Taking your Kids to Paris

Will your kids survive a sabbatical year?

How are the children doing in Paris? is what everyone wants to know. Even before we left Canada it was a concern: weren’t we worried about pulling them out of school, away from their friends, to a new language, culture, country?

But children are adaptable. And we want them to be that way.

At Charlotte’s school they serve Duck à L’Orange and Chicken Cordon Bleu for lunch, followed by a cheese course – I could adapt to that! For the record, the kids don’t love all of their canteen lunches (Emmanuelle, especially, complains of “mystery meat”) but we want them to expand their palates as well as their minds.

We’re taking up other French traditions too, such as “goûter.” Unlike the constant snacking in North America, French kids get one snack at precisely 4 p.m. (and not a minute sooner) called “goûter” which literally means “to taste.” Sometimes it’s even called “quatre-heure,” (4 o’clock.) Usually it is a small pastry or a cookie, or a tiny “jambon-beurre” – a ham and butter sandwich on a milk bun – which is Charlotte’s favourite. In a city where patisseries and bakeries tempt from every street corner, “goûter” is a helpful discipline, and even I have taken it up.

Emmanuelle, who is 11, has school until 4:30, but often stays much later doing journalism and drama workshops. Her favourite after school snack is escargots with parsley butter at a café with her father.

(This reminds me of a quote I once read from Gwyneth Paltrow, who said that her father brought her to Paris when she was young because he wanted her first trip to Paris to be with a man who would always love her.)

There are other things that are different here too. The children have a lot more homework in France (up to 2 hours a night) but both girls are thriving in their new environment. On the walk to school this week, Charlotte asked me why school is so much harder in France, then answered her own question: “It’s because it’s Grade 2, right?” Right.

I think she actually likes the structure of getting letter grades instead of “meeting expectations” and learning cursive handwriting with a fountain pen. That they get docked marks for not completing all of the curlicues on their letters and not drawing a line through their 7s is a bit intense, but it’s part of the culture and I accept that. I often catch her humming French songs, like “Aux Champs Elysées,” the 1969 song by Joe Dassin, and I’m taking that as a sign she is happy.

School, as challenging as it is, is not all times tables and spelling tests. Emmanuelle has a column in the school newspaper, where she contributes fashion illustrations with trend commentary every month. The Monsieur B., the school principal, thinks it is “magnifique!” This March, Charlotte’s class is going on a 3-day “cultural excursion” to Burgundy. We’re assuming there won’t be any wine tasting involved, but we can’t be sure. It is Grade 2 after all.