Ain’t misbehaving?

I’ve just returned from London, where we encountered groups of young people at every turn, most of them speaking languages other than English. The French-speaking school children were exceptional in their lack of discipline and consideration for other people. They consistently disregarded the direction of tour guides, train conductors, police officers, and their own chaperones. If there was a commotion at a museum, a restaurant, or on the street, the source was nearly always a group of French school kids.

The phenomenon was so apparent and widespread that it became a kind of running joke in our party. French school groups seemed to be everywhere, their disruptive behavior identifying them long before we were close enough to hear them speaking. We kidded that it was no wonder they’d all been sent abroad – their communities were probably relieved to be rid of them. We speculated that this was also the reason they couldn’t get chaperones: most groups had only one adult, maybe two, and 30 or more students. We dubbed them the scourge of Europe, opining that the Huns would be a welcome alternative, swift death by sword being preferable to death by unrelenting aggravation.

In short, I came away with a distinctly unfavorable impression of French children and, by extension, French methods of child-rearing. I hear there’s a new book out extolling French parenting, Pamela Druckerman’s Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting. I’ve not read the book, so I don’t know what Ms. Druckerman saw that led her to conclude that American parents could take a page or two from French parents. Perhaps French children are well-behaved at home (which is where Ms. Druckerman probably saw them) and only act like hooligans when they’re not under the watchful eyes of their wise parents. I’m reminded of the genuine wisdom of my father-in-law, who once said of my own children: “They’re going to misbehave at one time or another; isn’t it better for them to do it at home, where you’re there to guide them, than out in public?”

Postscript: I realize it is completely unjust to paint an entire nation or generation with a single, broad stroke. In all fairness, there may have been a number of French school groups that we didn’t notice because they were so well-behaved. It’s quite likely that the groups which drew our attention did so because they were inadequately supervised, and the same children would have been ideal travel companions had they been accompanied by an appropriate number of adults. Nevertheless, I can’t help thinking it oddly significant that we encountered no school groups of other nationality that exhibited similar behavioral issues.


6 responses to “Ain’t misbehaving?

  1. les étudiants anglais qui ont parait-il l,une des meilleurs éducations au monde .Ils font pitié a voir quand on les croisent a la sorti des pub.Il existe un mot anglais qui définit assez bien la jeunesse anglaise quand ils débarquent en France “hooligans”

    • Jennifer Barricklow

      I’m afraid some of your meaning is lost in translation, but I agree that there is no national monopoly on bad behavior abroad, especially among the young. As a foreign exchange student many years ago, I was sufficiently embarrassed by the conduct of fellow Americans that I didn’t often associate with them.

      I did not mean in any way to suggest that the students behaved like those drunken pub-goers finding their way home at 3:00 in the morning. I remove the unfortunate reference and beg pardon for any offense.

      Thank you for reading my post, and for your comments.

  2. I’m not so sure that the problem is parenting but possibly cultural norms. I do know that in my travels I have encountered a lot of strange things and the people involved turned out to be from–you guessed it–France. For example, I have been shoved aside when I was next in line at airports… many times. Spoken to rudely. Other acts of random impoliteness. French vacationers in Thailand on the island I frequented would regularly go topless on the beach, even though it embarrassed and offended the local Thai people. And I am not guessing. Through conversations and visibility of passports and such I could confirm the nationality. I know that many people from many countries, when traveling, feel it’s totally ok to abandon propriety and ignore customs, local and others, and do what they want. Children definitely don’t know better. But the adults should! So I was not surprised at all by your post and your observations. As one who traveled a lot, I made it a priority to find out how I should act when visiting someone else’s country. I had heard the term “Ugly American” bandied about too much and never wanted to contribute to that opinion in the international community.
    Great story though!

    • Jennifer Barricklow

      You make a very good point about cultural norms. I was inspired to write this post by reading about Pamela Druckerman’s book. Were it not for this recent experience abroad, I don’t think I would have given the subject a second thought.

      It’s true that people often feel freed of cultural constraints when away from their native environs, sometimes a little TOO freed for the comfort of those around them.

      Although we found the behavior perplexing and annoying, we turned it into a source of amusement, so there was no real harm done as far as we were concerned. It seems that the French aren’t concerned about making a particular impression when they’re on vacation, and more power to them for that. I feel better knowing that they won’t mind us having a few laughs at their expense.

  3. I’ll be sure to make sure I speak to my Josh about representing America properly when he travels to Canada this summer! (Have you seen his web site? I always love reading my writing friend’s composts (I mean compositions!)!

    • Jennifer Barricklow

      I don’t think you have to worry; I have no doubt that Josh will conduct himself in such a manner that everyone will be pleased to know him, and his parents will practically burst with pride. 🙂

      I’m sure he’ll have a marvelous time; Canada is a pretty neat place, too. (And a LOT closer than London.)

      Thanks for being such a loyal reader of my not-so-daily composts! 🙂

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