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Are There Sick Days in France?

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Dear Catherine,

It's cold and flu season and I feel like my kids are constantly being sent home from school. Sometimes, sure, they're sick. But other times they sneeze and I get a call. It's amazing kids here get any kind of education, and can we talk about working parents constantly at risk for losing their jobs?

What the heck?

Are American children more sickly than French children? Or are our schools here just super germaphobic?


Sick of the Sick

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Dear S O the S,

When I was young, I went to some pretty sizable lengths to stay home from school. I remember “making puke” by adding many dissimilar items (think tuna, cat food and chocolate pudding) to the blender, and then splashing a little on my sheets to ensure my mom wouldn’t doubt I had an upset stomach. (God. I was a horrible child).

If I were a kid today, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t have to be so creative to get a day off. Like you, I’ve been called again and again to pick up my daughters from school. I’d say about half of the time they are legitimately ill. It doesn’t seem to take much to get sprung.

I called up a friend who was raised in the southwest of France to see how school absences are handled over there. She said that she has no memories of ever being sent home from school for illness. Nor did she ever fake it. It’s hard for me to imagine.

I’m not about to let my girls stay home from school just because they “feel funny.”

It’s not that she loved school, but she said that the possibility of staying home—unless she was really, truly very sick, didn’t ever enter her mind. She even threw up once on her tray at the school cafeteria when she was 8 because the food was so unappetizing to her. Instead of calling her parents to come and pick her up because she’d vomited, the French school officials gave her more of the offensive lunch. I can’t think of any situation where my kids would throw up at school and not be sent straight home.

I have an American friend who allows her 10-year-old twins three "mental health" days a year when they can decide to stay home from school without a reason. When I told my French friend about this, she made a strange loud noise, kind of like a gasp and a shriek. Apparently, that is very un-French.

I’m guessing this is why there’s no French version of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

My friend brought up the negotiating she sees American parents engage in with their kids when it comes to staying home: “Well honey, if you really aren’t feeling well, I guess you can stay home. It’s up to you.” In France, at least in her case, sick was sick, and anyone could see it. She pointed out that the French are very cautious and make their children wear appropriate outerwear to keep colds at bay. When someone really does get sick, they make a big deal about it.

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Every single winter my kids have waged a war against me regarding jackets and hats. For some inexplicable reason, they hate them. I am embarrassed to admit that, until I really flexed my inner chief, I’d let them talk me out of the full winter wardrobe and go without the proper gear. This year I’ve already made a stern declaration regarding cold weather and preparedness. We are buttoning up right.

There’s not much I can offer to help you with the school problem, except empathy. I know your pain. I’m not about to let my girls stay home from school just because they “feel funny.” I want real evidence—and I’ll be checking the blender.

Best of health,


Have a French (or any nationality) parenting question for Catherine? Email her at mommecs@bermanbraun.com.

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