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November 16, 2012

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frances aka materfamilias

Such a thoughtful, honest, and moving post -- the other side of the coin for all of us who romanticize your life in Paris. Having seen you in your teahouse, several years ago, I would hever have guessed this. You seem so fluently bilingual, culturally integrated, and, above all, someone that any other mother would want to get to know. I can only imagine that these mothers feel threatened by you, somehow, rather than actively disliking you in any way. Still, even that distinction would hardly be comforting, especially during those parenting years when another mom's friendship is so important.
I hope that your natural warmth and obvious intelligence and charm gradually win you some Parisian mom friends. Meanwhile, they don't know what they're missing! And thanks for writing the truth, as it was today . . .

k_sam

Oh, I'm sorry Aimee. This post sums up perfectly the way I felt in Bretagne, minus the kid factor. Always being the "américaine" that no one wanted to talk to or be seen with (plus the judgement that comes along with it). It was a very lonely time for me indeed.

My experience in Paris has been so different from my early years in France that I thought those kinds of mentalities were just a country thing, but I guess not. :(

Aimee

Sam -

I find that the routine we live in is very much like living in a small town. My daily routine revolves around pretty much a 6 block radius. The families that go to the school where Max and Alixe go live around the school. L'OisiveThé is in this neighborhood so it is for many of them their tea house to go to for tea, brunch, etc... Our kids play in the same parks. I see the same people everyday very much like living in small town. We petitioned for a change of school district for the kids so they could go to the school near the tea house instead of the school near our apt. Sometimes I wonder if things would be the same if we had the kids going to the district near our apartment instead of the one by the tea house. I don't know... are these woman liket his because I own the tea house near the school? They see me everyday on my bike, speaking English, knitting and doing things they don't do... am I that hard to relate to? I guess so.

Ninotchka

Aww, this breaks my heart, Aimee. I don't understand the childish behavior of adults either and believe you me, you're not alone in this. I feel like when people behave that way, no matter their cultural backgrounds and situations is because they find something lacking within themselves. I hate to over-simplify but it's like I tell my kids: Happy people aren't mean to others. Something about you rubs them the wrong way, perhaps you should be flattered! :) I spend more time than I care to admit trying to figure out the errant behavior of others. People sometimes really do shock the hell out of me. Many hugs to you, sweetie.

melinda

my daughter finds it very hard to make french girlfriends (she is married to a parisian) and about to have a bebe....I am sorry to hear about your experience...there's no excuse for the actions and comments of those "adults"

Aimee

Melinda, perhaps your daughters needs to come to L'OisiveThé for a cup of tea with a normal mama in Paris. :) There are no excuses... but they keep doing it. Just gotta take the high road I guess... so hard though.

Jiwon

I sympathize Aimee! I go through the same thing here in Montreal. I am anglophone and a minority in a French speaking nouveau riche neighborhood. I am completely ignored at any type of gathering of mothers (whether at school, after school activities, and birthdays), and many make the effort to avoid looking in my direction even though our kids are friends. I do the best I can to ignore it, not let it bother me, and just focus my energies on my kids and my other English speaking friends. It's a real shame people are like this, but I'm not about to make it my business to change them. If someone does happen to speak to me, I politely say hello and whatever else in my broken French, and move on. I've long given up in trying to make friends through these people, it simply isn't worth my happiness to linger on their negativity. I hope things eventually get better for you there, do a girls night out with your girlfriends to cheer you up. In fact, my gf's and I are doing one tonight!

S. J. Pajonas

Big hugs, Aimee. God, I really wish my friends were not scattered across the globe. We would all have a really kickin' community if we all lived close to each other :) The thing is that this is so common, even here. I moved to this neighborhood in NJ and will probably be considered an outsider for quite some time. I haven't made any friends here yet, either, and I wonder if anyone even has the same interests as I do! I'm sorry to hear especially about the the two mothers who were rude to you IN YOUR OWN TEASHOP. That is very inexcusable on so many levels.

Marion

Hi Aimee,

This is such a moving post and I totally get what you're saying. I'm French but lived in London for seven years. I had moments like the ones you describe back in the UK feeling like I was judged as a mother by other women (because I bottle fed my son after, God forbid, only 2 months of breastfeeding; because I went back to work full time after 6 months, instead of taking a whole year of maternity leave....). Cultural differences which completely disappeared, when they were taken with a pinch of salt by both sides as we started to become friends.

