Monday, 29 March 2010

French birthday party etiquette

I haven't forsaken this blog. I think about it every day. But until a couple days ago, it was logistically impossible for me to write. I usually compose a post in my head on my bike in the morning and then type as soon as I get here. But while I was on leave, my desk was taken over and I've been at a temporary, very visible place in the office since I got back. But, last week, I finally got my desk back so I can now return to my personal projects. Kind of ironic, don't you think?

The French are laden with etiquette, as we know. In my 13 years in France, I have managed to offend just about everyone and their dog. I don't bises right. I don't say bonjour when I walk into stores. I don't use my utensiles the right way.

With Suzanne's first year of school comes great discovery for me. I now have a whole new social realm. Like how to talk to the teacher - first name or last name basis? Can I tutoye other parents I like ? And then there are the birthday parties...

The first time I dropped Suzanne off at a birthday party, I was invited for tea. I thought that was really nice and was happy the parents liked me enough to ask me to stay. The second time, I thought that I didn't really want to stay but felt like I had to because a couple other parents were staying. So I did.

The third time I realized something important. The parents didn't invite me because they particularly liked me (although I hope they don't think I'm some strange American) but because that's what you do. This revelation came to me only by comparison when Suz was invited to her Anglo-American's cousin's birthday where the parents were asked to drop their kids and leave.

Tea/coffee for the parents is apparently almost expected at a kid's birthday party. It is definitely a nice custom, it's very polite, but is it also a way for French parents to keep an eye on their kids and to have parents keep an eye on their own kids?

Whatever the reason, does this mean I have to invite the parents to Suzanne's birthday? Ugh...

6 comments:

Emmy said...

gak. I think it does. I hate French politeness like this. So false. How do you know if you are really friends with them when you're invited just because it's the done thing. How long do you have until you have to make a decision on this?!

The Duchess said...

Sometimes I stay, sometimes I go. I don't think there is any presumptions either way. I'm usually quite happy when they just drop off and leave, but then my other daughter's friends' mothers tend to stay and gossip. I'd say if you want to stay, stay, if not, don't feel bad about dropping them off.

I did make an effort though, the first few years, of staying, as it really helped me get to know the other mothers. And even if they aren't really 'friend' material, I think it's good to have some sort of 'relationship' with the woman that I'll be seeing for years to come at all of the events!
Good luck with your decision!

Beth said...

ITA with the above. You don't have to stay at every party. People realise that you might have other stuff to be doing. If it makes you more comfortable with it, give a little excuse (So many errands to run! A project to finish for work! whatever!).
Building a network is a good idea, though- even if you'll never be BFF with any of them.

Also- I do agree that you'll have to bite the hostess bullet and invite the parents. You don't want them to think you're hiding something...and gossip in these villages spreads like wildfire!

L said...

I taught English to three little girls once (ages 4, 5, and 6), and after a 50 minute lesson of singing I'm a little teapot and playing go-fish, the little girls got to play together while I had tea with the mothers. I didn't have access to our car at the time so we alternated at who's house we had the lesson, and the the other mother would pick me up on the way there (and then stayed). It was kind of nice to chat and have tea, but sometimes I also felt like "Um, I'm paid to tutor, but not to drink tea. Can I get back to my personal life? I have errands to run." I even got to meet the grandparents like that (and had tea and cookies with them).

Clo said...

AWESOME post!
In Paris we drop off the kids, there is just NOT ENOUGH SPACE for the parents as well!

What shocks me, is that already starting at age 4, these parties cost a fortune: there is always a clown or some sort of performer. costumes. Decorations. AND the gift-bag at the end with a little toy for each attendee...
And kids do not eat! I tried making sandwiches and cookies, all they gulp down is bon-bons! Loads of sugar!

C'est tres bizarre tout ca!!!

Reb said...

Do not even get me started on the bonbons! I couldn't believe at the beginning of school when my daughter would come home with candy wrappers in her pocket. The teacher gives them candy once in a while!

And then, when it's a kid's birthday, parents bring in huge bags of bonbons - teeth rotting, sticky, unhealthy candy of all sort.

On my birthday, my mom would send me to school with cupcakes in the shape of ice cream cones. But here, they actually tell you NOT to send homemade stuff because they don't know what's in it. They'd rather have candy! I think the class may be a little disapointed when it's Suzanne's birthday...because French kids don't like cupcakes. Blame it on the weird American mom.

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