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."


Jaywalker said...

Oh yes, my eldest was smacked by an evil grandmother harridan in the sand pit at the Parc Monceau for 'stealing' a sand toy. HE WAS TWO.

Ooh, I need gin just thinking about it.

My beaux-parents have had to be told repeatedly that I really really really don't want them to smack (and have 'forgotten' many times). It comes as naturally as breathing to them, and yet they are normal, loving, liberal grandparents. Very mysterious to me.

Irene said...

A good smack never hurt me as a kid, there were other hings that were a lot worse. I think being mentally abusive is a lot worse than giving a kid a good honest whack on the rear end and be done with it.

Iota said...

In England, it's illegal, but here in the Midwest, there is a type of conservative Christianity which thinks it is the best way to discipline children and bring them up to love God. Funny how different cultures view the same thing.

And they call it "spanking" not "smacking", which is always a bit disturbing, if you're from the other side of the pond.