the things they'd been ne-pas-ed from doing.

But was she magnificent. Having boot camped her own troops, she then marched in and like a Gallic Boudicea set about the other kids. While we had all mumbled under our collective breath but said nothing about the boys throwing sand she marched right up and turned them all to stone with a single "Arretez IMMEDIATEMENT". When one of her charges ran up wailing because sand had been thrown in his eyes she held him at arms' length and told him briskly: "It's not too dramatic. Keep crying and it'll get rid of the sand." And when one of her boys picked up a fistful of sand, her assistant - a younger graduate from the School of Scaring the Pants off Children - yelled: "Oi, I just told you not to throw sand. Are you taking the piss out of me?" Rules on bad language anyone?

Monday, 15 September 2008

That's Showbiz.

Not having satellite television I've missed a tranch of British and American culture since I've been out of the UK: The Office, The Sopranos, Sex in the City, Friends, Big Brother, Desperate Housewives, The X-Factor, et al. As a result I have no idea who half the people featured in British newspapers and magazines are or what they have done, if anything. It's like pop music and computers and maths; you miss one step in the evolution or equation and from then on everything is a mystery.

Last time I was in Britain I stumbled upon a programme on 'Daytime TV' that I found very disturbing. It centred on a confrontation between a young girl with a baby daughter, her boyfriend who may or may not have been the father of the child and the boyfriend's two sisters who did not like their brother's girlfriend for various reasons. It was a staged catfight: there were tears, insults, shouting, and an almost breathy anticipation of physical violence. The participants were young and, frankly, not very bright. If they were guilty of anything it was surely the fecklessness and foolishness of youth and a misguided wish to have their 15 minutes of fame at any price. It was truly horrible; pure bear-baiting or as I imagine a public flogging might be.

The highlight of the TV programme, if you could call it a 'high', was the outcome of a DNA test. This was dangled in front of the audience like a piece of bread before a starving man. "Coming right up after the break, the DNA results. We'll find out if X really is the father of x". Television producers say those who appear on the show are volunteers and are helped to overcome their problems as if the production company was an offshoot of social services or some benevolent society. What rubbish. It is entertainment. And it appears people are indeed entertained watching troubled fellow being flaunt how foolish and feckless they can be. There are no heads rolling or lifeless bodies dangling from a rope, but it's still pretty gory and bloodthirsty.

I don't think this programme concept has crossed the Channel yet, but sadly it surely will. When the first Big Brother reality show aired in Holland and then in Britain, the French went all superior and said such low-life "trash" television could never happen in France. It did. Of course it did - it was called Loft Story. It was a huge success.

In 1846, Charles Dickens witnessed a hanging. Afterwards he wrote: "No sorrow, no salutary terror, no abhorrence, no seriousness; nothing but ribaldry, debauchery, levity, drunkenness, and flaunting vice in fifty other shapes. I should have deemed it impossible that I could have ever felt any large assemblage of my fellow-creatures to be so odious. I hoped, for an instant, that there was some sense of Death and Eternity in the cry of 'Hats off!' when the miserable wretch appeared; but I found, next moment, that they only raised it as they would at a Play...to see the stage the better, in the final scene."

A journalist who witnessed the recording of another of these reality daytime television programmes recently suggests, 162 years on, audiences are scarcely more compassionate towards fellow human beings. Plus ça change, as they say in the land of cultural superiority.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Saturday Night Fever

"When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for their is in London all that life can afford."

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Comme ci. Comme ça

On the way to school today we passed several children weeping and wailing. Apparently the second week of school is more traumatic than the first. This is when tiny brains sprout empirical neurons and realise school is not a one-off jolly outing like a visit to the zoo but something they must do again and again and again. Thank goodness they have no idea - yet - that it will be like this for the next 15 to 20 years of their life.

Every parent of every wailing child we passed uttered exactly the same phrase: "Mais c'est comme ça", which roughly translates as "That's just the way it is". My first thought was that this was a little hard. On reflection, I think it highlights another cultural difference between the French and English in that most of the French mothers I know are much more matter-of-fact and less inclined to be soppy or mollycoddle their offspring than we are. This is not a criticism and is, I suspect, a relatively modern cross Channel difference because it reminded me my own mother and her oft-repeated response to wails from my brother and I about something not being fair. "Well, life's not fair," she would declare. She was right of course, but at that age we knew nothing of life let alone its myriad forms of injustice and just thought she was being mean.

The "c'est comme ça" approach seems to work and is less time-consuming, and humiliating, than getting down on your haunches in the middle of the pavement to explain patiently to a wailing offspring why it is necessary to go to school. At the end of this, in my experience, recalcitrant todler is still snivelling and refusing to budge, whereas French Maman has snicker-snacked her child into class and long since disappeared in a clack of heels.

