What is the difference between family life in France and family life elsewhere, I sometimes get asked. Well in truth, much less than you would think.
Eating habits and mealtimes are more formal in France, and it is much more common for families to eat together. But, it is also common for a television to be on in the corner, so the notion of quality time and family bonding is not quite as convincing as you might think.
Food is generally seen as more important, and alcohol as less important, than it in the UK. To explain a bit - there is more focus on the quality of food and drink in France, and less on the quantity.
Two proper sit-down meals a day is a bare minimum - grabbing a quick sandwich is an alien concept, certainly outside the big cities. But that doesn't leave the French with a terrible obesity problem - quite the opposite. Perhaps two good, balanced, meals and a glass of Bordeaux is less fattening than two burgers, a bag of crisps, a mars bar and three pints of lager. I can't be sure because I'm not an expert in foody things but it seems possible.
Extended families, at least in rural France, are extremely common. Often, families have occupied the same property for generations and those that have left home have only managed to stagger a few hundred metres down the road. Grandmas, aunties and godparents are all close to hand.
This would cause a problem of overcrowding quite soon, except for people either leaving to get married and living in the next farmhouse down the road; or escaping to the big cities and a life of money and stress, commuting and work. 'Metro, boulot, dodo' as it is called in France (translated: 'train, work, sleep').
There is more discipline in the home than in the UK, which carries forward to generally well-behaved children at school and very little bullying or aggression. Not discipline with a big stick, just a general understanding that children will do as they are told - an understanding that the children also seem perfectly happy with. There's a funny idea.
I get the impression that children in France help out around the house a lot more in France - cleaning, cooking and so on, but unfortunately I can't be certain of my facts. Because if I ask my own children 'Do all your friends do a lot more around the house than you do?' they seem unable to answer properly, I can't imagine why.
The French might dunk a croissant in their hot chocolate while other countries are eating coco-pops and drinking tea, or waffles and coffee, but really, and perhaps surprisingly, apart from these little things, there is no great difference between family life in France and family life in other countries.
Sylvie February 11, 2009 at 11:51 pm
“I get the impression that children in France help out around the house a lot more in France – cleaning, cooking and so on, but unfortunately I can’t be certain of my facts.”
These words have plunged me into a serious depression………my ( french) children have never helped out around the house unless dead threats………..
Boris February 12, 2009 at 8:15 am
You and me both Sylvie. I don’t know who to believe – some French parents we know claim their children help out a lot, and our own children do occasionally let slip that their friends have to cook or clean or iron etc. Some children we have around (but not all) seem to find it natural to leap up after a meal and start clearing the table.
We always struggle to find paid help for cleaning our gites, while other owners give the impression that their children are happy to spend Saturdays cleaning bathrooms and mopping floors.
It’s hard to reach a definite conclusion, but I can assure you our children are like your own – except money is usually involved rather than threats.
3.Bell May 3, 2012 at 9:13 pm
I lived in France for a year with a family who had 3 children. They never helped around the house and were not well disciplined at all. However I found it is true that sit down meals are very formal, on holidays or when they had company over they lasted between 5 and 6 hours!