“Bringing Up Bebe: Book Review, Part One”


Stumbling Gracefully is hosting a book club featuring “Bringing up Bebe”, by Pamela Druckerman. Click here for more details and to join in!

We once lived in London, but we would travel to Paris every chance we got. The Eurostar would have to traverse ever so slowly though England, due to speed regulations, different in various counties. It wasn’t until we crossed under that great human achievement, the Chunnel, that the train would gather its full speed, and race across the prettiest countryside you could ever imagine.


I have been in love with France ever since I was a little girl. I chose to study French in the third grade because I heard the siren call of its promise of glamour, sophistication and worldliness. My French teacher in high school was a Gallic alien stranded in America. She taught us about her father, who was in the French underground during WWII, and how her family suffered persecution because of it. She showed us two movies, “Umbrellas of Cherbourg” and “A Man and A Woman.” I was somewhat undercover in high school, very quiet in classes. She saw something in me no other teacher saw: she saw me as a French herione. She cast me in the lead roles of Daisy in Ionesco’s “Rhinoceros” and Estelle in “Sartres’ “Huis Clos.” The women in the movies we watched, Catherine Deneuve and Anouk Aimee, were everything I hoped I would one day be: mysterious and quiet, but wearing the most beautiful of trenchcoats. I fell deeply under the spell of the language’s musical cadences, following its paths all the way to my senior AP test, which I passed. But with this success, I also passed out of a language requirement for college courses. So I abandoned my French.


Three towns up, around the same time, Bernard was creating quite the stir at a local tennis club. Darcy’s parents, Francophiles extraordinaire, had befriended an authentic bourgeois French family on their annual trip to France. Every year the Darcys either traveled to Lyon and stayed at the family’s country home, or else the son Bernard and his sister Dodo traveled to California and stayed with the Darcys. Bernard and Darcy were the same age. They should have been the best of friends. Darcy spoke French and intended to study abroad in Paris in college. Bernard was polite and agreeable.

Darcy DETESTED Bernard.

Everything came easy to Bernard. He played tennis better than anyone at the club. Worst of all, the cute girls who normally ignored Darcy all summer finally approached him. Only to ask about his friend Ber-NAARD. “What is Ber-NAARD like? Can you introduce me to Ber-NAARD?” While Darcy struggled to make an ugly hit within the lines, Bernard effortlessly returned the ball in a beautiful arc, winning the match point. People in the stands, famous for not paying attention and being bored, stood up and cheered “Bravo!”

Darcy HATED Bernard.


Paris looms large over my family. Darcy and I got engaged there. My in-laws are currently on a one month stay in Paris. My daughter’s heroine is Madeline: her birthday cake was of the famous straw hat, and she sleeps with a pillow in the shape of the Eiffel Tower.

I wanted to make these full disclosures because I don’t feel I can fully express my opinion about this book without releasing them, like burning sage or something in advance. Everyone reads a book with some sort of bias, but I feel mine was much stronger than usual. So, consider yourself educated on where I come from on the France question.

I try to teach my children manners. One thing my WASP-y family possesses in spades: excellent manners. It turns out, the French teach their children manners too. In fact, manners and the sense of family cadre (or authority) are amongst the most critical of lessons their children will ever learn.

But, I worry: does the focus on manners mean my children will hyperfocus on the trains running on time? Will they be confined within a beautiful authoritarian regime, granted, with the most beautiful of scenery and the most delicious food, and the most fabulous fashions and a life inhaled as if it were a page from a vintage French Vogue?

And would that really be so bad?


Edited to Add:

I KNEW my daughter would love this music. Sure enough, as soon as I played at it, her pupils widened, she twirled, she stood on her tip toes in her Marie-Chantal sandals. (Which I spotted in London and knew she would love right away.) She is the me I wish I was cool enough to be: she is so bright and bubbly and smart and, well, chic. She is so very French. And yet, she is so very Darcy.

Have you ever connected with another country or culture? If so, why?



