Monthly Archives: July 2008

The Latest From Culture Shock Central – Meals

I’ve been back in Canada almost two weeks now. There’s something about living abroad that allows you to come back home and see things with new eyes. Sometimes it’s reassuring, sometimes it’s unpleasant, but one thing is for sure; it’s always interesting.

At the risk of offending some – scratch that and replace with “many” – people, I am going to report on the various things that have given me that good ‘ole culture shock feeling when I come back to North America.

Let me just preface this by saying that I loathe the word “should”. The below should not be read to mean that I have found a better way of doing things that everyone else should immediately adopt. I simply find these cultural differences fascinating, and I personally use my own brain and personal knowledge of myself and my children to pick and choose what I feel works best from both cultures. Feel free to do the same. Or not.

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Today’s Topic is Meals.

Last week my children went to a pottery class for three days between 1:00 and 4:00 in the afternoon. On the first day I wondered for about a millisecond whether I needed to pack a snack, and then I thought to myself That’s ridiculous. They’re only there for three hours and they will have just had lunch.

But I was wrong. Oh so ever wrong. My girls came back accusing me that they were the ONLY ones without a snack, and basically made me feel like a child abuser for being so negligent. My excuse was that as far as meals go, I now try to do things the French way no matter where I am.

In France, there are four meals a day. These are as follows;

Breakfast
Lunch – usually hot and almost always eaten while sitting down at a table
Light Snack – around 4:00pm
Dinner – around 7:00pm

It’s simple. Four meals a day. Pretty much all of France is eating these very same four meals at the same time, which admittedly can be a bit of a problem if you go into a French restaurant at 3:00pm and ask for lunch.

Likewise, the goal of any New Mom in France is to get her baby eating four meals a day in sync with the rest of la nation. Granted, this is definitely easier for bottle-fed babies, and in France’s fundamentally non-judgemental atmosphere towards mothering this is recognized and respected. We all do the best we can.

With the exception of the occasional wonky day due to bad sleep or new teeth or any of the myriad of little things that can niggle babies, Clementine is now on four meals a day, and has been since she was about four months old. Let me just say, OH MY GOD, it is SO much easier than feeding on demand.

This is what all French children adhere to, and this is what the huge majority of French adults adhere to as well, with the exception of the inclusion or exclusion of the afternoon snack depending on each individual’s appetite and also what time they generally eat dinner. It simply wouldn’t occur to a French child or adult to eat anything outside of these times.

The three main meals are generally quite hardy and tend to include at least one member of each food group (i.e. starch, fruit, veg, protein, dairy product). With the exception of the 4:00 snack, or “gouter” as it’s known in France, these meals are eaten at a table with other members of the family. TV is not invited to the family meal, but good conversation is always welcome. All in all I have found it to be a recipe for fairly sensible nutrition, a basis for good eating habits and social graces, and just a moment of pure satisfaction and pleasure.

When I come back I’m always struck by the differences I observe here in North America. With the exception of perhaps Dinner, people often graze all day long. Children generally don’t eat very much at meals, nor are they expected to, and then they demand a snack often less than half an hour after leaving the table.

The reaction of a French parent would be thus, “Are you kidding me!? Non! Now go and play while I drink my café.”

When we lived here with toddlers before moving to France, Franck could never get his head around the need for North American parents, including his dear wife, to constantly pack around little Ziplocs of Cheerios and fluorescent orange fish for their offspring.

Do they think their children are going to vanish into thin air if they are not fed immediately?” he wondered out loud. “Do they actually think they’re going to expire on the spot from hunger?”

I sometimes wonder if the North American snacking phenomenon doesn’t stem from our immigrant ancestors who in most cases were only a few instances of bad luck away from starvation. While carving a civilization out of the wilderness, I can’t imagine they missed many opportunities to eat if there was something available to be eaten. Besides, hewing tree stumps can give one quite an appetite…

But the civilization has now by in large been carved, and the snacking continues unabated. The nutritional problems stemming from these eating habits is self-evident, but I am no dietary expert nor do I pretend to be. Besides, I truly do respect the fact that each person has their own way of doing things. However, nutritional issues aside, I have a major problem with this constant snacking, particularly when it comes to my own children. It is this; I am an adult with my own needs and desires, and you seem to have mistaken me for a short-order cook.

In France, it is the parents who dictate when and what their children are going to eat, not the reverse. This, I believe, goes a little way in explaining why French parents don’t seem quite so exhausted all the time.

Children are adored in France, but their needs and desires are not permitted to trample the needs and desires (i.e. I need to sit down and read a book right now rather than preparing you food all day long) of adults, and more specifically their parents. And this is one aspect of French culture that I for one have adopted.

What To Do In Canada At 5:00am?

Hmmmmm. What is there to do when you are in Canada, are awake at 4:00am because of jetlag and can’t go back to sleep?


You can walk down to Cattle Point and witness the sun coming up over the Yacht Club and the Olympic Mountains.


