A little while ago, I asked you what you’d be keen to see more of on Distant Francophile. And many of you replied that you’d love to learn more about some of the cultural differences that pop up between France and other parts of the world.
In order to ensure that I could provide enough depth for you, I put the call out for guest posts on the subject. And I was absolutely thrilled when one of my favourite bloggers – Sherry from Save. Spend. Splurge – offered to contribute.
Sherry’s partner immigrated from France to Canada over 20 years ago and together they have a Franco-Anglo toddler that readers know as Baby Bun. Sherry’s lifestyle articles cover everything you’d expect from a wealth-obsessed, style-focused, minimalist blogger and she also treats readers to regular updates on French style and inspiration.
I can honestly say I never miss a post.
So with a big, big thank you to Sherry, I will hand things over to her now as we start to explore just how different things can be in France.
And until next time – au revoir.
Conversations With A French Partner Over Food In School
The schooling system here in Canada came as a bit of a shock to my partner initially, but what really drove him over the edge was the food situation, or the lack thereof.
He and I are admitted food snobs, but for French people, it’s considered normal, even encouraged to be picky yet highly interested in food, its origins and its preparations.
When we found out I was pregnant, it started with daycare and then thinking ahead to pre-kindergarten, and how to handle things like lunches for when Baby Bun would eventually go to school.
Here’s How It All Went…
Once we started on daycares, I mentioned that we should start interviewing and visiting daycares to decide which one to pay for.
He turned to me and said: Well but they’re all free here, aren’t they?
Me: WHAT? FREE? Are you kidding? My brother paid $2000 a month for each of his children. Why would you think it’s free?
Him: Well it is in France. Daycares are free so that mothers can go back to work and contribute to society.
Me: Nope. Not free. Here’s a brochure. See? Cost per day… by age.
Him: Incroyable..des voleurs!!
(Translated: “Incredible, these thieves!”)
Before Visiting One Daycare…
Him: Well but they must make food for them from scratch in the kitchen, with varied vegetables and proteins, cutlery.. *trails off dreamily into visions of his childhood*
Me: WHAT? ARE YOU KIDDING?*
(*Do you see a pattern in our conversations?)
Daycares don’t make delicious adult-like food in small mini kid versions!
They open up mashed potatoes from a box and slop on some hamburger meat if you’re lucky, covered in ketchup (sweet and kind of disgusting), to make kids eat. Why do you think everyone grows up with a love for ketchup here to mask the taste of everything?
Him: What!?? *horrified* How can you feed that to children? What will Baby Bun eat?!?
Me: Whatever they give him!
Him: OVER MY DEAD BODY.**
(**Paraphrased a little from French, as they don’t say such things)
After Visiting One Daycare…
Him: Ugh. We’re making food from scratch for him and bringing it in glass boxes for him every day, with a required snack. No way is he eating that slop.
Later On That Day…
Him: Wait. Wait. WAIT. What is he going to eat in school when he starts? Do they have canteens here?
Me: Yes and no. So, when I was a kid, I used to bring my lunch to school. It was usually cold because it would stay in my backpack until lunch.
Him: ..but the bacteria growing if it isn’t refrigerated..!
Me: That’s why you bring a sandwich. No bacteria.
Him: But they have canteens at least, he can BUY a delicious lunch, right?
Me: Have you learned nothing thus far!? The cafeteria I had in my school, was a sad little stall in the corner of a gym with a fridge for some milk, and boxed soup. If you wanted “chicken soup”, she would open a box of powdered chicken soup and pour it into a bowl with boiling hot water, and give you a little bun beside it to eat instead of crackers.
Him: *visibly gags*
Me: … Then if you wanted drinks, of course we had candy bars and drinks to buy from the fridge, but there was no “hot meal”. What was it like in France?
Him: Cutlery. Tablecloths. Plates. Hot meals made fresh daily, fresh vegetables to awaken our tastebuds, and fish once a week. We ate everything, we tried everything, when I was younger, they would each handfeed me in turn to watch me happily gobble the food down, and then as we got older, we all knew the drill of how to sit nicely and enjoy a meal with at least 3 courses. I even had my first taste of beets which I found out I did not enjoy, but at least I tried them.
Me: Whoa. That is some serious chutzpah, feeding beets to a toddler.
Him: Well we also had cheese awakenings which I loved. Camembert? Mmmm. So NO hot meals at all in these schools?
Me: When I got into high school, our cafeteria’s idea of a ‘hot meal’ was some sadly deep fried fries covered in hamburger meat seasoned with “taco” flavouring, sour cream, green onions and that was our ‘special fries’.
Him: Ugh. UGH. How will Baby Bun live!?
Me: I have no idea. This kid is in for a rude awakening, apparently.
Him: OK but they at least have fridges and microwaves?
Me: I remember this being in the teacher’s lounge, but that was about it. Kids didn’t really refrigerate their lunches and get to warm it up..
Him: But what if they wanted a nice, hot, delicious meal that is bacteria-free?
Me: LOL. Well, there were special “Pizza Days”… Pizza Days are when they brought in takeout pizza you could pay $2 for from Domino’s and a carton of chocolate milk…
Him: Stop. Don’t tell me more. *shudder*
(He makes his own pizza from scratch, so looking at greasy Pizza Hut or Domino’s makes him quite ill, with its low quality toppings and terribly oily sheen.)
