for the week of 06/26/16.
Sun, 06/19/16. Auri's house.
Today we went to the park to meet up with Zadig again, but he didn't show up because, we found out later, his dad couldn't find the key. So then we went to another park, on the Ile Saint Louis, and met up with Auri, Iiris and Angelina, and played with them there for a long time before getting pizza and hanging out at Auri and Iiris's apartment with Angelina and her dad, Rafael, too. We talked about all kinds of things, including how we're going to greet people back home when we see them (Kale said they don't do cheek kisses in Finland, and they don't do hugs or handshakes much either, so he'd just kind of say hi), and what to say when people ask us "How was France?" It's hard to summarize a whole year in 2 minutes, and for the Finns it will be 2 years. They're leaving Paris the same week we do. We also talked about why the French are so strict and rigid sometimes, and then I called home to Mima and Umpa, and everyone has a different take on it. The one French representative of the conversations, Rafael, thought is was all about money. The doorman at the gym, for example, was worried about getting sued if Max or Gemma got hurt. Similarly the park was trying to save money by closing the bathroom earlier, and the school also didn't want any lawsuit by giving us a note that might be part of some misunderstanding or something. It seems farfetched to me. Kale, Auri's Dad, made an interesting point that he thought it was partly about saving face. He said once the guy had told me I couldn't come in, then it was too late for my French friend Arthur to save the day because he couldn't change his mind, and he'd probably made someone else not bring their kid in some other time, so it could make him look bad to make an exception for me. Umpa thinks it somehow relates back to the Maginot line, Joan of Arc, Napoleon and the French Revolution. As my Dad put it, this doorman thinks of the gym as his little kingdom, and he's the king. So if the doors become open to democracy, it's his neck in the guillotine, or him burned at the stake, or whichever analogy you want to make. Mima chalks it up to France being an old country that's been through it all, and so they are a hardened, untrusting people. That also makes sense to me, though it seems like there are other old countries where a doorman would be likely to let a member bring his 5 year old kids into a gym for a sec. I'm still bothered by it, mostly because of how sad it made Max. Anyway, maybe it's a combination of all these things. Today was a beautiful day by the way, the first day without rain I can remember, and nice, sunny, and warm. Vive la France.
Sat, 06/18/16. Musings on ridiculousness.
Today we met Zadig, Swann and Tabue at Parc Cluny and played frisbee, soccer, and tag with them til it started raining. On the way out we randomly ran into Eva and Iiris who were just strolling by. I love how in our little area of Paris it's so easy to just run into people we know. Today Max was still disappointed about last night, and I couldn't help thinking about what it might be that makes France have so many of these ridiculous authoritarian people like the doorman from last night. This is a guy whom I've seen and said hi and bye to once a week for about 9 months, and he just wouldn't let me enter with my kids, not even for a second. And I don't mean to single him out. Stuff like this happens all the time. It happened just minutes later when we went to a park and the guard, right in front of the bathroom, wouldn't let Gemma use the bathroom even though the park was still open. It happened just a few days earlier when the directrice of the kindergarten wouldn't pass on a note from another parent to us. Actually, that seems like a good rule now that I think about it, but still, I doubt any school in the U.S. would even think of a rule like this let alone enforce it so strictly. I kinda want to try it out when we get back! Anyway, with the doorman, and with many other things here, it feels like they're making up the rule on the fly. Even if there is a rule, I can't imagine it is part of their strict protocal to ask me, "Where is your wife? Can't she watch the kids?" as the guy said to me last night. So what's going on? Why is France so ridiculous? Specifically, why are the French so ridiculous and strict in their adherence to absurd rules, compared to the U.S.? I've thought of a few explanations, which I'll list in order of how likely I think they are. It's hard to tell if anyone is ever reading this but if you are, I'd love for you to chime in and tell me which explanation you think is most likely.
I think it all starts in childhood. The French have a completely ridiculous adherence to absurd rules with regard to childrearing, as we have heard from several of our friends here. Jean has an American friend here who was chided for not sleep training her baby at 2 weeks old. It's not just the parents who are strict. Even in preschool, there are tons of rules and a lot of strictness. The same goes for parks, museums, restaurants, and everywhere kids might go. I think they're taught very early on that rules are really important and any straying from the norm is strictly prohibited. Also, kids here are not taught to have a whole lot of empathy. The parks and playgrounds are all kill or be killed. Even when parents are watching, it's apparently ok for kids to cut in front of each other in lines and bully toys away from each other. The parents just let it happen and pretend the kids will work it out for themselves. I think the parents fool themselves into thinking the kids work out some kind of just system, but what actually seems to happen is that kids learn they can be selfish and need to be selfish in order to get anything.
2. A culture of non.
Maybe it's contagious. If enough people tell you no for ridiculous reasons, wherever you go and whatever you try to do, maybe it makes you more likely to be ridiculous yourself. This doesn't really explain why it is the case here more than in the U.S., but maybe it just sort of happened to evolve here over time, the way some epidemic disease might spread in one place and not in another. It may also have been intentionally developed here. There is, actually, something nice occasionally about the attitude here. For example, in restaurants, the idea is the customer is coming into the home of the restauranteur, and if the restaurant is out of something or the customer does not like what is available and the way it is prepared, the customer can go somewhere else. There must be something liberating about this for the restaurant owner and workers there, not to have to cater to the customer's every whim, and also, it sometimes gives the restaurant a kind of homey and genuine feeling, one where people are not trying to impress but just being themselves.
