French children don’t throw food. Really?

After seeing so many people in my Twitter feed talking about this book (French children don’t throw food) and asking me if what Pamela Druckerman says is true I had to read it myself to see.

In case you don’t read this blog often and want to know if I’m qualified to comment, here’s some quick background on me:

I am a Brit, married to a Frenchman and I have two half British/half French daughters, we spent the first 3.5 years of our eldest daughter’s life in France and have been in the UK for the last nearly 3 years. In total I lived in France for 13 years and I have lived in the UK for 24 years. I should also point out that I never lived as an expat in France; I have a degree in French, I am bilingual, the majority of my friends in France are French and I had a French boyfriend for 3 years before meeting my husband of 10 years (both of which came with a French family that I became part of).

So that out of the way, here are my thoughts/feelings on the book.

Whilst it is a very interesting read and sometimes has valid points, an awful lot of the book has no truth to it with regards to the majority of France and not a tiny minority in Paris.

I read it whilst on holiday in France last summer, and staying with various French friends who have small children. I loved seeing their faces when I read snippets of it to them – they varied from horror to amusement to utter disbelief.

The book has recently come out in France and has been highly criticised as it is so far from the truth. Interestingly it is entitled “Bébé Made in France”; just the English title made my French friends laugh, as they pointed to their own toddlers throwing food on the floor whilst we were talking.

France has a real problem with “Enfants Rois” (King Child) as Druckerman talks about in her book. But she doesn’t really go into detail about this phenomenon which is getting worse and worse. My MiL is a school doctor in the Avignon region and when I told her about this book she burst out laughing as she told me about the nastiness, aggression and lack of general respect that she gets from children as young as 3 years old pretty much every day, as parents are letting them get away with murder.

So what is true and what is false and what differences are there really?

  • Children in France throw food. Children in the UK throw food. There are some children in both countries that don’t, but in general this is what small children do.
  • Women in France have a lot more pressure on them to go back to being “a woman” very quickly. This includes everything from weight, to general appearance, to having a social life sans bébé to returning to work soon after giving birth. French maternity leave is 16 weeks and most mums return to work within 3-6 months of having a baby.
  • As most women do go back to work soon after having a baby and as childcare is so affordable (with state help) in France, it means that most French children are raised on average 4-5 full days a week by a “nounou” (childminder) or in a crèche (like a UK nursery).
  • French babies on average sleep in their own cot, in their own bedroom as soon as they come home from hospital (aged around 5 days). Co-sleeping is almost unheard of and definitely frowned upon. Some parents have babies in their room with them, but nowhere near as much as in the UK and not for as long.
  • French parents shout at their children. At home. In the park. In the supermarket. I have heard the following being yelled at small children in public “tu me fais chier!” (you’re pissing me off!), “tu me gonfles!” (you’re doing my head in!) and “tu continues comme ça et je t’en colle une!” (carry on doing that and I’ll give you a smack/wallop you one!) Not exactly the picture that Druckerman paints in her book.
  • Our eldest daughter is 6 going on 16 at the moment, as are most of her school friends in the UK, and the other mums and I are often talking about the attitude we get from them. On a recent holiday to France I had the exact same conversation with a French friend about her 6 year old daughter. It’s the same, people!
  • School on the other hand is totally different. School in France is super strict, with children being shouted at regularly and kept in place by fear, with creativity shunned and learning done by rote (French children have to learn poetry and do dictations from a young age). I remember our nounou’s 6 year old daughter being terrified one day as she’d forgotten her ruler and would get in trouble for not having it. Her mum and her plotted that she would drive home and get it, the daughter would sneak to the toilet so the mum could get it to her without the teacher knowing. Wow, great lesson in life to teach kids: lying and deceit.
  • School in the UK is more relaxed, creativity is encouraged and all the teachers that L has had so far (3 different ones) have managed to keep their classes of 30 children in line through being nice but firm. I have never heard any of them raise their voices to the children. I was recently on a school trip with L’s class and it’s amazing the respect and control that their teacher was able to command.
  • Druckerman talks a lot about British parents being “helicopter” parents, but I have rarely witnessed this. I have seen as much helicopter parenting in France as in the UK and I think it depends on the type of person the parent is, rather than their nationality.
  • French parents are more willing to leave their babies/children at a younger age and for a longer time than British parents. As an example I went back to work 4 full days a week in France when L was 3 months old, and when she was 2 years old Hubs and I went to the Dominican Republic for 2 weeks without her, leaving her with her nounou, who she called “Tata” (Auntie) as she was so like a member of the family. I have also just left C with Hubs for the weekend so I could have a girls’ weekend with my friends from uni – she turned 6 months on Sunday. (I am still breastfeeding so simply expressed whilst away and Hubs fed her bottles in my absence.)
  • From experience I would say that the French are far more open to smacking (bottoms) than the British. I don’t know anyone in France who this shocks, yet a lot of my British parent friends would never do this and frown upon those who do it.

