Expat Musings from Washington, D.C.

Expat Musings from Washington, D.C.

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Karen FawcettHere I am in the Nation’s Capital, the land of the free and the home of the brave. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to sound disrespectful and I’m not. Rather, I feel like a permanent expat who’s on home leave. Everything is familiar, some things are easier and there are some things that are simply frustrating.

Washington is a lovely city. Plus, I have grandchildren here—and their parents. My heart melted when I took my four-year-old granddaughter to her second day of nursery school. She was 100% comfortable and didn’t bother to even wave as she took off in a plastic miniature car to join her new friends on the playground. Goodbye to my baby. She’s clearly begun a new era of her development and her life. This feisty child wasn’t about to shed a tear in her new role of big girl and didn’t exhibit any signs of “fearful fours.”

My mind immediately catapulted to my yearly tradition of watching neighborhood children start nursery school on the Paris street where I’ve lived for the past 20 years. Mothers, fathers and caregivers deliver the children, frequently holding hands and having important conversations. The majority of them walk. Little girls and boys line up to be admitted into the school’s gate, then run off some excess energy on the playground before starting the school day. Most go home for lunch because it’s still what’s done in France—which can be hard on mothers who work.

Observing these children has become more difficult since the school has constructed solid fences. The western world has become increasingly security conscious. I used to love watching them at recess wearing smocks. It feels as if French children don’t get their clothes dirty and they’re substantially nicer than the ones my granddaughters wear, which are the inexpensive wash-wear-and-throw-out variety unlike smocked dresses and boy’s cotton shirts that require pressing.

Since I haven’t had personal experience with schools in France and, come to think of it, haven’t even been to a school recital, I don’t know whether or not French or American children are more coddled and cuddled. It’s rumored that French teachers aren’t as warm and fuzzy but most Parisian children seem to get a good education and there’s lots of emphasis on reading, writing and arithmetic.

My seven-year-old granddaughter (who attends a different school) has homework and is assigned a computer as she goes from one classroom to another and is very busy. Much to my chagrin, she’s studying Spanish, not French. If I have my way, both children will spend substantial time in Paris before too long. I’m being selfish but I want them with me to really learn French while their ears and minds are open to new languages and discover why their Gran loves France.

We’d do so many things together. Yes, Washington has the National Cathedral and many monumental buildings and in many ways, the cities are similar. But it doesn’t have the playground in the Luxembourg Garden only five minutes away from my apartment. I’d take them there and know they’d learn French by osmosis since that’s what children do.

We’d spend a day or two taking a double-decker bus, seeing the sights and hopping on and off. Naturally, we’d stop at the Eiffel Tower and join the crowds who take picnics and sit on the grass. What child isn’t fascinated by this humongous tinker-toy?

Barge rides on the Seine would be mandatory, either the taxi type or one at twilight. Yes, there are boats on the Potomac, but they lack that je ne sais quoi. Do I sound prejudiced? You bet.

We’d definitely take the high-speed TGV to the Loire Valley and see a few châteaux. The girls’ idea of castles comes from the Disney channel. There’s nothing wrong with a visit to the Magic Kingdom in the U.S., but it’s not on the top of my must-visit list when children come to Paris. Many Bonjour Paris readers tell me they do take their children there, but why when you can see the real thing?

While the children were in Paris, we’d probably go to London for an overnight and do the things tourists do such as visit Buckingham Palace. One of the things people who are traveling with young children need to remember is to schedule down time.

My grandchildren are lucky. They have grandparents who travel and have homes in different places. The older granddaughter went to India when she was three and even though she may not totally remember the Taj Mahal, when she sees photos, and especially one of her there, she knows. Ditto for being bought (overpriced) candy at the summit of Mt. Ventoux in Provence—reinforcing the adage, location, location and then there’s location.

If you’re in the position to do so and can give your children anything, give them the gift of travel. Reinforce their having a sense of history and that not everything is the same same. My Pollyanna solution for world peace would be that every child would spend a year living in a totally different culture when they turn 18. It would help create global understanding and acceptance.

Not everyone agrees, but it’s my mantra. It’s estimated that approximately 20% of Americans have passports and that includes the military. Some Americans feel that traveling exclusively in the U.S. is more than fine and I’m the first to admit that there are some parts of the country I’ve never seen. In the meantime, I crave to experience foreign cultures because it’s one of the ways I learn.

What’s your take?

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