And thus ended our cultural conversation on how Baby Bun would eat because from that day on, he vowed to make all the food from scratch (organic of course), and to bring along the meals to each lunch for him to eat instead of the food served at daycare.
As for school?
We are planning on seeing if we can bring him home to eat his lunch at home the way I did sometimes when I grew up, or at least bring him food that he has special permission to refrigerate and microwave in the school teacher’s lounge.
P.S. I will note that one daycare had a kitchen where you could cook meals in there for the kids that were organic, but the cost of that daycare was double, almost $75 a day because it was all organic. Seriously!? The price doubles just because it’s ACTUAL FOOD? Unbelievable.
14 thoughts on “How Different Things Can Be In France”
First of all, daycare in France is NOT free. It comes from taxes!!! Let’s get that straight!! Real theft is when the government takes *your* money and decides what to do with it. A government big enough to give you what you want is big enough to take away what you have.
“Daycares are free so that mothers can go back to work and contribute to society.” What could be more of a greater contribution to society than to stay at home and parent your child? The parent-child bond is the greatest building block of society. Whether it’s the father or the mother, doesn’t matter. The best thing for society is to have a strong family unit.
Yes, the food culture in France is definitely superior, but is it the government’s job to provide that? No.
Thank you for sharing your perspective on this topic Carolyn. Greatly appreciated.
Yes, you are right of course, paying super high taxes in France is what they are known for, but at the very least, they are providing a service for all that money.
In Ontario for instance, paying $2000 a kid per month ($4000 for two), is outrageous. You can’t even claim back that money against your taxes, and it is out of pocket for daycare. Parents who need to work (e.g. minimum wage families or even higher) are hit the hardest, because the mother (usually), ends up quitting her job because they can’t afford $4K / month daycare, which then puts stress on the family unit for the father having to work double shifts.
I would prefer the French system or at least a tiered one like here in Quebec where they remit you a credit based on income for daycare. “Free” or not, obviously even roads are paid for in our taxes, but I would appreciate having something to show for all that money.
I also do not agree completely that the parent-child bond is the greatest building block of society. A bond is important yes, but you can certainly have a bond with a grandparent, or an aunt, or an uncle.
As long as a family member (or someone like one) stays home the whole time with the child until the age of 3, especially with boys, it is fine.
It doesn’t necessarily need to be the father or the mother.
You are also assuming that parents want to stay home with their children and not work.
What about those like me or my partner, who do not want to do this? Are you saying that we have less of a bond with our toddler because of this?
Right now, I am at home because I have no choice until my clause in my contract expires, but otherwise, I’d be working & Baby Bun would be in daycare.
Lastly, the French mothers ( I spoke to 3 ) in my family have all wanted to go back to work after having a child. Perhaps not after 3 months ( a year would have been nicer ), but they are not solely mothers, they are also women with pride in their professional work and careers.
The French are picky about food as in “where did this come from” or “was it prepared properly” or “is it fresh” and not in the sense of “I don’t eat x, y or z.”
As for school lunch, it kind of depends on where you are. Our little village school has only +/-100 kids, with about 60 of them at the canteen. There’s no kitchen–the same company that makes “meals on wheels” for shut-in seniors also supplies school lunch. This is partly because our mayor has no interest whatsoever in the school (spend money on kids? never!). Our kid usually came home for lunch, but occasionally ate at the canteen and even appreciated certain dishes (and became a beet lover). No tablecloths, but meals were family style, with the kids expected to serve each other–in courses (starter, hot main dish of meat/vegetable/starch, cheese, dessert).
It’s so interesting Catherine. In Australia, the school canteen situation is far closer to the scenario Sherry described. However, over the years, I must say that menus improved in terms of offering far healthier options than they did when Scott and I were at school (sausage roll served in a bread roll tempt anyone? What about iced donuts every day for dessert??). Having said that, when our son was in day care, they did serve a hot cooked meal that was extremely well prepared…of course, we were paying a fortune for him to be there. I do like the idea of the kids learning to serve each other….
Yes, that is true. They are mostly willing to try new things, and that comes from their food education in daycares, or at least from what I have been told / observed.
My partner knew kids in his school who came home for lunch daily because they did not want to eat the school fare, but most of them stayed back to eat. I don’t recall kids serving each other, I ought to ask him, that’s an interesting point.
At least they got a full course meal! That sounds like a dream because in North America, that doesn’t happen even if you pay through the nose ($75 / day)… it’s one meal and a few snacks mid-morning and after lunch.
We had the same problem here in Oz…
we just cooked even better meals for them in the evening and occasionally gave them leftovers in a Tupperware like container to take away the next day…
They have survived and are great foodies themselves nevertheless…
So maybe it is not that big of a deal…
For me, food is a pretty big deal, as I grew up eating terribly processed foods that have affected the way I enjoy food today — I still get (and quash) cravings for McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets for instance, just because of a childhood memory…
So I really think what we eat as children and associate with memories, really affects how we eat as adults.
I have a friend who was force fed peas as a child and she just gags every time she smells or is near one.
That’s why we’re so militant on giving him a diverse range of foods and not just the processed junk that I grew up on. He can try it in the future (and he will), but I hope his palate screams: NO THANK YOU.