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Q&A with Pamela Druckerman - author of French Children Don't Throw Food. Post your questions - ANSWERS BACK

(110 Posts)
RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 17-Jan-13 12:27:07

If you've ever sat in a restaurant and wondered why french children are so well behaved and seem to eat whatever is put in front of them then you may considered whether the french way of parenting is the way forward. Pamela Druckerman's latest book French Children Don't Throw Food is described by Amy (Tiger Mother) Chua as "Smart, funny, provocative, and genuinely eye-opening"

Pamela Druckerman is an American journalist who found herself living in Paris, with an English husband and three young children. As she struggled with sleepless nights, toddler tantrums and other demands of being a new parent, she couldn't help but notice that the French families around her seemed so much calmer and less harried than her own. Their children played quietly, they weren't picky about what they ate and, when the time came, they went to bed without fuss, leaving their parents to enjoy some all important adult time.

So Pamela set out to discover what it is that French mothers do differently and - it seems - so much better. She not only observed her French friends and neighbours at first hand, but also interviewed scores of French mothers, teachers and child experts.

If you're interested to read more, enter our draw before the 9am on Monday 21 January to win one of 50 copies. Pamela Druckerman is joining us for a Q&A, so please post your questions or comments to Pamela on this thread before the 31st January and we'll post up her answers on 8th February.

ppeatfruit Mon 28-Jan-13 17:01:39

One of the best things about the French is their ability to relax and have proper lunches and weekends (oh and they hibernate in bad winter weather which is extremely sensible) despite their repression they seem to have their work\leisure balance more equal than us. IMO

Bonsoir Mon 28-Jan-13 17:33:33

There are plenty of good things about France, especially the food and the importance accorded to rest and sex leisure. I'm not sure the way they bring up their children is so fab, though. I think my DD is head and shoulders better brought up than most French children - she actually thinks about stuff! So many French children are a bit robotic, IMO.

chipmonkey Mon 28-Jan-13 18:14:45

Oh, no someone mentioned the peripherique!

<<<<<<Flashbacks of driving around it 100 times before finding the right exit and the fecking SatNav going "Route recalculation" over and over and over....>>>>

MrsSchadenfreude Mon 28-Jan-13 18:18:11

You don't tend to see rebellious teens in Paris. The ones I see on the bus are all absolutely conformist - girls with long swishy hair, skinny jeans tucked into Uggs, a navy Canada Goose jacket. The only sign of rebellion is the occasional red jacket or brown Uggs. And their bags are all the same too. No wacky haircuts, no bad dye jobs (DD1 had some rather dubious pink streaks in her hair for a while), no piercings other than one hole in each ear.

Nothing "irregular" in fact!

MrsSchadenfreude Mon 28-Jan-13 18:20:39

Oh yes, the Peripherique... with the madness that is where some of the roads joining the Periph have priority (so no-one drives in the inside lane) and some do not. The signs that tell you that the road ahead are tiny and well concealed too.

In fact, I wish they would just get rid of the "priority to the right" rule full stop, as it is utterly bonkers.

ppeatfruit Mon 28-Jan-13 18:40:43

Yes MrsSchaenfreude I agree about the 'priorite`a`droite' esp. on the Peripherique shock But sometimes (although badly signalled ,or not signalled at all shock, where they still exist) it DOES slow the through traffic. Has anyone noticed that some French people forget that they are more or less finished with? Those large STOP signs at junctions now are relatively new.

Bonsoir Mon 28-Jan-13 19:48:32

MrsSchadenfreude - French teens don't rebel with their appearance - being attractive to the opposite sex is way too important to mess with in these parts. But I can reliably inform you that they do give their parents hell, even if they look clean cut - we know an awful lot of French parents of teens...

CoteDAzur Mon 28-Jan-13 19:49:29

"French teens don't rebel with their appearance - being attractive to the opposite sex is way too important "

... and they are too conformist to do anything radically different.

