In their new book, Say Bonjour to the Lady: Parenting from Paris to New York,former Parisians Florence Mars and Pauline Lévêque explore the world of parenting, with a humorous look at the differences between French and American parenting styles.
How would you describe Say Bonjour to the Lady in one sentence?
Pauline Lévêque: A humorous illustrated guide to highlight the differences between parenting styles in Paris and in New York.
How did the idea for this book come about?
PL: When Flo moved to New York, she kept a journal of all the things that surprised her. It was a complete shock for her to see how different Parisians and New Yorkers really are. As a mother of three, all born in France, she had a lot to observe around parenting issues. On my side, both of my children are born here and are Americans, so Flo and I often joke about our own parenting differences. She had the idea of this book, and as we are very good friends, she asked me to do the illustrations.
What qualities of Florence make her a great co-collaborator?
PL: Flo is very professional, organized, creative, and knows what she wants. She also has a great sense of humor, so it’s fun to work with her.
Why did you want to create this book?
PL: Because Florence and I thought it was an interesting idea to explore. After all, parenting matters to everyone and while learning differences you can enrich your parenting.
What do you think is one of the biggest differences between American parents and French parents?
PL: American parents are much more involved in their children’s life. They organize playdates and sleepovers, they do presentations in school or prepare huge birthday parties for their kids not to mention the goody bags. American kids are at the center of the family. American parents spend their weekends accompanying their children to their activities: soccer, baseball games, dance, music, and birthday parties… French parents are not so involved, their children have to adapt to their agenda and not the opposite.
What are some of the challenges of raising French children in the U.S.? And what are some of the benefits of it?
PL: Well, as my children were born here and are fully bilingual, they are being raised in both French and American cultures. The challenge is to make sure they keep a part of their heritage. To make sure they read “Astérix et Obélix” and know about our history. In America, children are taught confidence as soon as they are able to talk, which is a great way to start in life. French children could use it. I was raised myself by a traditional French family with strict rules; I didn’t like it but I had no choice. Now that I’m a mother, I’m trying to only keep the most important French rules! For example, I want to be sure my children will have good manners at the table or that they will speak with respect to an adult or they will say “Hi”, “Please” and “Thank you”.
What advice would you give to American parents who bring their children to France (to travel or to live)?
PL: I don’t think there is any perfect education. That’s what Flo and I tried to explain with humor in the book. Probably the ideal education would be a mix of the French “good manners” and the “never judge,” “always try” American education. One piece of advice I would give to any parents would be to make sure you explain things to your children. School is here to teach but parents are here to educate.
I know a bit about Pauline, but not as much about your background – can you please share a bit about your background (i.e. your career, where you’re from, etc.)?
Florence Mars: I am from Paris originally and have been living in New York for seven years with my husband and our three children. I used to work in TV production in France, but changed direction three years ago and became President of Bonpoint US, a beautiful high end fashion brand for children, very French!
What qualities of Pauline make her a great co-collaborator?
FM: Pauline is very fun to be around, and I guess that is the same thing when working. Also she is very fast, which is also an amazing quality because there was quite a lot of illustrations to do in very little time!
What were some of you favorite books as a child?
FM: I remember learning how to read with the OUI OUI series and then le CLUB DES CINQ, all of that typical French!
Which aspects of the American parenting style do you find useful?
FM: I think I could probably use a little bit of their nonchalance in terms of style/rules! It is such a faux pas in France to have a little girl wear nail polish but truly what is the big deal? I think I am very slowly learning how to let go a few of the French diktats!
How do you think the fashion style of New York City moms differs from Parisian moms?
FM: Compared to my American friends, I always feel like I am less. I don’t really do anything to my hair, most of the time I let them dry and that is it. I wear a little makeup, but it has to look natural. I don’t do high heels except for parties and almost never have time for manicure.
Parisian ladies wear a lot of black and neutral colors, always trying to be natural and elegant. They really want to look effortlessly chic (although it is not effortless at all). The worst style faux pas for a French woman is the feeling that you are trying too hard.
In New York I often have the feeling mothers are either all in (date night with their husband) or in leggings! It is very drastic.
Are you planning any trips back to France with your family this summer?
FM: We are planning a few weeks in the south of France and a few weeks in Indonesia. France in July is really a dream, we always try to spend time there with all the family members and good friends we don’t see so much during the year. We adore the Basque Country–the food, the architecture, the art de vivre…it is our favorite place on earth.
What advice would you give French parents coming to America, regarding the American style of parenting?
FM: Don’t be shocked by the absence of apparent structure. American parents kind of balance it with a tone of enthusiasm!
Say Bonjour to the Lady: Parenting from Paris to New York is available below on Amazon.