Monday, 3 March 2008

How to respect grass

French is so formal, so proper, so totally not to the point!

Take “Respecter la pelouse” for example. Respect the lawn ie be nice to the lawn ie don’t walk on the grass which you find in every single public space with a smidgen of grass in Paris and most of France (but I’ve never seen such signs in Lille, interesting…)

The first memorable time I saw this sign was at a chateau in the Loire valley. I thought it was funny so I decided to respect the grass by rolling around in it. People looked at me funny.

The second memorable time was one sunny day at the Jardin du Luxembourg where there were signs everywhere about respecting the lawn and people did as much by sunbathing and picnicking.

But I didn’t come to appreciate the cultural signficance of the sign until I was au pairing for a family from back home who had just moved to Paris. We were living by the Parc Monceau and the then 3 year old was builinding his little Franco-American self and learning the unfun ways of playing in France ie not being able to play ball in the park and not being able to walk on the grass. Grass was OFF LIMITS and the park guardians would chase after the kids with whistles if they even put their big toe on the grass. By the end of the first month, the little boy would veer down a path in order NOT to step on the grass. It was sad.

Which brings me to this weekend in Paris (oh, how I’d love to live in Paris again ! but that’s another story). Suzanne was happily walking through the Jardin des Plantes, trampling the grass with me trailing her, when Jérôme had a surprisingly French moment. He picks her up and says “on ne peut pas sur la pelouse “ (you can’t go on the grass). I ask why not because it just seemed so normal: dirt, grass, sun...Then I remember THE SIGN. Suddenly I’m an alien, from another planet, a total foreigner even after my 10 years in France. And then I get angry at the dumb French for not letting my daughter know the joys of walking on the grass. And then I’m happy because, deep down, I am not as French as I thought if I can walk on the grass without a second thought. What do the French have against dirt and grass anyway?


The Late Bloomer said...

Well, I don't know about all of the parks, but my understanding is that usually there are PARTS of the parks that are still reserved for laying down and picnicing and stuff, but then there are other parts that are "resting" so to speak, on a seasonal basis, and that they're trying to maintain the grass by keeping people from walking on it all the time... I'm not sure about the whole "official" logic behind it, but I'm gathering it's just to try to get the grass to last longer by avoiding people from trambling on it! Obviously it seems like a shame for kids who would love just to roll around in the grass, but again, I think that's why in some parks, like at le Parc Monceau, certain parts of the park CAN be used to lay down and run around, whereas other parts are barred or fenced off...

I don't know if that makes any sense, but that's basically what I had come to understand! I'm not saying it's fair, because it does seem a bit extreme, but you know how they are with these kinds of things! Of course, then again, the French are all about breaking the rules, n'est-ce pas ?

rrk said...


The photograph in your article "How to respect grass" has come out really well.

I'm in need of a photograph like this.

Can you please allow me to use this photograph for which I'll be grateful to you.

Please send your reply to



Reb said...

Sorry - I can't take credit for it - I borrowed it off the net.I hope that the author doesn't mind. If so, let me know and I'll take it off.

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