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I'm Taking My Kids to Paris. Help!

Dear Catherine,

My family is planning a trip to Paris and while I'm beyond excited, I'm a little bit nervous. Especially after reading your book and seeing the differences between French and American kids. I have two VERY American little boys, ages 5 and 9. How to prepare for this trip so everyone in France isn't staring in shock when the little one yells, "I've got to poop!" at the top of the Eiffel tower? Or the older one shrieks, "Gross!!!!" at a bistro? I've got three weeks. Go.

Hopefully Not Ugly American

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Dear NUA (kind of a pretty name),

Congratulations. You currently hold the championship belt for the question that made me laugh the most water out of my nose. It’s a virtual belt, FYI.

Three weeks! I’m feeling like one of those pitiful contestants on Project Runway who has nothing but holey scraps when Tim Gunn says, “Designers, you have one hour to finish everything.” Like, three weeks to transform a couple of kids = one hour to “FINISH EVERYTHING” on Project Runway. It’s not a lot of time.

Then again, you probably don’t want to completely change your children. You just don’t want to be sneered at. Totally understandable. Let me start by saying that should your family end up as objects of contempt on the big Parisian vacay, don’t take it too personally. I’ve never managed to escape from a trip to France without some kind of ridicule.

I suggest working with your kids on lowering their voices.

That being said, there is a lot you can do to mitigate the derision. To lead off, I suggest working with your kids on lowering their voices. This will make a huge difference in perception. For the most part, French children don’t command as much airtime, nor do they seem to reach the same decibel level, as kids I’ve seen here. It’s the spectacle of American tourists that most often attracts condescension. Remind your boys over and over that you are entering a different culture with different customs, and that it’s important to respect French practices. Feed them this line: “You are going to be guests in another country, and you must do your best to adapt to its practices.” Maybe it won’t totally sink in, but my 9-year-old totally goes for that kind of thing.

Speaking of 9-year-olds, yours will lose you guys a lot of points if he shouts “gross!” in a bistro (although they might just think he’s yelling “fat!” which would be confusing). Regardless, if you don’t have time to instill genuine culinary reverence, you’d do well to convince your dudes to feign a little regard for the cooking, especially if you’re dining with any real French people on this trip. Make it like a game. When I banned all derision of food at our table, dinnertime became infinitely more enjoyable. As soon as my girls were not allowed to express hatred for their food, they sometimes discovered that they actually liked it.

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You may end up being pleasantly surprised. I’ve spoken with plenty of French parents who are bowled over by the confidence and pluck they behold in our young Americans. As long as your kids are respectful, not too loud and honor the almighty meal, you’ll be just fine. Is that asking too much?

By the way—you luckout! Have fun.

Bon Voyage,


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