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all the world's a playground.


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With the school year wrapping up, the last few weeks have been less about exploring the wonders of the English language by following the curriculum of games, songs and cut-out shapes I had been given as learning materials, and more about the babysitting portion of my job. Per the request of the parents, for the remaining weeks of June I was allowed to let the tiny tots loose at the park for as long as they liked, distributing snacks on command from a Spiderman backpack. 

Seriously, you guys, how is this my life? 

But as a friend recently put it, "You don't get your dream job here in France. You get a job." And this one is mine for now.

Spending more time than I had ever this school year at the park, I observed the division of classes, social groups so to speak. We had the French moms who smoked, the French moms who didn't with their Le Bal (or whatever "hip" restaurant or organization) tote bags and organic snacks, the Portuguese grandmothers who would only talk to the lone Portuguese au pair who when alone, was always on the freaking phone, the African nannies who somehow always managed to get the park benches, the American moms, and randoms like me and the Danish au pair. 

Oh, did you think I meant the social groups amongst the kids? No. The kids are not at all segregated like us: "the adults." 

I know, how sad.

Okay, so in this conglomerate, which group do you think I easily fit into like a worn-out ballet flat? 

Did you guess the American mom group? That they would welcome a fellow expatriate into their circle of conversation? Well, you were wrong. The American moms are mean. 

It went a little something like this: The French moms who wanted to practice their English would chat with me until they grew bored or exhausted speaking in their second language, the French moms who didn't care about English spoke with each other (this group also fell under the French Moms Who Smoke category), and the American moms...well, at first they were nice to me when they thought I was another American mom. They soon realized I was not when they heard my kids speak English, tipping them off that I was the nanny. 

"Oh," the said with total side-eye, "We thought you were an expat mom like us, but you're just a babysitter..." Dis. After this revelation, we never recovered and despite my attempts, I was ignored and no longer welcomed to sit with them in the park. Major diss. I don't pride myself on being necessarily cool or anything, but didn't playground politics fall to the wayside post 7th grade? Apparently not and I was stunned. Just stunned.

Never mind the fact that one of my kids is crucially blonde, another has dark hair and deep olive skin, and one is overtly part Asian. How did the Americans think that I pumped all of these kids of the same age out of me in one year? 

Giving up on "my people" and the French moms, next up, was the African nannies. Scurrying to the park early to grab a seat on the bench, once play time officially started, I found myself book-ended by six nannies, and stuffed behind a line of clunky baby strollers. My little ones, demonstrated scrunched up little faces of disdain as they were forced to go through an obstacle of baby care paraphernalia to get one little cookie from me. Hey, it was character building for them. Work for what you want, guys!

Now in my new digs, I realized that I should have thought of this sooner. I was included immediately, no questions asked. With zero interest in brushing up on their English skills, and a full-time passion for talking major shit about the families they worked for, they had me entertained. I could not contribute in the family-bashing because I actually really do like the families that I work for, but sharing my own antidotes on life in Paris, I think they got a kick out of me, or rather my accent. I'm sure they were making fun of me with the side remarks that I didn't understand, but it was better than forcing myself to read the book that I am currently struggling with, or being shunned by my "compatriots."  

I guess I shouldn't be so shocked by the social divisions in the park. Unfortunately, this is something we deal with every day, where I can't help but wonder if we will ever outgrow these petty politics. Literally and figuratively speaking, I guess we never do leave the playground. Food for thought, right there...

For me, vacation has officially started, so I bid a farewell to the park...until next September.

22 comments:

  1. I love reading about the park politics here. I run around Parc Monceau a lot and always enjoy viewing the division - mainly because I'm not a part of it. I am however dreading the day when I'm the one at the playground not knowing who to talk to... eek!

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    1. Hahaha thanks! The divisions are very distinct, right?

      You won't experience this because you will be a legit mom and will be welcomed into the AmMom community! That's for sure. They looked at me like I was a gum-snapping 22-year-old au pair, not a 32-year-old married woman.

