A friend recently recounted a meal she’d had with a friend of hers and her 10 and 14 year old children in Paris. Somewhat disguised to protect their anonymity, here is what she wrote me:
“We went to [Resto X], thankfully because these were NOT foodies. No one wanted a first course, the kids were constantly up and down from the table and couldn’t sit still, the little girl didn’t want anything at all and sulked, and the other kid only wanted mashed potatoes. Thankfully there were only a few tables so we didn't bother anyone. Can you imagine if I had taken them to something more sophisticated?”
“Unless kids are brought up to eat out, I really don't think it's a great idea to take them to restaurants in Paris. I'm sure these kids are angels in the States, but they are just not used to dining. To tell you the truth; the parents weren't either despite the fact that they are educated folks! In the States it seems like people go out just to eat, not to dine. I hate that.”
I sympathize with that view and indeed am annoyed when unruly kids interrupt my meal. However, I have also had a very different experience with others and my own kids and grandkids which probably fits into my friend’s distinction between “eating” and “dining.”
Maybe it’s just luck, but for years I’ve been seeing huge family gatherings at lunch on Sundays in rural France and never have experienced raised voices, even with the increasing wine consumption and decibel level inside the restaurant. European, especially French kids, just seem to know what’s appropriate.
My wife Colette and I always took our kids to eat with us, granted it was easier at Chinese or Italian places near where we lived on Manhattan’s West Side than at fancy French places downtown. But there was an expectation, totally unstated, that eating out was different from eating at home in some respects but not in others. We expected the same manners, lack of whining, not getting up from the table, etc but had allowed more leeway regarding having stickers, coloring books and other diversionary items if we knew we’d be dining for hours. And we clearly stated that one must use “restaurant voices.”
More recently, we hosted one of our daughters and her two very young children for several months in Paris. I decided I was not going to change my habit of eating out at luncheon and would ask each day who wanted to join me, stating where I was going and what sort of food would be served. It was a cinch at first, with classical French places like Bouclard and La Marlotte, where they often brought over sliced salami as an amuse gueule and chocolate mousse or ice cream for dessert, without being asked. But what pleased and astonished me was eating at places like Huitrier, where the 2 ½ year old grand-daughter was game to try the bulots and oysters and always liked the food we both ordered or shared with her. (The second child then was a wee babe, content to sleep in her stroller after the schlep to the resto and drink water – we did not offer soft-drinks.)
Now, truth be told, we did keep the 2 ½ year old amused by helping her create and utilize a “restaurant kit” filled with crayons and paper (in case the restaurant had none, which surprisingly, many did) as well as stickers and small “picture books.” And, we always felt welcome, whether in a brasserie, bistro or gastro-resto. Not one frown from a waiter – ever.
So in addition to my friend’s very apt comment on American kids having experience with “eating” but not “dining,” I think eating out with children so they don’t drive you and neighboring tables bats, also involves habits, expectations, eagerness to please, preparation for diversion and cultural differences.
As usual, here are the addresses I like:
16, rue de Saussier-Leroy, 17th (Metro : Ternes)
T : 01.40.54.83.44
Closed Sundays and Mondays (but changes with the season)
Cost depends on number and size of oysters.
* Originally published in August 2006