You can watch a blue heron fish for his breakfast.


You can see how the Canadian geese take their morning bath in the Pacific Ocean.

You can admire the trail a pair of early bird kayakers cuts in the soft blue water.

But best of all, you can have your Daddy push you on the swings!

Jetlag is wonderful.

Signed,

Clémentine xo

WE MADE IT!!!

We are still up most of the night with Clem but I am happy to report that the five us made it here, are loving catching up with my crazy family, and have even made it to the beach every day.

Nothing like a bit of beachcombing under the sunshine to reset those circadian rhythms.

Same goes for climbing on driftwood.

And Clem got her first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean, though it’s pretty hard to get too excited about it when you’ve been up eating and partying all night long (Because hey! Didn’t you know that even if it’s dark outside in Canada it’s still daytime in France!). A girl has to sleep some time.

Nous Sommes Les Champions!

It is the 14th of July today, otherwise known as Bastille Day here in France of course.

Paralyzed (just for the record, I left the merely “stressed” stage in the dust quite some time ago) by the idea of all I have to do before leaving for Canada on Wednesday, all I really felt like doing to celebrate was curling up into a fetal position.

However, several weeks ago in a fit of optimism about how ahead of the game we would be by now, we had signed up for the village meal and fête.

We are crazy to go, I shouted to anyone who would listen. We have so much still to do, it would be insane.

Turns out that, as I had already suspected, Franck and I are indeed insane. We outfitted our bevy in their finery and off we went.

And lucky we did…the distraction from packing proved a boon to our mental health and Franck not only reclaimed his village title in the viscous sport of quilles, but he also won the title of Ping-Pong champion of Villlers-la-Faye! His harem were very proud, of course, and Charlotte and Camille proudly hauled home their daddy’s haul of two trophies and four bottles of wine.

I still don’t know how we can possibly be ready to leave by Wednesday, let alone how we are going to survive the trip, but none of that really matters anymore, because nous sommes les champions!

Baby Food and Al Qaeda

Am understandably getting a bit apoplectic about prospect of harrowing 24 hour (if everything is on time) trans-Atlantic marathon avec bébé this Wednesday.

Not to mention this is the first time I have done the journey with a bébé since some jerk-off had the great idea of trying to smuggle explosives in liquid form and therefore heralding the dark days of liquid restrictions.

I call British Airways (they of the “family friendly” policy) and finally am connected to service agent.

“What sort of provisions do you have for families travelling with babies as far as bottles and baby food go?” I ask.

“There are none.”

Hmmmm. “How am I supposed to make up a bottle for my baby on the plane? Can I bring a sealed bottle of mineral water?”

“No. That would be a security risk.”

“Then can I bring on those packs of sealed pre-prepared baby formula?”

“Yes, but security will make you open it and drink from it before you get on the flight.”

Family friendly, my _ss. “But my flight is almost ten hours long, and those boxes are only good for an hour after being opened.”

“I’m sorry, but you must open it.”

I’m one step ahead of him here. “Because it’s a security risk?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“Then can I bring on baby food?”

“Only if you taste it first.” I’m starting to wonder if I’m actually talking to a human being, or if BA has not in fact replaced their service personnel with droids.

“But it’s the same as the formula, it’s only good for an hour after being opened.”

“I’m sorry, but it’s a security risk.” I try to detect a shred of empathy in his voice, to no avail.

“Then can I order an in-flight infant meal? I used to be able to do that.”

“We’ve actually changed our policy ma’am. Now we only provide meals for passengers who have seats, and as your infant doesn’t have a seat-“

“She doesn’t get a meal,” I finish for him.

“No, she doesn’t.”

“So you’re telling me that I can’t bring on any baby food that will be good for the duration of the flight, or any water so I can make up bottles, and that you don’t provide infant food anymore… am I to conclude British Airways expects babies to subsist on cabin air for a ten hour flight?

Silence. No laughter, not even a chuckle. It has to be a robot, I decide.

“And is that the extent of your family friendly policy?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“Very impressive,” I conclude, and hang up.

The State of Things…

You may have noticed that my postings have been a little on the sparse side of late. I’ve been swept under by a tsunami of visitors, babysitting for friends’ children, madly preparing our house for renting out while we’re in Canada, making guests in our vacation rentals as happy as I can, taking reservations for the end of 2008 and 2009, caring for baby Clem and sisters, and attending / participating in end-of-school-year hoopla.

Just to give you a glimpse of my state-of-mind I drove my bevy down to Beaune the other day to buy Charlotte and Camille’s teachers something nice from L’Occitane to thank them for a great year. I found the perfect parking spot on the Place Carnot (a miracle!) and then hopped out of my car to realize that I had driven all the way from Villers-la-Faye to Beaune with my trunk wide open.

My stroller, shopping bags, and diaper bag were miraculously still inside the trunk, but what I couldn’t get over was that I HADN’T EVEN NOTICED ANYTHING STRANGE.

Oui folks, that is the state of things right now.