Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Birthday Party of the Rich

My daughter had another birthday party today. I was a bit apprehensive as I approached the building. It was smack in the middle of a number of Embassies. I can only imagine the real estate costs here.

I enter the building and am told by another mother dropping off a classmate that even though she'd hold the door open, I must wait for the host to buzz up the elevator. To get up to the top three floors, you must have a key or the host needs to "call" the elevator once you are inside.

I've been going to the school for many years and am there often -- usually four times a day to drop the kids off, pick up my daughter for lunch and then drop her off and then pick up both kids at the end of school. I had NEVER seen this mother before. I told her that I was very sorry, but I had to stay at the party with my daughter (my son was at a friend's house). She asked if that was really necessary, and right on cue, my daughter started crying at the prospect of me leaving. So the host let me stay.

For all the money this woman clearly had, it didn't buy any manners. She did not offer me a drink, a common courtesy (it's not like I thought she'd get it for me herself). I know it's not ideal to have this mother hanging around (although she didn't see me much because the mother hung out with a friend in the kitchen and the hired help stayed with me at the party), but really, she could have been a little welcoming.

I sat on a nearby couch and read a book and sometimes looked around at the apartment. It was separated into four floors (the private interior staircase and elevator were just off the living room where the party was held. Everything was perfectly placed with a minimalist look in the living room. The mother came out for the cake cutting and took pictures. She promptly left again.

This particular clown/princess/animator company ran a number of games at the party, which is not usual. I couldn't believe two kids, including the party boy, had to pick teams. There was a girl captain and a boy captain. My daughter was the first girl pick for the birthday boy and she was happy about that. However, one petite, shy little girl was the last to get picked. I felt bad for her! It truly was a popularity contest.

At the end, the animator put the birthday boy on some mahogany chest while the children sat on the couch waiting to give their gifts. After most of the gifts were open, the mother came out and nearly had a fit that her son was sitting on some priceless piece of furniture. She shouts for the hired help to get a proper chair and starts brushing off the cabinet looking for scratches. I guess even the rich have their worries....

-- said Auntie M in Paris
9:10 PM



first of all, i'd LOVE to visit that apartment! i had a similar experience with my kids a couple of months ago. the clown, the games, everything. a week later, i got a note and a picture taken at the party from the birthday girl's mother saying how sorry she was for not being the polite host she should have been. i had been left alone during 2 hours at the party.

# posted by irene : 10:38 PM  

haha -- "down here" in my "quartier populaire" I host my birthday parties, and I AM the hired help...(I dress up and everything !) I can't imagine doing a party for my kids and NOT being completely into it, but I think that's American. At first, most parents were kind of wary when they came to pick their kids up and I opened the door dressed as a Dalmatian.... I have an apartment that is probably the size of that woman's bathroom (80 sq. m !) and last year for my son's 6th birthday party -- I had 15 kids, and 3 moms who asked if they could stay -- the more the merrier. I had carefully covered my light couch with a dark sheet (bought specifically for b-day parties)... what a shame that money can't buy manners... next year, you can come to MY kids bday parties and you're more than welcome to stay -- you'll even get a cup with your name on it for your drink !

# posted by Magillicuddy : 11:05 PM  

Oh my god!!!
You mean to tell me that:
1. She didn't offer you a drink
2. She didn't participate in her kid's birthday party
3. She was in a different room as you talking to what must of been another mother.


# posted by Magabe : 11:05 PM  

What a biatch!

# posted by Anonymous : 11:24 PM  

According to several books I've read that talk about the cultural differences between the French and, well, pretty much every other westernized country -- the rudeness of this host mother probably isn't that unusual. Socially, the French place a different emphasis on things when hosting parties, and they don't warm up to strangers easily, which perhaps explains why she stayed in the kitchen with someone she was comfortable talking to. And perhaps she was taken aback by the need for another mother to stay (which is very common in the States). Nonetheless, bad manners are still inexcusable. I don't blame you for feeling "snubbed".

# posted by Lisa : 1:00 AM  

I agree with all the previous comments.
I would think offering a cup of water would be globally considered a nice thing to do.

I feel sorry for her kid, being reprimanded at his own birthday.

# posted by BohemianMama : 5:21 AM  

Irene, I don't expect a note from this woman!
Magillicuddy, Personally, I like being the hired help at parties too, but I found it difficult to take pictures! I never have any pictures of my kids parties. This year I hired someone for the kids birthdays. Hopefully, I'll have some pictures! You sound like you create some great parties... I'd love to take notes!
Magabe, It's not like this was my first time staying at a party... her behavior was really surprising. I don't think it was another mother... I knew all the other mothers from my child's class. Very strange.
CMAC, Once the French mothers came to pick up the kids she was friendly with them. Maybe it was just me and my needy child that bothered her.
Lisa, I really have been to many, many parties and I always get offered a drink of water, at least. It's not like I want to stay at someone else's kids party. I so wanted to leave and check out Cidre Rouge, which was close by.
BM, The mother reprimanded the boy quietly and grabbed his arm to pull him off the furniture. I don't think anyone else noticed. I'm sure he knows he isn't supposed to sit on (or touch?) the furniture.