I don’t mean this to be an attack on either France or the UK. I love both countries, have great French and British friends (most of whom are parents these days), I think that both countries have pros and cons in their parenting styles, hence us raising our children the Franglais way (taking the bits of each culture that work for us). However at the end of the day babies are babies, children are children and some will be livelier/better or worse behaved than others, I’m not sure how much culture has to do with that, I’d say it’s much more down to the child’s and parents’ personalities than anything else.

One final thing to point out, this is based on my experience which is in the southeast of England and the French Riviera and Avignon area of France. Social class also plays a big part but I have friends from quite broad social classes, encompassing cleaners, bar-tenders, secretaries, teachers, computer programmers, lawyers, managers and business-owners.

So all in all I’d say you’re probably doing a good job with your kids, whether you’re British or French or any other nationality. It’s a war zone out there and if you can make it to the end of the day in one piece then you’re doing well. French or British or other – go and celebrate that with a glass of wine! Cheers!

Looking like butter wouldn't melt

My perfectly behaved French child (!) looking like butter wouldn’t melt

If I can find the time (and energy) I might write my own book one of these days on my personal experiences of the differences in British vs French parenting, if you might be interested in hearing more then sign up for blog updates via RSS or email on the top right hand side of this page.


33 Responses

  1. Gaby says:

    You talk sense. I was reading this quickly on FB as the 6 yr old encouraged the 2 yr old to try and throw a dessert spoon into her bowl. I am afriad I raised my voice at that point to show both of them how dangerous that actually was if it was to smash the bowl. They are sent to try us but we get so much joy out of them too we have to just find the good and get on with it.

  2. Fascinating! I came to the same conclusion you do though I was maybe a bit less gentle towards her than you are

    I hope you don’t mind:

    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      It is interesting to hear that a French mum feels the same way as me 🙂 Thanks for sharing your link here too. I find that it makes for an amusing piece of fiction if nothing else.

  3. That is so interesting. Of course I know nothing about parenting in France, but I do remember their schools are much stricter. Interesting to hear about the differences and similarities in parenting, education and behaviour.

    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      Thanks. I’m loving making comparisons as we go about our everyday life here.

  4. Couldn’t agree more! I worked with children in France (both English and French) and have lived in Spain, the UK and Malta with children and kids are kids, no matter where you live. Yes there are differing parenting approaches but that’s down to the individual and what’s available to them (the maternity leave, school system etc) not necessarily the country they come from!

  5. Lisa says:

    I put my 2 year old in her room for 10 minutes today… 3 or 4 times till she got the point I had had enough of the bad behaviour. Australia (Melbourne) hasn’t given me any useful solutions besides.. It’s just her nature to be wilful.) I’m pretty sure it is her choice because she knew she had been naughty After the 3rd time in there and really cut it out. Smarter than these adults grant her. I didn’t yell, I just shut the door. She behaved, wanted a story from mummy, gave me lots of kisses and went to bed easy as pie. Talk about helicopter parenting. Melbourne is the Mecca. My suburb is like the 1950’s, not many mums go back to work or do much else. However the daycare program here is incredible, the are encouraged to think ahead, be independent and social. Mums in the park though… Always comparing. I always roll my eyes and think ‘ are you surprised the world produces different genetic appearances in children?’ I didn’t survive at mothers group because I didn’t have the same passion for constant comparison like them. I wonder. Do those mothers a rurally have it all under control and figured out?

    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      It just goes to show it’s not just a French vs British thing then either. I thought the Australians would be very laid back, apparently not though. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    • Claire says:

      To the poster who lives in Melbourne, I share your pain. Mothers group has been one of the most disappointing experiences so far. I’m in Armadale and cannot believe the attitude of these once professional, engaging women. Try discussing anything other than children and its like talking to a wall. Feel as though I’ve stepped through a time machine into another era.

      • Franglaise Mummy says:

        That’s just awful. What a shame. Is there no-one “normal” around?

      • Caroline says:

        Hi Claire,

        I saw your post and wondered if you are in Armadale Perth?
        I have moved to Perth from England and am finding it really ‘behind’!
        Bit of a culture shock.

        I saw your post when reading a link about ‘French children don’t throw food’ which I recently read.