Filed under Parenting After IF, writing

10 responses to ““Bringing Up Bebe: Book Review, Part One”

  1. gautier

    j,ai entendue parler des deux nouveaux livres sur ses expatrié nord américains qui vivent en France ou ont vécue en France .il y en a marre des livres sur la France .Ses livres ne disent pas que la culture française est trop différente de la culture américaine. Ce qui est fait en France et la façon dont cela est fait est le résultat de notre histoire .Il m,est arrivé de parler a des américains et il est évident que nous n,avons pas la meme conception des priorité et de ce qui est important ou pas .Ce n,est pas un jugement de valeur, pour preuve c,est la culture nord américaine qui est la culture dominante et je trouve ça très bien.La culture française est désormais concentré sur la France et en tant que français je trouve ça très bien comme ça .Si il y a des problèmes par exemple sur l,alimentation au usa la solution ne se trouve pas en France .Il serait plus intéressant de vous rappelé comment mangeaient les américains il y a 50 ans, je pense qu,ils avaient une alimentation beaucoup plus saine

  2. I studied abroad in Paris, and your post has made me want to return. It’s a wonderful city, and an easy place to live. Your daughter looks like she would fit right in. I’m looking forward to part II.

  3. I visited Iceland last year – and I fell in love with it. Something about the forbidding beauty of the Northern landscapes – the grassy mounains, the glaciers, the bubbly hotsprings producing clouds of fog, the waterfalls, the cold grey ocean… and then the colourful Rejkyavik full of life, cafes, shops, live music.

    I would love to go back there, rent a cottage in some faraway spot where only sheep go, and pend a few weeks there just taking it all in, slowly…

  4. We have talked about taking the train to Paris for a long time now. Hopefully we go during late summer or fall this year.

  5. I don’t think manners would be so bad. I grew up in a house where a Spanish authoritarian father gave me a sense of appropriate behavior. I also grew to understand, through my peers, when that decorum could be abandoned. But there is something to be said for a society that gives itself a structure for pleasant and civil exchange. And trains that run on time. 🙂

    I hope I get to go back to France some day. I spent one lovely weekend there, being very sleep deprived … my then-boyfriend and I went, in college, thinking we could do Paris in two days before final exams. (We saw very little, and realized too late we were way too broke to do anything but get to Paris!)

  6. I spent a week in Paris junior year of college, visiting a friend who was spending the year there. It was wonderful. And I love speaking French.

    But as for connecting to another country or culture, I think my heart forever belongs in West Africa. I may write a blog post about that. Stay tuned.

  7. Esperanza

    I have to say, I visited Paris with low expectations (how could it possibly be as amazing as everyone said?!) but was totally taken by it. It was one of my favorite cities in Europe and I visited a LOT of them my year abroad. I want very much to return there with Mi.Vida some day. I hope, I hope!

    I also teach my daughter manners (as you know, according to my in-laws I actually with hold food from her if she doesn’t say please or thank you) and I think they are incredibly important. As a teacher I see what kids are like when they don’t learn them and it is not pretty. In fact, it’s rude and self-obsessed. Manners remind you that you’re not the only one around, that other people are a part of your experience and should be considered. Manners put the emphasis on others, instead of one’s self. It’s a very important thing to learn, one that many kids these days just don’t know anything about, to the detriment of our society, I believe.

    I look forward to reading the rest of your response to the book! I think we probably had similar reactions to it.

  8. I adore this post, how you brought it around to a book. You make me want to book a flight to gay Paree right NOW, obligations be damned.

    As for child-rearing, I call myself the Chief Civilizer at Tessa & Reed, Assoc. because I think civilizing our young is a worthy goal and a very tough thing. Teaching a young’un that is pure Id to share the world with 6 billion others is desirable.

    Your daughter is radiantly beautiful.

  9. Pingback: “Bringing Up Bebe”: Book Review, Part Two | Too Many Fish to Fry

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