A big reason to take your children to another country is to experience all of the subtle (and not-so-subtle) ways that countries in other parts of the globe treat their youngest citizens. So it was inevitable: at least one post had to be about cultural difference of doing things with your children in France à la Adam Gopnik in Paris to the Moon.
Although I would never in a million years think of going to Disneyland Paris, I was not averse to the idea of visiting a French amusement park, where I was sure I would find much to charm me, and where I thought I could see lots of French parents with their offspring in tow. I was not wrong. On a Sunday afternoon, the Jardin d’Acclimatation in the Bois de Boulogne at the far eastern edge of Paris is full of French families enjoying an outing.
I was particularly curious because we really haven’t seen that many French children since we’ve been here. The playground at the Jardin de Luxembourg was full of children, but most of them seemed to be American. There have been no children other than our own in any restaurant or café we have frequented, and I really haven’t even seen that many on the street. School is out, so I’m not sure where the kids are, but it’s not wandering the streets of Paris.
We began our morning at Le Petit Train, a small train right by the Metro that will take you into the Jardin (the ticket price includes admission). Since our boys both love anything to do with trains, this was a propitious beginning to the entire outing. Although it is not clear in the photo, above the driver was actually enjoying a smoke while the children climbed on board.
Once we were inside the Jardin, we discovered a number of rides, which at first glance might appear to be just your typical run-of-the-mill fare, but upon closer examination proved to be different from what you might find Stateside. I offer a few examples for your consideration:
La Rivière Enchantée is a boat ride with its own wisteria-draped tunnel and water wheel. Rowboats menader along a track that is surrounded by a beautifully landscaped little park full of hydrangeas and feathery ornamental grasses worthy of any botanical garden.
Les chevaux du bois are wooden horses that giddy-up around a track. Children younger than three have to be accompanied by an adult, and judging by the enthusiasm I witnessed on the adults’ faces, this ride is a heck of a lot of fun (Matt took Teddy on and he concurred).
Le carrousel du démembrement (the carousel of dismemberment) is actually not named this officially, but after looking at the art that decorated the top of it, we decided gave it this name. The other nice thing about this ride is that although it is supposed to look as if it came from ancient Rome (because, don’t you know, the Romans were big on merry-go-rounds) the music it plays is the absolute worst of French pop dirges, which ring out at top volume. Why it would ever be considered appropriate to have pictures of naked gladiators with hacked-off limbs on a ride for children is beyond me, but there it is. Of note also is the fact that this carousel went around so slowly that even Teddy immediately became bored.
Le teepee is a small flume ride where children each get their own paddle to dip in the water (really, what could be more fun than that?); each canoe travels through the middle of a large teepee. Upon disembarking, Teddy accidentally clocked the next child in the head with his paddle. I think he actually would have taken it with him if he had been permitted.
Les papillons d’Alsace. Since nothing about this ride had anything to do with butterflies or Alsace, this name is an utter mystery to me. Tommy liked it so well however that he actually went on it twice. The cars did twirl around, and perhaps this was meant to look like fluttering.
There were other small and amusing differences: the teapot ride that actually looked like a minature tea set, complete with floral decorations; the signs warning that animals were not allowed on any of the rides; the straps that did not buckle into place but which one knotted around each child’s lap; the fact that Buzz Lightyear was called Buzz l’Eclair.
The food options in the Jardin also different from those at your typical American amusement park. While there were the usual snack bars selling pizza and hot dogs and churros (and also crepes of course), there were also two full service restaurants, one of which offered lunch out on the lawn where tables full of families sat chatting and drinking champagne. We took a more economical route than this one, but I have to admit that I felt a little jealous of those glamorous Parisiens, chic even on an amusement-park outing.
After lunch we ended up at Les Aires de Jeux, a playground which was clearly marked as being for children “plus de 10 ans”–older than 10. This was a vast and somewhat surreal landscape with large constructed slopes that children could clamber on and slide down and a climbing tower in the middle that had to be at least 30 feet tall. Even Tommy noticed that not one child on the playground looked to be much more than 8, and most were quite a bit younger, which could get a little terrifying when the more intrepid little ones tried to make it to the top of the climbing tower. More than one parent ended up climbing after their progeny; I was actually glad when Tommy gave up about 3/4 of the way up, as I’m not sure I wanted to climb it.
The Jardin was a good place to see French families in action while entertaining our own two little Americans. Although we were there for four hours, we actually only touched on all of the activities on offer there, which also include a puppet theatre, a menagerie, trampolines, a water park, and a driving range for kids. I’m happy to report that despite the absence of children around the streets of Paris, the families we saw today seemed exceptionally happy to be out enjoying the park. One thing that really impressed me was how many large family groups we saw–sometimes both sets of grandparents and aunts and uncles in tow. As they understand somany things, the French seem know the best way to spend a Sunday afternoon: en famille, en s’amuser.
Postscript: For those of you who have been following Teddy’s animal du jour, I’d like to offer a brief update. Le P’tit Poulet decided this morning that he was a small baby purple elephant named Radish. He saw this elephant, perched atop another ride, while he was on the carousel and said to me with evident delight, “Little Baby Elephant is suprised. He didn’t expect to see another baby elephant.”
Please see Paris in its proper order if you’re interested in a chronological list of posts from my family’s July 2008 trip to Paris.