3. They're not.
It could be that, as a straight white man with no disabilities, mental illness, or physical disformities, who speaks the language fluently and has a roof over my head, I just don't notice all the ridiculousness minorities and others have to deal with in LA. When I hear about how blacks and latinos get pulled over in LA for no reason and can't get loans or taxis, etc., this explanation seems pretty likely to me. But why am I noticing all this kind of behavior directed to me here? Maybe I'm just noticing ridiculousness here because, as a non-French native speaker, I can't weasel myself out of every situation the way the French can and do. But I don't know. Even the natives here seem to get jerked around quite a bit. Maybe there is a certain constant amount of this kind of behavior in each country, and in the U.S. it's directed to minorities and here in France it's more equally spread around?
4. Too few minorities.
I wonder if the explanation could lie in the fact that there is a huge bulk of the population who are the majority. In LA, even the white people often have some outsider status if you go back far enough. Everyone's either a recent immigrant or part Jewish or Armenian or Irish or Catholic or more than one of the above. Here in France, most of the population is composed of white Catholics whose families have lived in France for centuries. So maybe there's just a whole culture of people who have no sense that any ridiculously absurd lack of service and compromise is going on. Again, I don't know if I buy this explanation though, since there seems to be a lot of ridiculous strictness being applied to French locals too.
5. Strange liberalism.
As I mentioned in explanation #1, there seems to be a lack of empathy here, and it is noticeable even among educated progressives. To me, the thing that makes someone liberal as opposed to conservative is empathy. Either you care a little bit about people different from you or you don't, and if you do, this completely motivates standard liberal positions on almost every political topic like gay rights, abortion, minimum wage, etc. Here, it seems very convoluted, and I don't really even understand what French liberalism is about. People here who seem otherwise liberal are strangely comfortable with what strikes me as overt racism. There are so many examples, but one that comes to mind is the display of art projects I saw last night at the ecole maternelle. Their portraits of each other were like racist caricatures, and reminded me of the drawings you might see on Talking with Bobby Lee. Granted, these are drawings made by 5 year olds, but still, they were displayed with grandeur and I think in LA this kind of stuff wouldn't fly. A kid would have a good long talk if they drew a picture of another kid in such a racial way, I think. Here it's just seen as normal, and I think maybe a lot of people here just don't give a crap about what other people think. So they are a lot more comfortable being absurdly strict and uncompromising to each other. On the other hand, the parents of Max and Gemma's friends all seem really nice and are very generous and accomodating, and they're a mix of all different backgrounds.
6. Quest for power.
One theory is that people here feel powerless so they search for power wherever they can get it, and it makes the doorman feel important to tell me I can't enter. It obviously has a kernel of truth, but I don't really buy it as an explanation for my perceived difference between France and the U.S. because there must be tons of disempowered people in the U.S. and they don't seem to be jerks like this guy, or at least I haven't noticed it very often. Also, this explanation is kind of the opposite of my explanation #4. So many people here, specifically white French people like this doorman, have no reason to feel especially disempowered, and they still feel no shame, empathy, or desire to be helpful in any way.
Maybe the crappy weather just puts people in a crappy mood. I didn't notice this though in Seattle, or Maine, or Iceland, where everybody seemed really nice.
What do you think?
Fri, 06/17/16. More ridiculousness.
Today was French Father's Day and Gemma made me a beautiful card. Also today there was some special thing where for some reason everyone was supposed to wear the same color clothes throughout, and I forgot in the morning but remembered at night so Gemma wore all blue and Max all orange, and I wore all red for the art show from 6-7pm at the school. It was fun and everyone was there. In Gemma's class, each kid had painted a different other kid, and Gemma had painted Joseph. It was all very cute. Nobody drew Gemma, and when I asked why not, she said "I'm not that famous." On the way home, Max said "Gemma's trying to hit me in the langue." After school Max and Gemma napped because of the stuff I had planned for the evening. After the art show, we hung out at home for a little and then they went with me to my basketball club. That's when the ridiculousness started. I brought their ipads so if they got bored they could play on those. Max said he'd been looking forward to seeing my basketball club for two weeks. So, he was almost crying when the doorman told me the kids couldn't come in. I said I wouldn't even play, and we would just sit on the side and watch, and he said no, we couldn't come in, because they could get hit by the ball. The funny part is that I'm sure even if we sat there and they did get hit by the ball, there'd be no compensation or help for us or anything. Max and Gemma were really disappointed as was I, and I even stayed around a bit til another guy arrived, who got my friend Arthur who was inside, and Arthur talked to the guy a little but he still wouldn't budge. Whatev. On the way back we went to the Lutece, which was still open, and Gemma had to go pee but the worker there said the park is open but the bathroom is closed for the night, so we snuck around the park and found a little place where Gemma could pee in the dirt. By the way, did I mention it rained today and every day this week, even yesterday when we were at Disneyland? I don't even find it worth mentioning now. Anyway, we're all kind of happy to be leaving France soon.
Thu, 06/16/16. Disneyland.
Today we played hookie and went to Disneyland. It was uncrowded and we had a great time. We got up early and to our surprise, Snow White had reopened so we went on it twice, getting to stay in the car, and then went on Pinnochio twice staying in the car too. All in all we went on 16 rides and were on our way home at 3pm. At home the kids made videos and took it easy, skyping with Mama and seeing some of her animal photos and then going to sleep.