# posted by Auntie M in Paris : 8:07 AM  

Heavens! What a horrid woman! Ahh...the pecularities of the rich and LAME-ous! hahahahhaa!

# posted by rowena : 8:23 AM  

What a nightmare! This sounds less like 'a Day in Paris' and more like 'A Day in the Twilight Zone'!!!

# posted by Nyx : 10:03 AM  

The boy may know he is not allowed to sit on the furniture, but I highly doubt that any kid would refuse the directions of an adult (the animator), especially in the middle of a party, and say, "Oh no. I'm not to sit on that. Please give me a chair."

Magillicuddy - 80m²?? In my book, you're damn well-off! :-)

Actually, I've found it rather common (amongst both the French and the Americans) to sit for a looong time without being offered a drink.

Sorry you had such an unfun time. I'm sure there's a reason behind your dd's feelings of insecurity when it comes to these parties. For example, it may have happened that she didn't understand instructions on what to do or how to play a game. She may just be someone who likes "home." I, for example, always had a really hard time at birthday parties, expecially overnights. The reason I created was that I was worried about my mom being without me!

# posted by RighteousBiche : 11:03 AM  

Rowena and Nyx, It was a bit weird -- especially since I was sitting next to the nanny and everytime a crumb dropped to the floor she rushed to pick it up. She'd keep very busy in my home!
RB, Welcome back! Good to hear from you. You are correct. Of course, the child will listen to an adult.. the animator. It may very well be typical not to be offered a drink, but it hasn't been my experience in my part of Paris in the last 5 years. My daughter is generally fine one-on-one with friends, but she gets overwhelmed with groups of people... like at parties. I'm sure she'll outgrow this stage, but I feel bad that she gets so upset in these situations with friends she knows so well.

# posted by Auntie M in Paris : 11:26 AM  

That's a bit ridiculous. Why have furniture if you aren't going to use it? My mom used to be that way about a few of our pieces of furniture, but she came around.

I would certainly feel snubbed if I had been in that situation, but I suppose the mother didn't feel that anything was wrong with what she was doing.

On a different note, I wish I could see that apartments. Four floors?!

# posted by Sophie : 1:14 PM  

Thanks. Life is interesting back here.

That's why I think it could be something to with parties, in themselves. I'm just wondering if something happened once, or if she feels some kind of pressure to perform or something.

I didn't mean that it's typical. I meant that it's common in a derogative way. I'm always surprised by the number of times I am not offered a drink.

Anyway, she was rude.

# posted by RighteousBiche : 2:15 PM  

Just a note to say that my parents (french, both) always animated my b-day parties... ALWAYS organized all the games around the house, and play with the kids...
They never dressed up; but defintely always were part of the fun!!!

# posted by Magabe : 2:49 PM  

Pilar, It's always fun to check out other people's apartments. Especially, like yesterday, when the host has some wonderful taste in art.
RB, My daughter is really shy generally around anyone outside of the immediate family. But she doesn't stop talking when it's just me.
Magabe, Your parents sound great. It's easy to generalize, but I certainly don't mean to imply that all French or all Americans are one way or the other. I love living in France and have met many wonderful people who I hope will be life long friends.

# posted by Auntie M in Paris : 3:56 PM  

Oh my goodness! What a post! It was like reading one of those can't-put-it-down books!

# posted by Oz : 3:57 PM  

// I'm sure he knows he isn't supposed to sit on (or touch?) the furniture.//

We're in "Spinal Tap" territory here - you know, he probably isn't even allowed to look at it!

# posted by Iain : 5:10 PM  

Hi Auntie !

It's a different culture and I must admit that I am puzzled indeed. (smile) Perhaps I'm missing something here.

I don't like to criticize but had this happened in _any_ 100% French family in my experience (by 100% French I mean a French mother and a French father), the invited child and the mother-who-wanted-to-stay without having made arrangements beforehand (i.e., warning the receiving mother prior to arrival) would have politely been asked to go away so as not to "ruin the party" or "upset the plans". Mothers most assuredly do not accompany children to birthday parties unannounced, period. It is a huge breach of etiquette.

Why didn't you simply tell the mother beforehand ? A quick phone call or a handwritten note delivered prior to the party, say ?

As a general rule, under the very best of circumstances, French people don't like to be faced with a fait accompli. They _hate_ the unexpected. (smile – the phrase "C'est pas normal" covers a whole lot of ground.) This party was obviously stressful for the mother. She probably thinks _you_ were rude by "imposing" yourself. If she let you hang around there with the hired help (obviously incompetent or frightened to death of her, by the way: they should've put a chair in the right place without having to be told !), with no refreshment, she was sending you a crystal clear message: that's as sure as little apples. That "rudeness" was planned, have no doubt of it.