  6. emma says:

    I am sorry having to disagree but yep, French might be more strict, and I don’t see any harm on this as children knows rules and boundaries in society, respect others (not being friendly doesn’t mean being snobby) and most of all, they are children not adults and spend their time getting the education children should get. I don’t see any positive thing coming from mature children, which is an idiosyncrasy per se. I don’t like 10 years old children pretending to have conversations like adults, and I see a lot of them here in UK even answering to other parents about what they should do with their children! and believe me, very upper class!

    In France, and in general in Europe, there is one rule you learn since you are a child, that you have to respect people older than you. In UK this so called “freedom” allows everyone to say whatever they want.

    Finally, “schools in UK are more relaxed and creativity is encouraged”??? that’s is exactly why I am having nightmares in thinking of having my son educated here. Level of ignorance very high compared to other european countries, children learn from practical situation and not from STUDYING, which is what they are supposed to do.
    Creative? So how did they come out all the cultural and artistic generations born and bred from France?? we don’t need to encourage creativity with a lay back approach. Discipline and respect and hard work gets better members of society.

    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting and by all means disagreeing, my blog is very much based on my experiences and opinions but I’m open to debates 🙂

      The problem I found with French schooling was that children are not encouraged to debate, to disagree, to have a voice or an opinion. The teacher is right, even when he/she is wrong. I have an American friend in France whose half American/half French daughter goes to a state school; when her English teacher wrote the word “Teatcher” on the board she raised her hand to tell her that it is in fact “Teacher” and was told to be quiet.

      When I studied at university in Nice I was amazed at the English/French translation lectures we went to where the French lecturers were teaching things that were totally incorrect in English, and when we tried to explain that this was wrong, we were told to shut up or get out.

      Unfortunately the strictness of French schools is not often found to be the same at home with the “enfant roi” attitude, and I have seen numerous primary school age children using the word “putain” in front of their parents. (For those who don’t know, this literally means “whore” but is used in the same way we might use “fuck” in English – it is the strongest swear word in French.) This shocked me so much.

      I would say there is far more respect from “youth” in the UK than in France – and I base this on my experiences in Berkshire and London, and the French Riviera and Avignon. I base this on what I see out in public, and what I see with friends, friends of friends, and family. Although there is obviously good and bad in all countries, this is my general feeling.

      However, despite all of this, I would say that sometimes the schooling that my 6 year old daughter receives in the UK could do with slightly more direction. Her school and her teachers are incredible and I think she is pretty bright, but in general I am told how great she is, how hard she works and how well she is doing, but I’d also like to hear what areas we can help her in a bit more.

      As I mention in my post I don’t want to put down either country or culture, I love bits of each country in the same way that I really dislike bits of each country. I don’t think that either is really better than the other, and I would be happy to bring my children up in either country, and for now that is the UK for us.

      Good luck with your son, I hope everything works out for you both.

      Just out of curiosity, where are you from and what nationality is your son?

  7. Dominika says:

    Thanks for the article, I’ve been having lengthy discussions about this with a friend of mine living in Geneva (francophone, obviously) and she also thought Druckerman misses the point on many counts. I was just interested to hear your opinion on the French culture of food, family meals and the children gourmets she describes in the book. Did you find that to be accurate? Do your kids eat gouter?

    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      I found there to be a real mix – there are kids who eat mashed potato and ham for dinner (nothing wrong with that, but not exactly the gourmet food we’re told about) and others who do eat pretty much what adults eat. I find that our eldest eats more things than a lot of her British friends, but also more than her French friends as she’s always sat and eaten what we eat, with us. In France she had goûter but that was because she had it at school and it’s very much a cultural thing there (it’s very much the 4th meal of the day), also she was having lunch at 11.30am/12pm then not coming home and having dinner until 6-7pm so she needed something at 4pm.

      I think there is more of an issue with food in the UK in that children tend to have “tea” (their evening meal) separately from the adults, and they tend to eat something different, which doesn’t really encourage them to try new things. If I do an earlier “tea” for L then it tends to be whatever we are eating, just eaten earlier.

      Thanks for commenting.

  8. Dominika says:

    I think you’re completely right about the issue being kids eating separately from adults. We try to have all our meals together, which also helps if you’re a lazy mother like I am, as it saves you cooking 2 meals. Like you said, children are more open to food experiments if they see their parents trying it.

