Monthly archives "July 2014"

Pardon My French!


My Father and I have this game we play where we find words that are spelled the same in both English and French but have different meanings. In French those are called faux-amis. For example, a robe in French is a dress, not a peignoir. College is high-school and patron is the boss. There are more such as extra, merci,  venue, football, lecture, main, routine, agenda, and of course education which I mentioned in my previous post.

I love language (also a faux-ami). Not just the ability to speak it well, but the origin of words, the different ways people from different cultures use the same words or expressions. The French have taken many words from the English language. A few that come to mind are week-end and hot-dog. Not sure why week-end. But hot-dog is pretty clear. Sans wanting to be too cliché, Americans have the savoir-faire when it comes to making fast-food.  Which brings me to my second point. English has many French words in its vocabulary. Some are so common we don’t even realize we’re speaking French, but we are, it’s just a fait accompli.

Consider this faux scenario: I RSVP to an invitation I received from my friend Keira Williams nee Middleton to join her near London. After an 8 hour voyage, I tell the chauffeur to drive me to the best café in town, should I say the crème de la crème, where I will order from the prix fixe menu. After all I will be going to the ballet later on and watching these ballerinas with their perfect chignons. Since I don’t have carte blanche to be gauche I will not forget to bring a bouquet upon arriving chez my hosts who happen to live in a cul-de-sac. That would be worse then a gaffe, it would be a real faux-pas. And I don’t want to come across as nouveau-riche with my couture outfit and blasé demeanor. Au contraire, I am not an amateur traveler.

You claim to understand French even if you took only 2 years of it in school?

Well… touché!

Raising Kids à la Française

I remember visiting the States from Paris as an older teenager. I was having dinner with a very welcoming family and the conversation was going well, until their 8 or 9 year old opened his mouth to say something and his parents suddenly stopped the conversation with me, turned to their child and listened to what this kid had to say as if the President had entered the room.  How odd, I thought…Where I come from, kids are pretty much ignored when adult guests are around. Kids eat with their parents alright, but they generally know better then to interrupt an adult conversation.

Kids in France know from an early age that there is family time, during which their comments and thoughts are welcome, and then there is adult time. You better not disturb during adult time, unless you have a homework emergency or similar crisis.

I am certainly not saying that one way is better then the other. Stopping your adult conversation because your child wants ice cream immediately could work wonders on her self-esteem. It is great that she now knows that her feelings and needs are important. Personally, however, I hope to show my kids how important they are without constantly interrupting what I am doing to cater to them. I do want them to know that frankly, my conversation is no less important then their immediate need for ice cream.  That may sound harsh from the American parenting point of view but I do believe that in the long run, stopping  your conversation or your activity because a young child demands it, is doing said child a great disservice.

Another subtle difference is play space. Kids in France know that they are not welcome everywhere and anywhere in the house. They could play in their room, or in an assigned area such as the family room or the breakfast room. Most know, however, that there are places, such as the salon*, where they cannot bring their toys. I entertain often and my kids know to tell the other kids that some spaces are off-limits to toys and crumby food. All the parents have been respectful but some express surprise either at the rule itself or at the fact that we are able to enforce it.

An interesting distinction between American and French parenting probably lies in the word Education. In English, this word often refers to what the child learns outside of the home (in school, college etc.), whereas in French, this word actually means “upbringing,” or what the child received inside the home. A “well-educated” child in French standards means well-brought up, or polite.

The most important difference between both types of “education” is that somehow French kids don’t need every whim catered to in order to recognize that they are their parents’ no. 1 priority.

* salon is the living room

The Breastfeeding Wars

For some reason, it seems as there are two distinct categories of mothers: Breastfeeding Moms and Formula Feeding Moms. Since becoming a mom myself 13 years ago, I have encountered so many different reactions to any approach you take. If you are a breastfeeding mom who pumps and puts the breast milk in a bottle, you get comments, especially if you’re not doing this to go to work. Why would you forego the special bonding time that only breastfeeding provides?  If you’re a breastfeeding mom who chooses to alternate between formula and breast milk, you get comments for not giving breastfeeding more of a chance and introducing “garbage”. You must not value your baby’s well-being as much as you value your free time. You laugh, but I’m serious. I have literally heard a mom or two liken formula to garbage. No matter that it is packed with nutrients and is been known to hold a baby’s appetite for longer hours at a time.

Alternatively, many formula moms judge the breastfeeding moms as nature-loving “close to the earth” types. They often brand them as less sophisticated moms willing to let the world stop around them while they breastfeed for an hour at a time.

Wonder where I stand? I have alternated between bottle (formula) and breast for my first 3 babies, starting with mostly bottle with my first and increasing breast with my second and third. I used to carry my breast pump to Business School when my second child was 4 months old. But in 2003, Business Schools didn’t have a breastfeeding lounge, so I tried pumping from the bathroom stall and very soon gave up. My fourth was a breastfed baby all the way, until 15 months no less! But all that doesn’t tell you where I stand. I stand in the camp of respect.

Respect others’ choices and curb your preaching, because we don’t know people’s reasons for doing what they do. So please don’t judge a woman until you have walked a mile in her shoes, and focus on what’s really important: Bringing up well loved and well adjusted children! A Bottle or Formula Mom may need to bottle-feed because of work, because of health issues or past surgeries, because this is what her family life permits or simply because she does value her free time as it ultimately enables her to be a better mom. As for breastfeeding moms, there is nothing less unsophisticated then providing your baby with the antibodies that only breast milk could provide, while at the same time bonding with your child for hours. Personally, I am as close to a city girl as they come and yet I cherish my recent breastfeeding hours with the fondest memory.