The other week I introduced my son to colleagues during our Christmas lunch. He was not the only newborn in the room as our team seems to have undergone a baby boom lately, like most of the UK. There were three of them, plus a heavily pregnant colleague who could almost have delivered in front of our bemused eyes...
The debrief of that day was really insightful. Not only were my colleagues hypnotised by my son's charming smile, but they all reported an interesting fact: "he looks so French". That statement puzzled me. What does it mean? Obviously he has a French passport, two French parents, a lot of sex appeal, and he shrugs every now and then. But what would make him stand out as French from a crowd of three babies who, you would expect, looked like... well, babies?
Spot the difference.
I must admit that every now and then I play a similar game in public transportation. I spot an individual and try to identify its origin by the look, attitude, posture or body language. And I am pretty good at it. There are so many little hints here and there about where you are from. A little red mapple leaf flag sewed on your backpack, you are certainly Canadian. Waving hands, aren't you Italian? Too perfect a white smile and you are probably from the States, the West coast even. You wear flip-flops and a t-shirt whilst it is snowing outside, you are probably Australian, unless these are not flip-flops but sandals, then you may be from Newcastle.
My son does not walk around with a baguette under his arm yet. And his body language is pretty limited at his age, although he is very good with his hands which might make him a good footballer at some point. So it must be due to some of he dresses up. In France we have an idiom that says that the robe does not make the monk. But maybe the outfit makes the French...
We have indeed said a few times that our son wears "French baby clothes", as if that was a type of fashion. We struggled to get that point with my wife, until we looked at buying baby stuff in the UK. You must admit that the offering is quite limited once you have removed the cheezy, fluffy and over-functional clothes. For instance, I would probably not let my son wander around in a Manchester United red overall. If there is something I have learned it is that you must never compromise on style. So he will have to wear stuff I would be proud to wear myself. He is after all a little one, but a boy before all. So why put him through the pain of looking bad, when he could look good?
That might be the parents' attitude then that is at stake in the above-mentioned judgement. Maybe our son looks French, because we raise him as one despite our efforts to blend in. Arthur ought to be boy that values good-looking style, good food, good wine, good manners... And good company.
On that hereditary note, I wish you all a Merry Christmas and an Happy New Year. We are flying back to France to see if his cousins think that our son is "so British"!
To read further:
"You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you're finished, you'll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird... So let's look at the bird and see what it's doing -- that's what counts. I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something."
Richard Feynman (1918 - 1988)