Monday, 27 February 2012

More French

There is a book that is getting a lot of publicity at the moment about how wonderfully well French children behave and how children in the rest of the Western world are all savages. I thought of it when I was going through one of my files of "interesting stuff" the other day and came across a postcard to my daughter from her then 10-year-old French schoolfriend one holiday:

"Cette ile longue de 2 km et large de 800 a 50 m est en realite deux ilots reunis par un isthme"

I kept it, because it seemed such an astonishing document for a 10-year-old child to write. I am not sure it is a good sign though. Furthermore, even if you do think it is a good thing that 10-year-olds are happy to spend their spare time mugging up on useless facts and figures, I think it is important to look closely at what means are used to arrive at such a result.

While the book apparently maintains that the civilising of French children is all done in a thoroughly civilised manner, my experience suggests that this is not entirely the case. My children went to French schools in various countries in their early years - (yes, I think they liked it [in a it's-great- to-bang-your-head-against-the-wall-because-it's-so-nice-when-you-stop kind of way] and I'm absolutely certain it gave them a brilliant base for their later education) - and, as a result, I got to know lots of French parents and was able to observe them with their children.

Ultimately, the one thing I noticed that separated me from my French counterparts was their uninhibited use of violence to subdue their charges.  Or, to put it another way, the only reason I know the word 'baffe' is because almost without fail, if I was talking to a French mother and her four-year-old appeared at her side to ask her something, she would respond to his or her lisping attempts at communication with the question, 'Tu veux une baffe?", usually following this up with a clip around the earhole, to make her point.

So, yes, the children were well behaved, yes, they could tell you about isthmuses (isthmii?).  However, they were also somewhat bruised.


  1. Now I know where I've been going wrong. The baffeing commences at dawn.

    1. For best results, the head seems to be the preferred target.

    2. But beware, Steerforth - judging by the dullness of that postcard's message, you may end up surrounded by halfgrown Eric Owlthwaites.