I was going to write about the wintery beauty of Christmas in Paris. But. Let’s just say I’m going to have to find another frame of mind to write about the romanticism of the Christmas lights unique to every arrondissement, cinnamon spice aromas and frost-pinched cheeks behind cashmere scarves and big-collared coats. No, friends. THAT post is for another day.
Yesterday, I was out doing a spot of Christmas shopping. I had Hazel with me, she’d just had a wander in the park before it was time to get on the bus and pick Euan up from school. The bus pulled up and I didn’t have time to get her into the pram, so we jumped on. I put the brakes on the pram and Hazel sat on my lap. I said to her, “Now, darling you must stay on my lap while we’re on the bus. You can’t walk around or change seats. Otherwise I’ll have to put you in the pram where it’s safer.”
“Yes Mummy,” she nods.
She was good for about 3 minutes. Then she started saying “I want to sit over there” and was wriggling around trying to get off my lap. After several warnings I decided that’s was it - she had to go in the pram. Safety on a moving bus is obviously too big a concept for a 2 and a half year old.
Cue screaming. Loud, prolonged, protesting, high-pitched screaming.
I told her off sternly. “Stop it. Be quiet, there are other people on the bus.”
Screaming continues. “Stop it Hazel. You know why I had to put you in the pram. I can’t help you now, I’m sorry”. I made a few half-hearted attempts to get her to be quiet. They were half-hearted because I knew that nothing would work. She was like a caged animal but letting her out of the cage was not an option. Any attempt I made to reason with her, or threaten her, or bargain a deal made it worse, so I took a deep breath and rode it out. I looked at a few other passengers, mouthing the word “désolé” (sorry). I was met with cold, angry stares in every direction. Not a sympathetic eye to be found.
A youngish man came over and put his face inches from Hazel's (while she continued to scream). I’m not sure what he was saying (it was French and she was louder than him). He was trying to reason with her, by intimidation. Unsurprisingly he made it worse.
A couple of other people said stuff to me in French - some were telling me politely that my child shouldn’t be screaming. Some less politely.
One lady seated in the middle of the back row of seats really let loose. I’ve never had an argument in French so I don’t know what the hell she was saying. It wasn’t hard to get the sentiment. She was angrily pointing at me, rolling her eyes at my apparent idiocy. Someone else piped up and said sarcastically "She doesn’t understand, she’s English”. Widespread groan. It was almost an uproar.
Then along came a voice from up the front. This woman was the only one who backed her English well-enough to take me on good and proper. Uproar got real. She went on to win Bus 53’s “Most Hysterical Award” and this really means something because she was competing with Hazel, the dead-set queen of hysterics.
“You need to keep you child quiet. It’s not acceptable. This noise she’s making you must stop it. I can’t stand it.”
“And how do you propose I do that? Keep a child quiet?”
“I wouldn’t know she’s your child - YOU should know.”
“No really, I’d like to hear from you, what do you suggest? You think it’s possible? Tell me how!”
“It’s disgusting behaviour you are so rude,” she spat. “We shouldn’t have to put up with this. Everyone has had enough. You need to stop it NOW.”
“I’m still waiting for your solution. You seem to be an expert even though you clearly do not have a child of your own.” [scoffs, splutters].
“Get off the bus! Get off and walk or something I don’t care. Just get off.” Murmurs of agreement coming from all angles - front back and sides. I expected the driver to pull over and join in the chorus.
“I beg your pardon? Get off the bus? I need to pick up my son from school. I’m not getting off. I’ve every right to be here.”
A few more back and forwards with the “Get off” returned by “ I refuse.” “No really, get off the bus” “No way am I moving. Forget it.” My heels were well and truly dug she would have had to hire a crane remove me.
“Get off the bus everyone is sick of it. You are RIDICULOUS YOU ARE…(wait for it)..…UNCIVILISED. YOU HAVE NO RESPECT FOR ANYONE. DO YOU HEAR ME? UNCIVILISED!!”
“How DARE you? I’M uncivilised? She’s 2 and a half. You’re screaming your head off. I can’t control everything she does.”
“If you don’t know how to control your child then maybe you shouldn’t have one!” Then, “I can’t take this anymore” as she moved towards the exit.
“GOOD!” I said. “At least I’m not a grown adult ACTING LIKE A 2 AND A HALF YEAR OLD*!!!” (*debatable statement).
She stumbled out of the bus, wholly consumed by her own anger and sense of unjustness. She really believed that she had been wronged by an uneducated, vindictive neanderthal who has no right to public transport in her city.
And off she stormed with her trench coat and hand-bag flapping behind her with every stroppy stride she took down le rue.
Must be some crabby old lady you say. They do have a terrible reputation for grumpiness in Paris. Wrong! She was probably younger than me (I’m not old yet). Nicely dressed, normal looking citizen.
When it was my stop (a painful few minutes later) I crawled off (unaided, with pram and screaming toddler). First call - husband. Tears flowing. Once they started I couldn’t stop. I could have cried for ages but I had to get it together as I was about to walk in to the school.
So after more than 1 year here, I’m really starting to find out about what this culture shock thing is all about. I don’t belong, I’m not welcome by everyone, our social etiquettes are completely different. Number 1 rule for parents is this - and it’s one I’ve broken many times (and will continue to break because I cannot be expected to sit indoors all day just because I have a firey mini superhuman who will probably rule the world some day).
CHILDREN SHOULD NOT EVER DISTURB THE PEACE OF AN ADULT.
(AND IF THEY DO, THEIR PARENTS WILL BE ATTACKED, MALIGNED AND IDEALLY REFUSED THE USE OF PUBLIC TRANSPORT AND WHILE WE'RE AT IT, CAFES, RESTAURANTS, SHOPS OF ALL KINDS).
On reflection. I’ve noted these things:
- The honeymoon is over Paris. I just learned something about you, other than how neat your hair is. From now on I will always wonder if there is an intolerant and unempathetic perspective lurking beneath your freshly coiffed do. I will not mistake your cordial bonjours for actual friendliness.
- As a career nurse (on hiatus) I always take pleasure in knowing that if YOU ever needed some urgent care or a steady hand on a wobbling bus that it doesn’t matter who you are, or how loud your child is screaming I would help you. I really hope that you never need a bout of CPR following an intolerant spray of nastiness or you’ll have to swallow that pride and let this neanderthal save you.
- I can’t in any way compare this to a racist attack. However. The sense I had of being an unwelcome foreigner was palpable. I could almost hear them - bloody Anglo - coming here using our transport, can’t speak French, loose morals and discipline, no respect. It hurt. Yes it did.
- If this happened in Australia - and indeed it has (just read about my adventure to Adelaide which kicked off this blog in the first place) it would have been different. Yes I’m sure there would have been a few very annoyed people. Who doesn’t find a toddler tantrum irritating? I know I do. There’d probably be a few who have something to say about it too. But what I know for certain is that there would have been at least a handful of people sympathetic to my situation. They might even show some understanding, or offer help of some kind.
- On a lighter note. If I was in Australia, I’m absolutely positive there would have been a lot more swearing. The ‘fight’ would have deteriorated to expose everyone’s inner bogan, and insults much worse than being “uncivilised” would have been flung. I was quite proud of standing my ground without resorting to foul language or (empty) threats of violence. I also expected a round of applause or heckling as I got off the bus. Despite the whole bus participating in this altercation, when it was time for me to finally get off (my time, according to me) there was complete silence. Weird.
Has anything like this happened to you before? What do you think of all of this? Do you have a different perspective? What would you have done? DISCUSS.