Did you know that French children are, on the whole, better behaved than those from most English-speaking Western countries? (And how does this relate to business? Good mannered children become thoughtful and well-mannered workmates, I'm sure you'll agree.)
In an extended visit to France earlier this year I never saw a French child having a tantrum or acting up. And I was with many children over the first 20 days, including at a large French wedding, an awesome family event with many children present. It was composed of multiple parts, took place in three different venues and expanded joyously over two days.
Take meal times. Quite young children patiently wait for their dîner [dinner], usually about 8 o'clock. Even toddlers are rarely fed earlier. It's regarded as important that they sit at the table with the grown-ups and learn to be part of the wider family group. Neither are they allowed to dominate the conversation, although they certainly aren't repressed. Once they've eaten they politely ask to be excused and are allowed to go off to play.
I began to ask: 'How come, as a nation, that French kids are so well-behaved?'
I found the answer to this puzzle in a Singapore Airport bookshop on the way home. Pamela Druckerman's 'Bringing Up Bébé - one American mother discovering the wisdom of French parenting' jumped off the bookshelf at me. It's packed full of insights and well worth a read for any parent.
Delayed gratification is one of the keys. Druckerman asks:
'Could it be that making children delay gratification - as middle-class French parents do - actually makes them calmer and more resilient? Whereas kids who are more used to getting what they want right away, go to pieces under stress? French babies and toddlers, who are used to waiting, seem oddly calm about not getting what they want right away. When I visit French families and hang out with their kids, there's a conspicuous lack of whining and complaining.'
'I regularly see what amounts to a minor miracle: adults in the company of small children at home, having entire cups of coffee and full-length adult conversations. Waiting is even part of the parenting vernacular. Instead of saying "quiet" or "stop" to rowdy kids, French parents often just issue a sharp "attend", which means "wait".'
It seems to me that too many parents and educators in today's over-informed, excessively politically correct and US-influenced world think their job is to make life smooth and easy for their little ones - smooth out the bumps, not let them get upset, or leave them upset for as short a time as possible. This includes not letting them feel too much frustration.
French parents, on the other hand, know that initial frustration (not getting what they want when they want it) teaches children resilience, adaptability and all the other good virtues that a well-adjusted adult exhibits.
Badly behaved children seek boundaries. Give them firm guidelines and consequences and they'll calm down very quickly - if delivered with firmness and a clear intention by the responsible adult. Every child will push the boundaries and strong-willed children will push even more. If we as parents don't stand firm we deny them the boundaries they seek: they'll continue to push until they get them.
[Are the same points relevant in a work situation, do you think?]
There's another related French national characteristic which applies to everyone, not just children, and that's a huge emphasis on good manners. Even small children are expected to be courteous, greet people with 'Bonjour' or 'Bonsoir' and at least two kisses if they're family friends.
As a footnote to this point on good manners, you might be thinking, 'What about the arrogant French shopkeepers I've heard of?'
If we get rudeness from a French shopkeeper it's almost always because we've (unintentionally) invited it. In many cases we're actually in their home, albeit the commercial part. A really basic courtesy when you enter a French shop is to immediately greet the assistant - then do the shopping. In our part of the world we shop first and then talk to the assistant only if we want something. So, you can see why French shopkeepers think many of us are rude - and treat us appropriately.
In order to go faster, first we must go slower. A small dose of good manners gives wonderful long-term results and a much happier environment.