      I hope the crew you find, however, are cooler than these ladies!

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  2. hmmm maybe what you need to find is some Canadian expats moms..a bit less "tude" I'm sure.

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    1. COULD NOT AGREE MORE!

      sorry for the caps. I've been reading this blog for over a year now but this is my first comment. I (american) lived in Paris from roughly 2005-2007 and did a wide variety of jobs, including baby-sitting/nannying. My favorite clients were an American couple who had adopted their daughter from Mexico, where they lived before moving to Paris (I think the dad worked at Kia or something). They lived in a huge fancy apartment in the 16th, and the little girl (3 years old) was great. I really liked them all.

      The little girl was understandably a bit delayed with socializing and language. First of all, in mexico her parents mainly spoke Spanish with her, and of course a bit of english. When they got to Paris, they decided to focus the language of the house mostly on English (since the girl would most likely end up in international schools), and the little girl was just... normally confused about what to do. The dad didn't speak french at all, the mom was making a big effort to learn very quickly, but the little girl was a bit shy around other kids and you could see she just felt intimidated by everything. She spoke in a somewhat made-up language that was a mix of english and spanish and gibberish, and my job as the baby-sitter was to not allow her to get away with gibberish. Made sense. I liked the whole thing.

      But I hated, and I mean HATED, those park scenes. in the 16th. absolutely no one would speak to me - French moms gave me a "we're kinda racist and notice that the girl you're with is much darker than you and you're not speaking french so hmmmm," the african nannys had their own thing going on, the few other American moms gave me the distinct cold shoulder for not being a mom/being a baby-sitter, and then! Then one day I had a friendly conversation, and it was with a Canadian. And it was the only friendly conversation I ever had, ever, with a stranger in the 16th. Even the guy who worked at the market scoffed at me and had a panic attack when I dared touch an avocado (sorry dude, in my neighborhood I was allowed to judge the avocados myself).

      I thought it would be easy for "my" girl to have fun at the park, after all, she was 3, who really needs that much language? but I swear to god, I think she picked up on the same class divide that I had.

      The only time an american mom approached me to chat was to tell me that really, the girl shouldn't still be wearing diaper (she wore pull-ups - she had been potty trained but had recently been having a lot of accidents lately that her mom attributed a bit to the stress of the move). Thanks, bitch.

      sorry, this was long. I could just so clearly relate to this post and your story. And I do love this blog. Also, god bless Canadians.

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    2. @Deb - I'm sure! Every time I meet a Canadian here, they are always so fun and really funny! You guys don't get nearly as much credit for your wit! ; )

      Hi Tamara! Thank you so much for commenting and for being a long-time reader! Wow, your story. What an intense arrangement you had signed up for! Did the little girl ever finally get a grasp on either English or Spanish...or perhaps French? What was the outcome on that?

      It's funny that you write, the only time you were spoken to was to be corrected, I had a similar experience where one of the moms spoke to me because she had assumed that I did not understand French and was translating for me.

      Thank you again Tamara, for commenting! Please chat more often! : )

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    3. yes, the little girl made big improvements. Spanish was always going to be her native language even if she was rebelling against it, and her English started to improve dramatically (you could tell she understood both perfectly). it was fascinating to watch her develop, and the "gibberish" language she invented was just a bit of lashing out - like wetting her pants, the girl was confused and probably a bit lonely and cold (paris in the winter = not the same as mexico in the winter). The coldness that characterizes many Parisians (especially those in the 16th) is as opposite from the warmness of Mexicans as you can get (I've lived in Mexico as well).

      I think the family eventually moved to Switzerland and I stopped working for them, but they were really great. They obviously had a bunch of money, but were incredibly down to earth and very loving toward each other.

      I really did develop a hatred on the 16th after that job though.

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  3. AnonymousJuly 08, 2013

    .. sounds like a good opp to sketch people!