Another big difference is smacking. I do not know a single English or American mother who does it, or admits they do it, which I realise is not at all the same thing. Conversely I have yet to meet a French parent who does not think most parent versus child conflicts are best resolved with a short sharp "fessée" and is more than happy to reveal this. (I have never seen anyone smack someone else's child, but a friend once told me she had seen an elderly woman do just this in the Luxembourg Gardens.) The Frenchman threatens to smack but doesn't deliver though I suspect this is because he is more bark than bite and not because he knows I disapprove and would shout at him. I expressly warned him never to smack La Fille anywhere in Britain. I am ashamed to say, this was seconds after I had given her slap on the bottom when she ran off near a main road in London and frightened the life out of me. Riven with remorse and guilt I noticed we were standing under an enormous poster about reporting child abuse. I was ready to pounce on a woman I though was fumbling in her bag for her telephone when all she was doing was finding a pound for the Big Issue seller. I told the Frenchman it must never happen again because someone would call Social Services and take her away from us. (OK not true, but he doesn't know). "But that would not be fair at all," he spluttered. "Well, that's just it," I wailed. "Life's not bloody fair."

Look at me, me, me Mummy, I'm dancing


Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Lesson One

There's much chatter here about education reforms and the offer of free "intensive" English courses for French schoolchildren during the summer and February holidays. Apparently the aim is to make sure they are all fluent in what they call here "the language of Shakespeare" by the time they hit the workplace. I was talking to one of France's most respected linguists about this and I could tell he thought it was a really bad idea. He came up with all sorts of cultural, historical, colonial reasons for French apathy and antipathy towards the English language but his trump card was that English is too difficult because it is so idiomatic "How do you explain to someone you can hedge your bets but not hedge-bet" I nodded in agreement because he is respected and obviously very clever and respected for being clever but afterwards, when I thought about it, I wasn't so sure. About the hedging bets that is, not his cleverness.

I think French is quite hard but that's because although I have a deceptively convincing accent - or so I'm told - I frequently say something stupid. Sometimes it's because of faux amis and sometimes because I don't think and out pops something like I am "sur le train" a literal translation of "on the train" when what I mean is I am "dans le trains" or "in the train" and "sur le train" conjures up Charlie Chaplinesque images of me clinging to the roof of a TGV screaming silently while some black and white villain with "VILLAIN" on his shirt and a curly moustache beats my knuckles with a monkey wrench. Then again that's more idiot than idiom.

La Fille will certainly be having intensive school holiday courses in English; with me - or her grandparents - in England. Today's English lesson was watching Mary Poppins. "I don't think this is my kind of film," said La Fille two seconds after the opening credits when she realised there were no lions, zebras, monkeys, mammouths, bees, elephants, penguins, insects, one-eyed mutants or amorphous blobby things in it. "I don't care, we're watching it. It is in English," I said. I am at least consistent. "Besides it's a classic." And it is, in spite of Dick Van Dyke's lamentable accent, the stuffed robin that looked as if it was nailed to Julie Andrews' finger and the moral messages as subtle as silent film captions. A classic, despite being sugary and twee and set in 1910 so you know in a few years Mr Banks will be packed off to a European trench never to return just as he's getting to know his children and Bert will get lung cancer because he keeps sticking his head into belching chimneys and no amount of jolly nanny nonsense will magic these things away.

La Fille soon gave up trying to copy Bert's tap dancing on the 200-year-old Hungarian point parquet, became bored and spent the rest of the film telling me to "shut up singing" and trying to poke me in the eye with a sharp stick. Later as I put her to bed she asked me to tell her the "new words" she'd learned. "Which new words?" I asked thinking Cat, Hat, Bat, Rag, Sag. She said: "The ones you were singing really loudly." (Perhaps she said badly.) "What? Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious?" "No, no the other one." I racked my brains: the other one, the other one. "Chim Chiminey?" "Yes, that one. Is it English? What does it mean?"

There is a good reason I am not a teacher.

Friday, 5 September 2008

Lost in Translation

The Frenchman once suggested, helpfully, that when I didn't know the French word for something I should try to say the English one with a French accent.

Anglophones please note: here is a list of English words you must never try this with either at home or anywhere else within earshot of a French speaking person if you wish to retain a molecule of respect and dignity.

I expect profuse thanks, flowers, champagne even. After all, I have looked stupid so you don't have to.

Preservative = a condom
Tampon = a rubber stamp
Aspiration = what a French vacuum cleaner does
Versatile = fickle and inconsistant
Con = female genitalia or bloody idiot
Napkin = a sanitary towel
Occasion = second hand
Sale = dirty
Type = a guy or bloke
Amateur = an enthusiast
Exhibition = a vulgar display
Acces(s) = a fit of rage or anger
Auditor = someone who is listening
Ban = a round of applause

Thursday, 4 September 2008

School's Out

I picked up La Fille from school. I was the first mother through those doors, a combination of flinty English elbows and a Gallic disrespect for queues.