  9. Manuella says:

    I am a French mum of 2 (6 and 2 years old) and I have lived in Berkshire UK for the last 15 years. I have emigrated to England when I was 22 so I can say I know a fair bit about both sides. I am half through reading the book in question and I am finding it fascinating and also very amusing. I think she has a lot of very valid points; others are somewhat debatable but I think it is mainly due to the fact that her observations are based on people of a certain class and education background (which she often points out throughout her book). A lot of your points are also very valid and in fact I very much agree with most of them if not all. But in essence some of your points do not differ that much from the book; you are just being a lot more blunt about them. I agree about the education being a lot stricter in France. Once a friend told me about an English friend who emigrated with her family to France. When the little girl, aged about 8, was asked how she found school in France, she said something very true and that summarised the difference very well: “in England, the teacher tells you when you do right, in France they tell you when you do wrong”. This is so true. In the uk, school will always focus on the positive and on what the child does well to the point where it can be a bit annoying because, exactly like you, while I feel extremely proud of my child when I am told how great she is I would also like to know where she is lacking a bit and where we could help her. In France, the emphasis is very much on where the child is lacking and praise is not seen as very relevant which is a real shame as it is not helping building their confidence. When I first came to England and way before I had children, I was always very much amazed by the confidence teenagers show when speaking to older generations or when speaking to teachers. They are prepared to challenge their teachers; this is something never heard of in France. I have also studied at uni in the UK with other of my French peers, and I remember the frustration of the English teachers in the lack of participation by the students. He wanted debates, ideas, opinions. We had so many years of our minds being conditioned in doing what we were told and not questioning the teachers that we were not daring enough to say anything. Of course, this was a few years back and I think/hope things have changed a bit in the French education since, although I know that it can’t have changed that much!!

    I think the book makes a very interesting read especially for those who have experienced both cultures. I maintain that a lot of her points are valid. Her observations are in my opinion very true; her interpretation of these observations are sometimes debatable or could be taken further. But overall, I would highly recommend this book. 🙂

    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. What you say about the French education system is so familiar from my own experience at university, my daughter’s experience in maternelle and from Hubs’s stories of school. Maybe it is changing though… The things that riled me the most were that I don’t find her qualified to generalise about France or the UK; from what I can tell her only experience of the UK is a British husband who grew up abroad, and her experience of France is a slice of Paris, and she herself admits she doesn’t speak the language.

      I found the book highly amusing (where it didn’t wind me up!), and I would recommend it as a comedy or fiction based on fact. I think a big problem is that British mums (and other nationalities no doubt too), are reading this and finding themselves to be lacking, whilst French mums are struggling just as much as them, so I really want to say to them “don’t feel guilty and don’t think you’re a bad mum”.

      Thanks for commenting 🙂

      (Interesting you’re in Berks – that’s where I grew up, small world!)

      • Manuella says:

        I agree with you that I would not recommend to take the book as a bible on how to be a good mum and raise perfect children. As far as I’m concerned, it is more an insight on cultural differences. You will know as much as I do that there is no right or wrong in cultures, there are only differences. In all fairness, I can see advantages and disadvantages in the English and French ways of thinking. I am leaning a lot more towards the English way but I still have some my French ways well ingrained into me (like eating together at meal times and eating the same thing). I think the book is a lot more appealing to people who have experienced both cultures as a lot of the observations will be much more relevant to them. I can relate to so much of what she is saying in the book. It is the observations of the cultural differences that I find fascinating in her book rather than the “guide” on how to be a good mother and raise perfectly behaved children. French mums are not better mothers and French children are no better or worse than anglophone children, but they are certainly some differences in the way they are raised.
        French people, who only have the experience of the French culture, may not understand half of what she is trying to convey. If you have nothing to compare it with, it just would not make sense. All of my family is still in France and when I talk to them about the children and the everyday things, I know they don’t really get some of our ways because the only way they know is the French way. Things that are so evident for English people are not for the French (and the reverse is of course true). A simple example are the birthday parties. In England, a birthday party is always a 2 hour business (nothing less and never more) and whatever time of the day it is, the children will be served food like sandwiches, sausage rolls, cherry tomatoes, crisps, biscuits and sweets, and all served at the same time. And cherry on the cake, you don’t actually eat the birthday cake at the birthday!!! This, for a French person who has no experience of another culture, is completely alien. And that includes my parents (and me, when I first started to go to children birthday party!!) I think they just could not get their heads around being served food at whatever time of the day, not actually eating the birthday cake during the party, and everybody leaving when the 2 hour rule arrived! I still remember my mum being flabbergasted when I told her over the phone about my daughter’s last birthday party. Even if it is the same every year, every year she still sounds astonished by the ritual!! Lol

        Anyhow, I think I just find cultural differences between two countries, that have fundamentally the same values, very fascinating. And when someone writes observations so pertinent as to those written in the book, I just love it. It just makes me think : Ah it’s not just in mind then!! Lol

        PS: if your husband has read the book, I’d be interested to know his “French” point of view on the book…

        Love your writing by the way!