Interestingly, we moved back to France a year ago to Haute-Savoie - I felt like a complete alien at first in this mountain and rural environment, not understanding the "social codes" of the school gate here. I'm still learning every day - and I'm sure some of the Mums still find me odd and will stop at "Bonjour".

So even in my own country, I feel different but I also feel so grateful for having had the chance to experience different cultures - with the good and the less good that goes with it!!

Keep your chin Aimee and those French mums are missing out, they really are!!

xxx

Wu

Hi Aimee,

I happened upon your blog a few weeks back and have spent quite some time reading it.. so I suppose you can say I'm your lurker or maybe silent reader.. :)
But this post, I have to comment.. I can relate so much.
I am an Asian mother raising my son in midwestern USA. (In St. Louis, Missouri.. and you're from Kansas, yes? :)) I do feel quite lucky for the most part that the American mothers that I've met are friendly and non judgemental. In the past however, I have been a part of a play group of stay at home mothers and in that group I felt most judged by the other moms. I don't know if it's quite similar to your experience, but I feel like something about me must have rubbed them the wrong way. I am not sure.. but I stopped going after a few play dates because I got tired of feeling down everytime afterwards. I also find it rather difficult to make new mom friends. Only recently I have found a few American moms that I am able to relate to and have pleasant conversations with. I asked a new friend about this difficulty and she answered, "perhaps you are intimidating, because you are coming from a different culture?" I suppose that makes a little sense.. though I don't think it answers the whole question.. There is hope for us all foreign mamas in foreign land.. :)

UmmAhmad

It sounds like middle school all over again! Popular girls spending all their time and energy taunting the people they consider beneath them. Those women are clearly attracted to something about you if they are showing up at your teahouse. But, from what you have said, they don't really sound like people you want as friends. Today their attitude hit you the wrong way. But don't let it get you down. Their actions are a reflection of them, not you.

Lisa, a.k.a. The Bold Soul

Wow, you really did get blindsided by those bitchy French moms, that's for sure. And you definitely don't deserve that.

Try to remember this: the attitude of those two women and any other French parents you've met to this point who are cold, distant and judgmental? That attitude is all about THEM and THEIR insecurities, it actually has nothing whatsoever to do with YOU. As you said, they don't know you, AT ALL. So their judging you? Is about their own issues.

I don't really have any close French friends either; the one I am friendly with was our neighbor at Georges' old house and she's half Canadian and speaks fluent English, so I think she's an exception. The parents of our youngest are always friendly to me when our paths cross (usually when picking up/dropping off for play dates) but I never get invited out to coffee or anything, and I don't invite them either because I feel there is some sort of social boundary with the French that I, as the outsider, am not at liberty to cross first. I read a lot of books about the cultural differences before I came here and they all say the same thing: French women are EXTREMELY competitive, about pretty much everything. Yes, I know there will always be exceptions, but if this generalization is true (and I think it is), then the reactions of the women you're encountering is about their competitiveness. Maybe they are actually jealous because you have this delightful business as well as a loving husband and two kids who adore you. Maybe their husbands aren't as involved in their family life. Maybe they wish THEY had a life outside of the house, like you do.

Also, don't forget the French are highly critical. They get criticized in school and in childhood and then they become critical themselves as adults. It's endemic. And they can't possibly criticize THEMSELVES, now can then? So who's an easy target? La Maman Américaine, of course.

Maybe you need to tell those 2 women they should find another place to have tea. They must actually LIKE your food and tea or they wouldn't bother going there (unless they only go there to boost their own sagging egos) but do you really need their business?

Anyway, I know it's hard and sometimes lonely here, the French are family-oriented and they don't easily welcome new people into their social circles. People like you and me (i.e., foreigners) might never really have close friendships with any French women, the way we would if we were on familiar turf. We'll always be just a little bit different to them, no matter how long we're here. I agree it can be lonely, I feel the same way especially lately as a couple of my friends have left Paris recently.

But there are so many other good things about living here and luckily we DO have our own friends (like each other). And believe me, you're an amazing mom and a successful business owner and you've got everything going for you in your life. Those women? Are just pathetic. Don't waste your time or energy on people like that, seriously.