Hopefully you're keeping a detailed record of all the b_parties your children are going to, so that when their b_day rolls around they can invite back those kids who invited them. "Le renvoi de l'ascenseur" ("sending the elevator back") is absolutely crucial in the case of French b_parties.(smile)

Rereading the above, I guess I must sound like some nightmarish version of Anne Landers. (wide smile). Sorry. No offense intended. I'm just perplexed.


# posted by L'Amerloque : 6:26 PM  

Oz, Thanks!
Iain, Hello. What a nice surprise getting a message from my fellow Paris blogger! Thanks for your comment.

# posted by Auntie M in Paris : 6:34 PM  

i'm a little perplexed. maybe one could replace "french" with "parisian." both of my parents are 100% french, born and raised in southwestern france and although i was raised primarily in the united states, there was never one time ever that my parents didn't invite someone into their home and offer them a cup of coffee. had my mother hosted the party, she would have dragged you into the kitchen, served you up a cup of coffee and chatter your ear off. and this is the same for almost every french relation i have -- including those who live in france. maybe it's a class thing.

# posted by maryse : 6:51 PM  

Hi Maryse !

>>one could replace "french"
>>with "parisian."

Of course ! Parisian and, perhaps, "très seizieme". (smile) It might even be generational, not just a "class" thing. In the latter case, though, I think the rude hostess should be reminded of "noblesse oblige" (smile)

L'Amerloque, ala "Anne Landaires"

# posted by L'Amerloque : 7:11 PM  

This post has been removed by the author.

# posted by Auntie M in Paris : 7:13 PM  

L'A, Thank you for your insight... I must tell you that I wanted to tell this woman I would be coming with my daughter, but she was very abrupt with me on the phone. My French isn't great in person, but I sometimes speak even worse on the phone and was having a hard time with her. She didn't give me any opportunity to tell her, she wanted me off the phone toute suite. I could have called back, but dreaded the idea.
Maryse, So often I'm told my experiences are more Parisian then French. My sister's life in the south of French is very different and much more easy going.

# posted by Auntie M in Paris : 7:19 PM  

Hi Auntie M. The mother sounds vile. I hope the children don't grow up the same way although sadly the odds are not in their favour with that sort of parental example. It sounds like a really unpleasant experience.

# posted by franchini : 9:01 PM  

Hi Auntie M. The mother sounds vile. I hope the children don't grow up the same way although sadly the odds are not in their favour with that sort of parental example. It sounds like a really unpleasant experience.

# posted by franchini : 9:01 PM  

I think rude is rude in any country (or arrondissement as the case may be). She could have at least offered you a glass of water!

I would be tempted to telephone her again just to ask if I'd caused offense (of course thereby making light of the fact that she offended you and was a royal b*iatch as CMAC so rightly put it) The trouble is she is probably living in her own little world and won't even bat an eyelash about your call. But I'd just have to do something petty like that!

I don't agree that you should have called first! I mean c'mon it's a CHILD'S BIRTHDAY PARTY not a State dinner for goodness sake!!!

# posted by chrisc : 9:03 PM  

wow! you let her have it! and so did everyone else! perhaps she is a little shy? perhaps she has trouble living the life she is living, with all the antiques staring at her every day. perhaps as some others have said, its a cultural difference. out of stupidity and the worry of the party comming off ok, she may have forgotten to offer some hospitality. i will offer a prayer for her along with one for the pope!

# posted by louie : 9:46 AM  

Hi M., this is the other Lisa, the one who lives right near where that birthday party took place. I don't have any particular take of my own on this that's different from all of your other respondents--and I think Amerloque is probably right on the money here, along with Louie who surmised that this mother is shy--reserved is perhaps a better word? Anyway, I especially find it interesting that your posts about these sorts of cultural differences attract so many comments.

# posted by Lisa : 3:28 PM  

Yay, blogger let me in to comment!

I can't believe the manners of that woman? Pffft! And the picking of teams, that made me heart hurt. I remember being conscious of that in grade school so that if I ever got to pick teams, I would pick the ones I knew would get picked last. That meant that I was hardly ever chosen to be captin due to my team picking skills. Oh well.

Did your daughter have a nice time?

# posted by Flare : 4:54 PM  

Franchini, Actually the child seems quite sweet, but I don't know him well.
Chrisc, Thanks for commenting. There is no way I'm calling this mother again!
Louie, The mother didn't seem shy, but maybe you are right. She seemed to get along with the other mothers when they came to pick up their kids. Maybe she felt awkward with my poor French skills.
Lisa, I was surprised too! You never know.

# posted by Auntie M in Paris : 11:35 PM  


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