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.