School Days French Style
Caleigh has made it through her first month of school in France! We could not be prouder as she was totally thrown into the deep end and has done so with little or no complaint. It really helped that she knew kids via facebook that she was introduced to in advance of arriving (one of the positive aspects of that site). It also really helped that all the kids were incredibly kind, practically running up to her and introducing themselves from the first day and giving her bissous (double kisses) soon after. Yes, there have been a few nasty “American” comments (thank you George W), but for the most part, she is probably more popular because of her background. Being from Southern California has not hurt either.
There have definitely been challenges during this first 30 days. Speaking French would definitely help matters here and I really hope that our Wednesday afternoons with Colette (the 81-year old retired French teacher who we take shopping in exchange for French lessons) will help. I actually had my first Teacher’s conference last Friday and I guess you could say it went well. Mme. Jandano could not have been nicer and spoke through a 13-year old translator, but I completely understood what she said or was going to say before she opened her mouth. “Elle a besoin de parler Francias tres rapide…regarde le television; regarde film; parle en la maison, etc., etc.” Basically, she needs to come up to speed in French quickly in order to do better in school. That really shouldn’t be a news flash, although we have been very lax in instigating regular study or practice because we felt like she was doing enough just getting by in her first few weeks of the new school. Now we really do need to help her by at least attempting to speak French at home and watch French tv and films. Caleigh smiled and nodded her head in agreement throughout the meeting, but the weekend just came and went by without a word of spoken French between us so I’ve really got to get a backbone and make this a priority or we can not expect her to improve in school.
Another thing I’ve learned during this first month is that French kids are not all that different from American kids, nor are the “extracurricular activities” like making out, smoking, drinking (no drugs so far) very different from what was going on at home. It’s so weird. You always think that it’s the other kids doing all this undesirable behavior; never your own. But, according to Caleigh, pretty much everyone has tried cigarettes, alcohol or pot (in both the U.S. & France). Herself included on two of the three that I know of. Yep, where else but France to try your first puff on a cigarette? I would have never thought she would try this so young, but in the smoking capital of the world, I guess I should not be surprised. Fortunately, I am fairly certain she is not ready to become a smoker though as she voiced how disgusting it was when she accidentally spilled the beans about it while driving to school last Friday (got to love her honesty, intentional or not).
It also appears that the French teens are just as hormonally challenged as the kids back in California. Most are just talking the talk; some are experimenting, and only a few are not at all interested yet (please, please God, let Caleigh be in category #3 I pray to no avail). Damn, and I thought that we were getting so far away from all of these evil temptations when we left LA. But, I guess they just come with the age and all we can do is pray that our kids talk to us and to try and stay as involved in their lives as we possibly can so we know when and if we need to step in.
I know that kids are drinking (I’ve seen their pictures posted on facebook) and girls are posing like playboy bunnies (again; check your child’s facebook page). The latter phenomenon seems to be a lot more prevalent for the LA girls and is especially scary when you see their moms (some actual ex-playboy bunnies) posing with their 13-year old daughters dressed in black rubber skintight pants and stilettos (I kid you not). So far, Caleigh says that the few “drinkers” she has met are from families who do a lot of drinking themselves and who are too oblivious to notice. I find that really, really sad as I just lost yet another childhood chum from my teenage years recently due to drugs & alcohol (he is probably the 20th or so from my class of ’79 who died prematurely). And it all started at about this same age.
Anyhow, I guess that the main difference I have witnessed so far between kids here and at home is respect. In France, it seems to be engrained in kids to treat your parents, grandparents, adults in general, with respect, a quality that often seems to disappear quite suddenly in the States when kids hit 12 or 13 (or younger if parents let them). The kids also dine with their families on a regular basis, which keeps parents in the know of what is going on in their lives. Thankfully, we have adopted this wonderful “custom” and have learned so much more about Caleigh’s daily life (friends, school concerns, heartbreaks, etc.) than we ever knew over the past year and a half.
Lastly, it cannot be a surprise to hear that French kids are in no way close to being as materialistic as their cousin’s across the Atlantic. It kind of makes all of our “stuff” (latest and greatest computer, mp3 player, cell phones, clothing, cars, kitchen appliances, and on and on) seem kind of grotesque. But, I wander…what I wanted to finish about was Caleigh.
She has been an amazing trooper for allowing us to yank her out of her world in LA so we could feed our mid-life crisis’ and has become almost fully acclimated to life in France in an this short period of time. I am so proud of her and confident of her future even knowing that we still have many bumps in the road ahead of us. She has proven to me during this past month that she can do just about anything that she sets her mind to and I look forward to watching her continued transformation into the incredible and talented young woman that she is.