Cut 'em off. They can get tea someplace else.

Lisa, a.k.a. The Bold Soul

And if you're not quite willing to ask them to leave, then the next time they come in with that attitude or with their kids destroying everything, I think you need to dish the bitchiness right back in their direction. Give as good as you get. Someone said to me only yesterday that they feel that the French don't respect "niceness" as much as they do someone who can hold their ground in a confrontation. Maybe that's true of these two women. You don't really want or need their respect, but for the sake of a "social experiment" it would be interesting to see if their attitude would change over time if you were just as cold and judgmental BACK. Like, if they start implying you're a bad mother, you could say something like, "Oh, I feel that it's the mark of a good, secure parent when you can encourage your kids to be a little independent and have activities outside of our home. I'M not someone who need to have my kids under my thumb all day long. I'm not that controlling."

Yeah. They'll get the hint. Just work up a few really great bitchy retorts and you'll be fine. Even if they don't change, you'll feel SO much better. Hit 'em where it hurts, babe. :) After all, they've got the nerve to come and insult you in your own "home" (your business is like your home, and they've been indescribably rude to you -- which you might ALSO point out to them). So they deserve whatever you can sling back in their direction.

Cass

Hi Aimee,
I've been following you for a while because I feel like we have so much in common. I would love to live in France, my grandmother lives in Kansas, and I have 3 young children. I really feel for you with the other mothers. I live in the very small town where I grew up, but I feel the exact same way. When I take the kids to school or pre-school most of the moms are chatting away and don't even acknowledge me. Even the moms of my kids best friends. People think small towns are so friendly, but I feel so lonely here too.
On a side note, I think I found your blog through Andi's, or the other way around. Is she still around? I miss reading her blog.
Take care

Ashley

I think that it is interesting that Sam had this issue in Brétagne, as for me, here near Metz, I've found this aspect a lot less then when we lived in/near Paris. I've actually had a few Mama and kiddo playdates, (ok, with the same Mom, but still counts, right?) and most of the Moms I see at the maternelle have been quite nice. I also think that my expectations have lowered though, and I'm content with a bit of small chatter. I often see facebook posts from old friends in the US about music classes, walks in the park etc, which isn't a reality here, but I guess this is part of the trade off.

Keep your chin up.

g

amiee-i am neither a mom, nor a knitter or a expat or a business owner-yet i return daily to read about your super interesting and inspiring life-i do not comment often only one other time, but it is a MUST today-like your other readers, i think you stir something that is lacking in those 2 french women and they retaliate in a passive-0aggressive manner or just ill mannered for that matter-your only crime is being you-i know it is of little comfort but i admire all that you do and the mom/person you are- i am sure having been "home" recently and lack of sleep preparing for the trade show has added an extra layer-take comfort in the arms of your best friend -your husband- and the loving arms of your beautiful children and finally in the loving arms of your cyber "friends"-hold your ground when they return and stay true to who and what you are-you haven't accomplished all you have by any other means- sincerely hope it gets better and that you kick ass at the show-

phillippa

Out this way, we've actually made some parent-friends that we do things with now and then. I'm pretty close with two of them and see them often. They're quite open, but I've noticed that several of them have international inputs in their lives, whether it's work, travel, or being born elsewhere, even if they're french, etc. A small handful of others can't even be bothered to say hello, even though our boys play together every.day at school, and then afterschool at the park. They've come to Max's birthday party. We KNOW each other. I've come to the conclusion that it ain't my problem, so I look past them, too. Honestly, we've come too far (literally) and given up too much (literally) to be bothered by this handful of people when our lives has been so enriched by our experiences. It's hurtful, yes. Of course, but it's a malfunction in them. They can't help it. You've come a very long way - owning a business a France is tough, and here's an American gal doing it - doing it WELL and making the French news. What's not to hate about you, if you're a hating type? ;)

meg

Hey hun, I just want to thank you for your post. I'm glad that you shared this because, as ridiculous as it sounds, it only furthers in my mind that we are leading parallel lives. Here I am, in the states, and American. I live in a *very* high cost of living area where it seems that the most common characteristic that many of these moms share is how pretentious they are. No matter how much I talk with them, I never feel like I am getting any closer to them. No matter how much I talk, or how little I talk, or how much I smile, or how little I smile, or how much I compliment them or their kids... I feel like I am getting nothing in return but judgement. I know it doesn't make it any easier me telling you all of this, but I do want to say that you aren't alone with how you feel, and unfortunately the way that they treated you is not isolated only to where you are. I feel alone... a lot. It is hard, very hard. Sometimes I think to myself, why is it that the only *awesome* relationships I can seem to make are with bloggers or photographers online who live on the other side of the country or the other side of the world? And my husband has said that it is because even though I am capable of having hundreds and hundreds of friends, I only have a few people who I consider close. I value these relationships and hold them to a high standard. I respect the women who I call "friend" and truly mean it because *those* are the women who respect and value me in return.

