Category "culture"

Sports Games and Competitions: Why Americans Have It Right



As I am accompanying my third grader to his hockey championship yesterday, I had an epiphany -again- at how different the culture I grew up in (French) and the one I live in (US) are, and I have come to understand a thing or two.

For weeks I take him to his games on Sundays. The first time I heard a dad yell “Go get it Joey”, I thought “What an overenthusiastic Dad”, but then Josh’s and Jonah’s and Jakey’s parents all got into it too. That’s when I realized I should probably get into it. The problem is, I wasn’t really sure I knew what was going on. I figured out the rules pretty quickly, after all I grew up in soccer country where we also have goalies and a ball instead of a puck. It pretty much boils down to the same set of rules.

For me these games became a time to think and compare (cultures, that is) and laugh internally. My initial reaction at these games was “Are these parents crazy?” Growing up in Paris, we never had competitive sports like that. Even if you take your kid to play a game, you don’t worry if she wins or loses; the point is to have fun. No one I knew growing up chose a high school or college based on what kind of team the school has. Yes we are soccer country, but unfortunately, unless you are a pro, being into sports means you  mostly play casually with other kids after school or on Sundays in one of the local parks, without coaches, water bottles with logos, or personalized jerseys. But mostly it means we watch it on TV.

But that gets me thinking. Perhaps this craziness about winning in sports at a young age is why America has the number one economy in the Western world? Kids are taught not just to play; they are taught the value of teamwork and of respect on the playing field. The desires to be part of the team and to win are ingrained at a young age. Children are taught the value of ambition and success. They are exposed to the benefits of teamwork. You don’t just play to have fun. That’s just selling yourself short. You play to create something, to create value. In business terms, the teams that are created at these games are a complete synergy. No kid on his own, including the best player, is a hockey player without the team. But together they have created something, a game, a bond that will exist for a while, and even (let’s not knock it) some great fun.

And when my son’s team won the Championship yesterday and was handed that trophy that he was so proud of, even cynical-me had to hold back the tears.

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