Bonsoir Tue 29-Jan-13 09:21:19

Hmm. I know some pretty radically different French teens - they just don't want to look ugly while being radical!

LeBFG Tue 29-Jan-13 09:25:12

omg, lots that I agree with but some outrageous stuff. This is yet another crass generalisation of the sort that, unfortunately, I've read far, far too often on MN hmm sad (and although I've not read the book, I fear it falls in the same camp):

on an individual level, I find French people's ability to analyse what is going on around them and form a coherent, observation and data driven opinion about it, pretty limited. Hence they do not take action in their own lives.

This is so not true IME. So many french (rural) I've met are very, VERY similar to the english (rural) I know/have known. Some are obsessed with maxing on state benefits, others are ambitious and take control over their education/careers. Some are able to reason logically, others not...

In terms of so-called "repression" (imo, FWIW), I've never seen a child hit by an adult (though am told teachers will do so) or yelled/sworn at - I have seen this disgusting behaviour in urban UK however.

Around these parts, kids at fetes just eat with friends or, more normally, with parents and they rarely eat all the meal because the are off running around, guzzling coke, playing and doing......exactly what english kids would do in the same situation.

CoteDAzur Tue 29-Jan-13 11:19:46

Bonsoir - Down here around the Principauté, teenage boys are all pretty much the same. Some girls do look a bit outrageous, but they are also conforming - to music industry's sad stereotype of pole dancer chic.

No goth, no leather (except on high-tech bikes), no piercing, and certainly no pink/purple/green hair.

CoteDAzur Tue 29-Jan-13 11:34:19

"I've never seen a child hit by an adult (in France)"

Are you serious? shock

I see parents smacking children everywhere - on the bus, at the school gates, and especially at Carrefour-type large shopping places.

Aside from smacking, I have witnessed parents very forcefully hitting their children - a 3-year-old boy in DD's maternelle class was struck by his dad in class because he didn't want to put on his tablier. A 6-7 year old boy was complaining to his dad about something at the public pool and his dad literally clobbered him in front of everyone. The boy was screaming in pain and fear for the duration of this session sad I asked management there if there is a number for the police to report such abuse, and was told "He is the police". Nobody did anything and neither did I, in the end, because I didn't want trouble from that guy [ashamed]

Last year, at a quite good seafood restaurant on the beach, two kids aged about 4 & 6 were running about and making a bit of noise but really it wasn't a problem. Their dad put down his red wine, started walking towards the kids (who were near our table). Kids start whining and pleading "No, no! Daddy please!" at this point because they know what is coming sad Dad catches the little boy, whacks him several times, then goes for the girl, who is trying to crawl away from him, whacks her, too. They go back to their table and continue crying.

All this played out in front of our DC. They were absolutely terrified and hiding behind me & DH at this point. DS (2) got over it fairly quickly but DD (6) kept asking DH & me "You would never do that to us, would you? I love you mummy/daddy." with a little voice.

Seriously, if you have never seen a child hit by an adult in France, you must be living a very sheltered life, with some of the gentlest parents in the whole country.

AuldAlliance Tue 29-Jan-13 11:35:05

Down here in Provence, there are the conformists, but there are also goths, punks, skateboarders, athletic types, many other subcatgeories... and the simply ordinary.

There are well behaved children, badly behaved children, extroverts and introverts, parents who smack and parents who don't.

Children often eat before adults at parties so they can then run around/play whatever, while we have a leisurely apéro and meal. Sometimes they eat at the same time. Table capacity is as important here as tradition, IME.

I have been guilty of some generalising in my time, but I really, really can't see a single French parenting model enacted around me.

ppeatfruit Tue 29-Jan-13 11:51:46

Cote shock But IKEWYM Some (of course not ALL) french parents seem 'frightened' of allowing their DCs to do anything (even a lovely little 8 month old who was cooing in the shopping trolley seat in Auchan was 'hushed' by it's parents they made more noise the baby TBH!!).

