Raising Global Citizens in Paris!
What’s it like to be an American raising a family in France? We asked guest blogger Mary Winston Nicklin, a travel writer based in Paris, and mom to 4-year old Jane and 1-year old Cecilia.
Little Passports: What’s it like to be American raising kids in Paris?
Mary Nicklin: There’s been a lot of buzz about the book Bringing Up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman, which explores a lot of the French-American cultural differences in parenting. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. Paris is a fantastic place to raise kids. The cafes are children-friendly, and there are so many attractions! One favorite of ours is the ice skating rink set up in front of the Hotel de Ville, which is free (skate rental costs 5 euros). We can also walk to the Ménagerie du Jardin des Plantes, which has got to be one of the most charming zoos on the planet. The original animals were Marie Antoinette’s at Versailles, and the focus is on biodiversity with exhibits featuring protected species from all over the world.
MN: What a question! I feel idealistically about travel and consider it critical for cultural understanding. The places I’m drawn to are the ones with authenticity, where sites haven’t been trampled, local cultural traditions thrive, and there are opportunities for meaningful exchange. It doesn’t have to be exotic – I’ve been affected by trips to rural Virginia (my home state) and also the villages in “la France profonde.” I feel lucky to have lived for awhile in El Salvador, the tiniest country in Central America which also has the biggest heart. Now I’m obsessed with the Maghreb, and Tunisia specifically. From the oases in the Sahara to the whitewashed coastal towns on the Mediterranean, Tunisia is one of the finest places I’ve ever traveled, and I’m inspired by their newly ratified Constitution, which is a model for democracy in the Arab world.
LP: As a mom, how do you encourage your kids to learn about the world and other cultures?
MN: Travel is eye-opening, but there is so much for us to discover right in our own backyards. I think the key is to look at your hometown with the eyes of a traveler, completely open to discovery. I find myself marveling, alongside my daughter Jane, about certain French customs. For example: The other day after school (yep, school! The French start ’em young- at 3 years old!) Jane got really excited about some music she heard on the street. We kept walking, and as we rounded the corner we stumbled upon a veritable orchestra making their way down the street. French horns, trumpet players, all tipping a hat towards the tall apartment buildings for residents to toss down coins. We ran after them and danced along and dropped a few coins in the hat, bien sûr. I’ve seen this several times around the Paris streets and I think it’s marvelous.
Paris is a cosmopolitan city, so we like to get out and explore other cultural celebrations. They have a fabulous Chinese New Year fete in the 13th arrondissement, complete with booming firecrackers and a parade with dragon floats. We’re also learning some Arabic words from moms whose kids go to school with Jane. (It’s really multicultural.) Some of the moms are from Mali but they’ve given up on me; the sounds are so different and I’m hopeless!
LP: Thanks for sharing!
Mary Winston Nicklin is a writer based in Paris, where she is raising her two daughters. She has been published in many top media outlets, such as Condé Nast Traveler, Afar, USAToday.com, Jetsetter.com, and France Today. You can learn more about Mary on her website.