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?