    I'm not surprised about the American moms.. I went to one expat American group (last year's July 4th picnic) and my bf and I was shunned by all (it was like pulling-teeth to make conversation) but one really down-to-earth American woman (and this was not a mom group.. but one was a mom and was horrible..) ...(upon entering the picnic, we were asked in a rude way what we were doing there/ how we found on about a highly publicized expat American group...). "Adults" ...Fellow anglophones on THIS side of the pond have been the friendliest so far! ...anyway.. can't believe that they thought you popped out that many children!

    So unfortunate about the divisions :\

    I'm glad your teaching/babysitting is finally over! I know what you mean by changing careers paths while in France..! I'm teaching adults.. so no babysitting for me. Very challenging though as it is so hard for them to grasp the language..and some of the material is really technical (like English for Accounting.. etc) eek!

    Bonnes vacances !!! Any plans for far?


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    1. Hey D!

      Yeah, I find many of these get-togethers hit or miss. Sometimes you meet some fantastic people and sometimes they just fall flat. I can't believe they were like questioning your attendance, like what were you doing there??

      Who knew teaching English would be so challenging!! Things that seem so obvious are so not when you don't know. Remember the first few months learning French? Nightmare, right? I was like "a sphincter says what??"...NOTHING made sense!

      Yes, we're going back to the US for a bit, how about you two? Any vacay?

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  4. Haha one of my best friends is the mom of a toddler and she writes a bunch of hilarious blog posts about her trips to the park and "mommy dating". It's sad but so true, some people never grow out of their clique-ishness and something about being a mother seems to bring out the inner judgmental demon in most women. At least you have the summer off now! I teach English in Korea and I still have to see my little monsters every day...

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    1. Hi Kaleena!

      I hope your friend has made some cool mom friends. Wow, didn't think it would be so dramatic. I thought it would be like "I have baby, you have baby, let's complain together!" Apparently not...good thing I don't want kids anytime soon. : )

      Thanks for commenting! Wait, no summer vacation in Korea???

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  5. Did I catch a Golden Girls reference? :)

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    1. You sure did!

      Hahahaaha good eye!! Must be a "Lisa thing"!

      Here you go for everyone else:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UvUaRrJoXpQ

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  6. You know what, scr*w those American moms and the strollers they rode in on. I bet they're super boring anyway.

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    1. YEAH! Forget them! The African nannies were way more cool, they laughed more!

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  7. I think these expats moms might feel threatened by you because, unlike them, you came to Paris all by your lonesome and are not financially-dependent on your husband.

    I had a similar experience in Finland with an Aussie waitress-turned-bored-housewife...;) A real piece of work and a model of phoniness to boot.

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    1. I don't think they knew my situation (or even cared to know). I think they thought I was like an au pair, in Paris for the year, not a married woman here for the long haul. If that is the case, I can understand them not bothering to chat...I suppose. Guess I'll find out next year!

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  8. Jillian F.July 10, 2013

    This doesn't really surprise me, MlleLLA! I have found that Americans are a little competitive with each other in Paris. I live down in the south and the expat community is nothing like what you all have going up in Paris!

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    1. Yes, I second Jillian's comment. While I was reading your post, I just kept thinking that this must be another country you're talking about!

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    2. Jillian - Hi! Thank you for commenting and welcome! You know I have heard this a few times from ladies who live in other parts of France, that the Paris expat scene is brutal. It took a while to find my niche, but the small crew I have now, was so worth the two year wait!

      Den nation - Paris is tough but I guess so is every major city! Making friends isn't easy but when you secure your group, it turns out to be worth the hassle. So apple picking in Prague, eh? That sounds like a fantastic opening to a novel! : )

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  9. Happy start of your summer vacation! I hope that you're enjoying the lovely weather and your days away from the playground. I look forward to catching up with you in person next week!

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    1. Thanks MK! It feels good to be off. I have so much free time! I need to be on vacation more often...oh wait, I work within the French school year, I'm always on vacation..what am I talking about?

      See you next week! Can't wait!!

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  10. I'm not at all surprised! Enjoy your summer holidays :o)

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