Ever since moving to France, I feel like I’ve taken a step back in time. Kids don’t wear bike helmets, the internet is not a good source of information and the stores are not open on Sundays (Massachusetts Blue Laws, anyone?). I guess it’s time to take a seat and listen to the flute, since there’s not much else to do on a Sunday.
When we were in Normandy last week for the Fête Nationale (the French 4th of July), we wanted to find some fireworks to see. After hours of searching on the internet to find out where and when they would be in any surrounding town, we came up completely empty-handed. The owners of the B&B we were staying at also had no idea about fireworks, so they had to call their friend down the road to get some information. I wouldn’t have been surprised if they called on a Party Line, honestly.
The other interesting thing that seems oldschool about living here are the methods of parental discipline. It is sort of a joke among the non-French here that the French kids are unnaturally well-behaved when out in public with their parents. I’ve noticed that the reason the French kids are well-behaved is because their parents are absolutely not afraid to twist their ears in public and pull them down the street if they misbehave. Want me to say it again? PARENTS TWIST THEIR KIDS’ EARS AND PULL THEM DOWN THE STREET IN PUBLIC. It’s true and really painful to watch. I’ve still got some vivid memories of 5th grade and I can tell you from personal experience that having someone twist your ear and pull it ranks on the pain scale just below the nose flick. Ouch.
The flip side of this situation is that when the kids are not with their parents, they are like hooligans – like springs ready to be sprung. I think I watched too many reruns of The Little Rascals when I was young, but the kids here remind me of them, minus the slicked down hair.
When we finally located some fireworks in Normandy last week, we drove to this tiny coastal town, ate some fried dough on the pier and staked out a spot to watch the fireworks. Then the hooligans arrived.
They rode on their bikes like a gang with their backpacks filled with a vast variety of fireworks and an unlimited supply of matches. The youngest member was about 6 and the oldest was a mid-teenager and although it was a group of mostly boys there were a few tough girls mixed in. Unfortunately they set up their fireworks station right behind where we were sitting. At that point we were witness to a whole lot of pushing, shoving, laughing, match lighting and firework setting off. Sometimes a bottle rocket landed in the crowd near the pier, sometimes it landed on the roof of a house – no matter, they were lighting them off in the epicenter of town behind a giant war monument that intensified the noise as it ricocheted off the monument and buildings. When the hooligans threw a set of roman candles into a giant metal trash can, the noise was so loud it made the entire crowd jump.
Our kids were completely stunned by the scene. Kids with matches?!?!?!? Kids with fireworks?!??! Where were their parents?!?!? I could see their small brains expanding as they watched what was happening. I’m pretty sure that up until that point our kids thought it was illegal for kids to touch matches. In that moment, right in front of their eyes, kids were not only playing with matches, but using them to light FIREWORKS – the holy grail of what not to touch! Their eyes were literally as big as saucers.
After watching this scene play out for over a half hour, the hooligans finally got cussed out by a bystander who was hit by a random firework. That is something that is also somewhat common here, people (usually very loudly) disciplining other people’s children. They packed up their backpacks and headed out on their bikes to terrorize another group of spectators further down the pier.
For the rest of the night, the boys kept wanting to know where the hooligans were. Although they were somewhat scared of them, they were fascinated by them – sort of like watching a horror movie through your fingers – you’re scared but still want to know what happens. Eamon kept asking, “Where do you think the hooligans hang out when they’re not lighting off fireworks? Do you think they have a clubhouse or something?” Later in the evening when we saw some trash on the side of the road, Owen said, “I wonder if the hooligans left that there…….”
I told Tim if we return from France without our kids turning into hooligans, I will feel pretty good about myself. Especially since O & E now know it isn’t illegal for kids to light matches.
Disclaimer: After this post, my mother called to make sure that the reference about ear pulling in 5th grade wasn’t any commentary about her, since she had no memory of ever pulling my ears as a child. I told her that, no, she had never pulled our ears as children and that reference was to an old 5th grade friend of mine who I shall call Meg (to protect her identity). My mother was a great mother and would never have inflicted any pain on us as children. The fact that she had us picking us cigarette butts at our motel in the summer for $.01 apiece was, in fact, character building, not torture.