        • Franglaise Mummy says:

          My (English) mum used to find some of the lengthy meals with children in France very strange, and my (French) MiL finds birthday parties in the UK weird too, also the separate meal for children at 5pm bemuses my French family/friends.

          My husband hasn’t read it, but the bits I’ve read to him he’s agreed with me on. I really should get him to read it…

          Thanks for commenting and for the compliment, I’m glad you like the blog 🙂

  10. jo senko says:

    Thank you, I agree absolutely with you on that book and unfortunately on the french parenting or rather disciplining.My children are half french, i have been living so far in 4 different countries in Europe and have to confirm that in France smacking, shouting is a norm.I would call it nonattachement parenting.If children have an opportunity to spend a little time together with parents it is a treat no wonder that they behave.the pressure on woman to go back to career, to look nice and leave the nappies and breastfeeding behind “because you she is worth more” is huge.Sad and doesn’t seem that it might change soon.

    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      I didn’t think I was the only one to experience it that way. I have lots of close French friends and it does vary from one person to another, but in general when babies are 3-6 months I have found that mum goes back to work and to being a woman again, which can be good, but I do think you lose out on a lot too.

  11. Dorothy says:

    I think many people do not take away from the book what they should, because they focus on the cultural aspect of it. I think there are many valid points on child rearing such as:
    – Your child should not get everything they want
    – Your child should learn to wait and have patience
    – Children should not snack constantly, because then they don’t eat their main (healthy) meals – something I witnessed first-hand with a family member’s kids and on special occasions my own
    – Cook with and teach your young child to cook
    – Let your child be bored, it is important that they learn to entertain themselves by using their imagination

    So maybe you do not agree that all the French are like this ( a point the author makes a lot is that her observations are among friends and acquaintances in France, England and America). But I do think that a lot can be taken from this book if you are open minded.

    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      I definitely think those points are very valid, but I’m not sure they’re all cultural ones, as I have British parent friends and French parent friends who parent bearing this points in mind, and ones who don’t, so I think it’s down to the individual rather than their nationality. I totally agree with you on all the points in any case 🙂

  12. vicky says:

    Interesting view which reinforce the difference of culture – you are a British mother viewing parenting the British way.
    French women are taught to train their children from birth in social manners, respect of others, respect of food. Yes French children have tantrums just like any other nationality but are taught from a very young age how to control their emotions.
    Sadly today just like in any other Western world country the French culture is being lost replaced by the media invasion of the American vulgar culture.
    Sade but c’est la vie!

    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      I may be a British woman but I lived in France for 12 years, was in a relationship with a French man for most of that time, and most of my friends are French. So this view is based on what I’ve seen and what I’ve discussed with French friends/family. I think it varies depending on social class, money, location, town vs country etc. But on the whole I think the whole idea that “French children don’t throw food” is laughable.

  13. Anna says:

    I discovered your blog recently and must say, I agree with most of your points when it comes to differences between France and the UK. However being a teacher in the UK ( from France) I am shocked on a daily basis by the poor behaviour and low expectation in English schools. I witness so many parents who take zero responsibilities for their children’s learning since it’s all down to the school and who defend their little darlings for the smallest things. As a result a lot of (this is by the way the lowest achieving group statistically in the UK) white British kids are typically lazy, self entitled and rude (speaking to the parents one can see why). I am still extremely uncomfortable with this teacher/student relationship bordering on friendship, where students only seem to work if you compliment them on their hair, nails etc. I would have cringed really hard if a teacher dared say this to me. In this way I feel like teachers and students have a much more professional relationship which I find healthier. As for the art of debating, again since the French education system provides a much more rounded curriculum, the average French Joe is much more cultured and knowledgeable about the world than the average Brit (who went through the state system that is, I am not talking about grammar or privately educated students).
    Sorry about my rant but trust me being a teacher here is considerably harder work than anywhere else in Europe, one of the (many) reasons being a certain lack of responsibility/laziness coming from too many British parents nowadays when it comes to educating their own children.

    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      I agree that many British parents these days defend their kids (their little angels) and are convinced that they can do nothing wrong. It has become worse and worse, as those parents were the exception not the rule when I was younger.

  1. 05/08/2013

    […] And one for the road which I just love but perhaps more for entertainment’s sake than anything else: French children don’t throw food by Pamela Druckerman but for a reality check, check this post out. […]

  2. 15/01/2014

    […] French children don't throw food. Really? […]

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