Jab, jab, weave: the first in. Jab, jab: the first up the stairs. I found La Fille sitting with the rest of her class in a line on the floor in the corridor outside the classroom, which had been locked. I know it was locked because her 'doudou' comfort blanket was in a basket inside the classroom and the schoolmistress had to get out her keys to open the door so we could retrieve it. That was a bit scary, but I had expected worse: bruises, bloody nose, broken glasses. It turned out the only child La Fille knew in her class was a boy from play school whose specialist subject had been wrenching off her spectacles and roughing her up (it wasn't that personal as he also duffed up the staff). All her other friends, and I mean every single one of them, had been put in another class. My heart sank. Then it rose and soared with unconfined joy when La Fille's teacher uttered the words: "Oh you speak English? Me too. I am a Franco-American". Glory, glory be, light scented candles and waft the patchouli incense, crack open another bottle of vintage whatever, and thank Murphy's Law that says toast may always land butter side down but with the Marmite on the upside. Give thanks to the Wizard of Oz, I will not be having the conversations I had at the creche when La Fille was barely two years old.

Creche worker: "Your daughter refuses to say 'Merci'."
Me: "I think you'll find she's saying 'Thank You'.
Creche worker: "You are right, she is saying something and it sounds like 'Zhank You' but she won't say 'Merci'.
Me: "She doesn't say 'Merci' because she is saying 'Thank You'. That is English for 'Merci'.
Creche worker: "But it's not 'Merci'.

So La Fille skipped all the way home, said she'd had a "lovely time" at school and that X (the bully boy) was her new best friend. She said she liked school and that the teacher had spoken to her in English. Oh result, result, result. The teleporter has been left open just a subversive fraction. My foot is in the door.

La Rentrée

Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid. The gargantuan, omnipotent French education system has lured La Fille into its teleporter. There will be much whining, wailing, whirring of brain clogs until, some 20 years hence, it will spit her out. She will emerge half-woman, half-Republican; a Francophone who warbles to Brel, Brassens and Gainsbourg without looking up the words, thinks Carla Bruni can sing, and considers nursery rhymes like J'ai Faim ("I'm hungry. Eat your fist and save the other for tomorrow. If that's not enough, eat one of your feet and save the other for dancing") perfectly normal entertainment for toddlers.

Yes, the day I thought was too far off to worry about has arrived. La Fille went to school this morning. We managed to sidestep the French shrink, but however much we ran and hid on the Eurostar ultimately we could not avoid Freud and Sartre.

My mission, should I choose to accept it - which I do - is to stop the above happening, particularly, heaven forbid, the Bruni and Brassens bit. To this end I have vowed to:

*Pretend I do not speak or understand a word of French. But only when La Fille is speaking it.

*Force her to watch one Walt Disney classic a day.

*Hide La Belle Belle Fille's Carla Bruni CDs

*Sing Beatles songs very loudly and badly every time her father so much as hums anything resembling French music.

*Read sane and sensible English books like The Cat in the Hat.

Ha! That should do it.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Pablo's Last Stand

School Day Minus One

La Fille wakes up this morning and wails: "I don't want to go to school. I want to stay stupid."

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Pablo's Blue Period

Three days from La Fille's first day at school and the Frenchman reads her a book about a boy called Pablo who doesn't want to go to school. Why the Frenchman thinks this particular story is a good idea is anyone's guess, but he clearly thinks it is. He points out that book ends with Pablo deciding school is fun, but surprise, surprise La Fille has the attention span of a gnat and was not concentrating to the end.

So yesterday afternoon, less than 24 hours after being introduced to Pablo the reluctant schoolboy, La Fille announces she does not want to go to school. I tell her there is no choice. There follows half an hour of non-stop verbal attrition. Instead of shouting, which is what I want to do but have been trying not to, I give her a choice: "You can go to school just in the mornings or you can go to school all day," I say. She doesn't even stop to consider this. "No, no, no. I choose, and my choice is: I go to school or I stay at home with you and I choose to stay at home with you," she says. I give up arguing.

This morning the "I don't want to go to school" routine starts again. I meet up with a friend and her two girls at the Jardin des Plants and we head off to see what Kiki is up to. My friend tells me her husband - also French - has been reading their daughter, also due to start school on Thursday, a book in which the child character arrives in the classroom on his first day to find everyone, children and parents, weeping and wailing. The book, she says, goes on to describe how pupils have labels put on their wrists 'like goods for sale in a shop' and how some of the children cry so much they're not allowed to have their afternoon snack. She says: "A French friend gave it to me. She said it was a good introduction to school."

We agree it must be one of those French culture things.