Why the French and Americans can't get on
French-born author Pascal Baudry has lived in America for 20 years and acquired an exceptional
awareness of the deep cultural differences that, he claims, can prevent the French and Americans
from understanding each other. He believes that one of the reasons is that Americans “like to do”
while the French are “content to understand”. He says this starts during childhood. Throughout their
lives, Americans wonder “Am I still loved?” and feel compelled to have a successful life while
French children hesitate between the comfort of their mothers’ laps – sublimated later into the group
– and the desire to escape. In his book, French and Americans, the other shore, Baudry illustrates
the effect that this psychological split has on everyday life on either side of the Atlantic. Baudry is
founder of WDHB Consulting Group, based in California. Prior to founding WDHB, Baudry worked
as a psychoanalyst in private practice in France for eight years, then worked in various management
positions in the U.S. This book is the long-awaited English translation of the French best-seller,
Français et Americains – l’autre rive. Here The Connexion reproduces an excerpt.
“I HAVE observed French and (White) American mothers with toddlers in school courtyards and
playgrounds. The contrasts between French and American behaviours provide examples of the difference in the degree of individuation between the French and American cultures.
American mothers tell their children: “Go, have fun!” The children go and have fun, trip and fall, and come back crying. The mothers briefly comfort them and, without scolding them in any way, explain in a factual way what happened, and tell them what to do next time: “You can do it!,” they say; “Go, have fun!”
French mothers, on the other hand, start with a series of constraining commands: “Don’t go to far away,” “Don’t talk to strangers,” “Don’t get dirty,” “Bundle up, or you’ll catch cold,” “Come back in five minutes,” “Stay where I can see you,” etc. French children go and play, trip and fall, start crying, come back to their mothers’ laps. The mothers scold them and tell them, “Didn’t I tell you?” “You never listen,” “You’re just like your father,” “Can’t you pay attention?” What they imply is: “You’re incapable.” The mothers then restrict the children even further, “Stay here now; no more running around.” In both cultures, mothers, through their behaviour, cause a psychological split within their children. In both cases, this split will be painful and will help shape the children’s characters, but in radically different ways.
In the American culture, mothers drive their children away. What is taking place is a kind of social weaning, even if the phrase, “have fun,” gives it a positive feel, implicitly providing a worldview in which only the positive side of things is presented: it is clear enough that children will have fun, they are even ordered to do so. The real world is welcoming, and there is no doubt that children will be easily able to handle it; no alternative is offered. The whole interaction splits the situation between the mothers who will remain alone and the children who will interact with the real world. This will increase the children’s experience and shape their characters beyond their immediate reaction to the mothers’ behaviour.”
French and Americans, the other shore by Pascal Baudry will be available in bookstores in France early this month and from www.pbaudry.com
Copyright The Connexion
Source : June 2005 Issue 32