With all the wonderful things France offers adults, it’s easy to overlook the kid component of French society. But there are some charming aspects to the life of les enfants (children) in France that make it worth a closer look.

First, some cultural background. France takes great pride in taking care of and educating its children. The French government provides subsidized childcare for infants on up and free public school from kindergarten through high school. In addition, French children often have strict parents – sévère mothers in particular – who instill in them a sense of good manners and behavior. It is fascinating to watch French children out to dinner with adults. They eat the same gourmet food as the adults do, and more interestingly, they are taught to be fairly quiet and completely respect the adults’ dinner conversation.

But of course, there are some French parents who let their kids run amok. Last summer, I was waiting at Air France’s terminal 2F at Charles de Gaulle airport for a flight from Paris to Bordeaux. It was July 14, better known as Bastille Day, and the start of vacation for not a few families. (Note to self – stay away from CDG on July 14!) One poor French dad was traveling with his three kids under the age of eight and watched as two of them terrorized travelers waiting near them. Instead of reining them in, he actually seemed to enjoy the effects of their antics, much to the chagrin of everyone around. But thankfully, I find that kind of situation in France is the exception.

So what else would I mention on the kid front in France? Here’s a quick look at clothes, cultural activities (great for visiting kids too!) and ketchup, oui, le ketchup.

Clothes:

The French have a penchant for the classic in clothes and nowhere is this more true than in children’s fashion. Tailored coats straight out of storybooks, beautifully made Mary Jane shoes and wonderful fabrics in plaids, corduroys, wools and velvets are the rule in French boutiques such as Bonpoint, Petit Bateau and Jacadi.

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Bonpoint’s Fall 2011 collection

I like Jacadi in particular as it stands for “Jacques a dit,” the French equivalent of our children’s game “Simon Says.” Here are a few recent kid fashion looks Jacadi was offering in their shop windows.

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 Smock dress

Children’s clothing stores often like to come up with themes for the season. This one decided to bring pets into play.

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Culture:

After day care or school, French kids are dying for a goûter, or snack. Top choices would be a pain au chocolat (chocolate croissant) or chausson aux pommes (apple turnover) from a nearby bakery.

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To run off their energy, French children then have some playtime in a park. These kids at the Parc Monceau in Paris have turned this statue into their private playground.

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On the weekends in Paris, a smorgasboard of kid activities await…the marionnette puppet shows and pony rides in the Luxembourg Gardens…

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…the zoo at the Jardin des Plantes in the 5 th arrondissement, the Paris Aquarium in the 16 th arrondissement, riding the manège (merry-go-round) in the Tuileries gardens or other parks followed by some barbe à Papa (cotton candy)…

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…special activities at museums and local libraries, not to mention visits to magasins de jouets (toy shops) or children’s bookshops. And if kids need a pick me up from all this activity, an ice cream cone from Bac à glaces in the Rue du Bac is a great option or even a cup of the legendary hot chocolate from Angelina in the Rue de Rivoli.

Ketchup:

But speaking of sweets, the French are starting to worry about childhood obesity. The French media reported in October significant changes in French school cafeterias, or cantines. Since French children are thought to be losing good eating habits and getting heavier as a result, the French government decreed that more healthy menus would be required in schools. In addition, condiments like salt, ketchup and mayonnaise would no longer be freely available. If French children do have a hankering for ketchup outside of school, however, they can still have it at home or at McDo (pronounced mac-doh in French) which is their short way of saying “McDonald’s.”

Of course, the American media recently picked up this story and have taken the French school ‘ketchup ban’ to be anti-American. You can view the ABC Nightline news clip called “Au Revoir, Ketchup” by clicking here (note there is a short advertisement before the video begins). At least the French did not try to fool themselves on the childhood health issue by calling ketchup a ‘vegetable’ as has happened in the U.S.!

In any case the next time you are in France, take a moment to appreciate the cultural charm of the kid contingent in France—their cute clothes, their good manners, their lovely French accents. Or take your children to France and indulge in some French cultural activities for young people. It’s a wonderful way to see French culture afresh.

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