I get the feeling it's a control issue due to their own over controlled childhood. The parents and DCs who come for aperos in our house seem soo worried that their DCs will do something wrong. Its really sad actually.

AuldAlliance Tue 29-Jan-13 12:37:02

I was in Hyper U the other day with DS2 (3), and was shushing him because he was making strange piercing noises as we went through the aisles. A man from the local factory said to me over the pasta, 'C'est cool, Madame, laissez-le. Il fait sa musique.'

<<disclaimer: random anecdote. NOT intended as hard evidence.>>

LeBFG Tue 29-Jan-13 13:31:35

Well, Cote, I can only tell you what I've seen in the last 7 years. There aren't abundant children around but they are treated just as you and I would say normally. I really have never seen a kid being whacked - and the nearest town is a bit of dive in places too. Even in the bigger cities I go to occasionally (St Gaudens and Toulouse), I've not seen it.

Perhaps some of the table manners starts in primary school where packed lunches are really unusual and everyone is expected to sit to table and eat the multiple courses? Kids learn a lot from each other that way.

I do agree that parenting style differs though (as I've said above). I've always got a wry smile and have to bite my lip when I'm told DS will hurt himself, fall off that etc as he runs about. Particularly from the older brigade. But as someone else says I do tend to follow DS around and narrate his life away, so perhaps controlling in another way?

LillianGish Tue 29-Jan-13 18:31:24

"Girls with long swishy hair, skinny jeans tucked into Uggs, a navy Canada Goose jacket. The only sign of rebellion is the occasional red jacket or brown Uggs. And their bags are all the same too" - you have just described my dd and her friends at the Lycee in South Ken - the bag in question is a Longchamp pliage! I have also read the book from start to finish - maybe it's just me, but I didn't see it as a hymn to the perfection of French parenting - in fact I thought some of it was slightly tongue in cheek. It is fascinating to see how the French, our nearest neighbours after all, do so many things so differently - whether they are entirely successful (or whether we are for that matter) is open to question. I just love the way Pamela has put her finger on so many of the differences - she has so many of the Parisian parents I know off to a tee. I loved the caca boudin chapter for instance - my dcs both went through this - it never occurred to me to try and analyse why this might be. In fact by way of a question I'd like to ask her if she really thinks French parenting techniques are better than ours - or is it just interesting to see another approach and try a bit of mix and match?

iYawn Thu 31-Jan-13 11:52:34

Hello Pamela

Thanks for doing this Q&A on Mumsnet - II read the book and loved it - could do with more tips tbh

Did I read somewhere you have another book coming out?

I like the idea that children are aware of adults in the house etc and are polite. (think manners take children a long way, DC1 for e.g. is PFB fussy eater blush but always thanks me for the meal.

My question is:

When we're not in France and don't have the set up, (e.g the nursery)
how can we be more French while here in "lowest common denominator for standards" UK?


ppeatfruit Thu 31-Jan-13 13:52:07

Well I prefer DCs to be DCs not robots (who are only 'good' because they are in fear) See cote's post. I hope your DH thanks you for the meal too.iyawn

BTW we allowed our DCs to have personalities and be confident. They are not unruly adults at all. In fact the opposite.

RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 31-Jan-13 16:22:46

It's great to see this book has sparked so much debate. We're closing the Q&A later this eve and sending the questions over to Pamela so if you have a specific question you want to ask her, do post before the end of the day. We certainly don't want to stop the discussion though, so do carry on. We'll post up Pamela's answers on 8th February.

RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Sat 09-Feb-13 00:16:44

Pamela's answers are now back and we're going to post them up shortly.

PamelaDruckerman Sat 09-Feb-13 00:25:51


I wonder how much of the books anecdotes are Parisian-centred? Lots of cliches which are said to be true in Paris, I've just not observed in my neck of rural France. I see fat kids/mums, rude kids, kids misbehaving etc. I haven't read the book, but the question in the title can possibly be answered by the nounou. Everyone I know sends their DC to childminders and these experienced women are keen on rules. My DS now drinks perfectly out of a cup and always goes to the table to do so and to eat his biscuit whereas I just let him run a bit wild.