So, to bring it to a basic level, screw them. The people who consider you "the American mom." Ugh. Makes me want to scream. Next time you see them, let them know that there are plenty of women in New Jersey who consider me "the young artsy one" (and not in a good way) who I am sure they could get along great with. They can talk about how obnoxious and stuck up *we* are.

Another thing, I really do feel bad for them. Because it makes you wonder about the foundation of all of their relationships. If that is all they have to give... anger, jugement, etc... they certainly are limiting themselves. Will they ever understand and experience how beautiful friendship can be?

Mary Anne

My darling Aimee....

Ahhh, it sucks sometimes to know you are so far from home..when all I want to do is hug you and let our children play. Yep, other mom's can sometimes really suck. Even here at home...we live in a fairly affluent section of town that people call West O...and boy howdee! Do those West Omaha Mommies have a reputation for being all judgmental and rude and hoity toity...! I have found after many years as a mom, and a teacher(servant) to those moms that it is often their insecurities and just plain bad manners that show when they behave badly. You just have to find your group, your niche...and let the others float around the perimeter. Be yourself, and be confident...you are a strong Osbourn woman...they are just jealous of that! ;)
(and, yes, I can imagine from some vague memories of childhood that your mom felt the same way...and I know sometimes those snotty Olathe moms were rude to my mom too...because she had to work outside the home when we were growing up.)
love you,
Mary Anne

Arianna

I completely agree with Lisa. I think they are envious of a happy woman who owns her own business and also has a very happy family life, and by being judgemental of you they are showing their own inadequacies and insecurities. Behaving badly at your place of business is completely unacceptable and you should be strong and show them the door! Its one thing if they are bitchy at the school gate, but in your tea house it's your territory so to speak and you can give them a taste of their own medicine. Perhaps rudeness is the only language they really understand.

I don't understand the very complicated school gate politics of any country but in my experience of living as an expat in London, I have also felt frustrated and alone over the years as American confidence and independence are definitely not the English way. But I have also learned to embrace it and not apologize for it because it has made me who I am and really, it's my life to live how I choose. The life you have made in Paris is remarkable and if the French mama-mafia can't relate to you then just hold tighter the close friends you have who understand and appreciate you. You really don't need people like that in your life. Just try and hold your own against the bitchy ones and try your best with the nicer ones...much like high school, it won't last forever. :)

Big hugs xx

mindy

Aimee, I don't think I have ever commented here, but your post today really moved me. I can only imagine what that all must feel like. For what it's worth, I have read your blog for many years, and I check back regularly to catch up on your lovely life and family in Paris. I absolutely adore your tea shop, and could only dream to create such a place. Your children are so cute. I don't know what else to write, so I'll just say Happy Thanksgiving! You are amazing. ~mindy

Mamilo

Dear Aimee, I was very sorry to read this and I apologize for my "compatriotes". Those women were in fact envying you because they had nothing better to do than hang around and criticize people while you have a nice and successful business to run and your kids are very well taken care of. Don't let this get on to you. You're my hero!

Mabel

*hugs*

I emphathize. My daughter has been going to ecole maternelle since September and I'm one of the Asian mother who stays long enough to chat with the teacher. The other one is always late and zips off really fast plus she speaks Chinese and I don't. It has been months and while I say hi to everyone else, it would seem that I'm very much an outsider. Mind you, I live in a small town so I guess it's normal that I'm the oddball out. Took me a year to find another English speaking mum and she's been staying here for 5 years and counting!

Don't feel like you owe these women an explanation because you don't. How you care for your children is your business not theirs. And yes, sometimes you have to give it back to people as mentioned earlier...to hell with being rude, you can say you're just honest! :)

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