Adolescence in the Old World

Last week I gave you an edifying review of my experience of adolescence in Canada (aka “the New World”). It does strike me on a regular basis that being a teenager is a very different experience, to use my Grandmother Baker’s terminology, in the “colonies” than in the “the old country”.

Here is more or less how a teenager’s weekend would happen in France;

Friday Night
French high school students, working long and hard hours towards their baccalaureate exam at the end of Grade 12 (called Terminale) would get home and be served a gourmet dinner by their parents as befits a serious academic. Philosophy, art, and literature are discussed and debated, and the french adolescent is expected to participate fully in adult conversation and is not allowed to retreat into “teenager world”. This is probably made easier by the fact that high school students here in France are viewed as an fledgling academics, and therefore their views are received with the consequent respect and gravitas they deserve.

If there is a quality film playing in the local cinema or for rent at the video store this may be watched by the entire family after dinner.

Saturday
The french do not have the tradition of part time jobs during high school in contrast to their new world counterparts. This is because working towards the baccalaureate is widely considered to be their absolute top priority. Anything that distracts from this is looked on very negatively.

I have also observed that us Immigrant Offspring are taught to put a higher importance on money than our old world counterparts. In France, learning to cook, entertain, and debate are considered much more important goals than learning how to work. I think this can go a little way in explaining why France is often caricatured as a country of lazy philosophers, and North America as a place of culture-deprived mercenaries.

However, if the teenager is from a winemaking family, which many are around here, he / she will be expected to pitch in with work in the vineyards or in the cellar, but only after the commentaire compose for their philosophy class has been completed.

Saturday afternoon
In preparation for Saturday evening when the french teenager is celebrating their 17th Birthday with 30 or so of their friends and classmates, mother and grandmother are helping them prepare their village salle des fetes.

This is a perfect opportunity for the older generation to pass down to the younger (i.e. teenage) generation what is known here in France as “l’art de recevoir“, meaning the art of entertaining friends and family in an elegant, competent and delectable manner. In France, and particularly in Burgundy, this is considered nothing short of an art form.

To be continued…