Hi. As I say in the introduction, my book is a description of the French urban middle classes. I live in Paris and am raising my kids here. But I also researched it over several years, reading national parenting magazines and books, spending time in crèches and in the schools where they train workers for them (these follow a national curriculum), looking at social science research comparing France and American middle class parents, interviewing sociologists, paediatricians and psychologists, and speaking to parents who come from around the country (but who mostly live in Paris). I also interviewed several French nannies! In all of this, there were a great many recurring themes. I think I’ve described, more or less, what people in this social strata aspire to do, and often actually do. It even sounds like it may be what your son does too – at least in the realm of food, which you mentioned.

PamelaDruckerman Sat 09-Feb-13 00:29:08


I've entered the draw. I'm very interested in the concept of French parenting after a Damescene moment a few years ago.
I spent many holidays as a child living in France with a French family, was still in touch with them and slightly in awe of the order and way they were bringing up their children. However having taken my dcs to stay with them we all came away rather shell shocked. What I remembered as old fashioned, sophisticated order struck us now as almost abuse. Five course meals for toddlers, smacking for failing to get to the loo in time, etc.
I've stopped all contact.

This sounds like a very upsetting situation. Smacking toddlers for potty-training problems certainly isn’t typical of anything I observed in France, nor is smacking (for any reason) something that I condone in the book. As for the five-course meals for toddlers, that sounds like one course too many. In the crèche they typically serve a starter, a main course with a vegetable side, a cheese course, and then a fruit dessert. I sat in on some of these meals, and they’re not onerous at all. (Perhaps the one you observed was?). The food is all cooked from scratch in house, it’s cut or mushed up for the smaller kids, and it’s presented as something pleasurable and fun. The whole meal only lasts for about 20 minutes, if I recall. Sorry again to hear about your traumatic experience with that family; it’s certainly nothing to emulate.

PamelaDruckerman Sat 09-Feb-13 00:30:19


Hello Pamella - where in the UK did you see children throwing food in restaurants? I've never witnessed this myself.

Unfortunately it’s my own child who was throwing food in restaurants. She’s only half-British, so maybe it was her American side that did the throwing!
Of course the title of the book is meant to be cheeky. The book is a lot more nuanced. It’s a mixture of journalism and my own experience, not all of which is positive about the French.

PamelaDruckerman Sat 09-Feb-13 00:31:59


I took my children out for dinner the other evening with some friends. I was pretty embarrassed by their behaviour. They couldn't resist mucking around and were hard to control. I could not help thinking that if they had been French they would have known how to behave, eat nicely and calmly and converse with adults in an adult environment. I think the problem is that here, everything has to be made child friendly-church services, restaurants, any form of entertainment really. I don't think it is too much to expect children to be bored and have to put up with a situation , on occasion, that does not revolve around them. So yes, actually, I am interested in reading this book.

Hello, and thanks for your kind note. I think you really hit on a core “French” idea (the French didn’t invent this, but they’ve really held onto it). It’s that if family life is centered entirely on the kids, it’s not good for anyone, not even the kids. When this happens in France, they consider it a big problem. The DB is a “child king” or a “child tyrant.” This is very badly regarded (though of course it happens, and the French think it’s on the rise. They blame us Americans!).

To make sure not to raise little tyrants, the French believe that – exactly as you say – kids need to learn to cope with a bit of boredom and frustration. Parents consider this a crucial life skill, and something their kids can’t be happy without. But of course they stress that children need lots of love and affection and attention too. All of these – including the frustration - are crucial. One of the French nannies I interviewed said that in the Anglo homes she worked for, there was much more whining and breakdowns, not for lack of love, but because the kids couldn’t cope with being refused anything. (That gets to the issue of saying no with conviction, and not letting kids feel that everything is negotiable. Let’s save that for another day!)

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