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Le square français was the second post I wrote on this blog, but as I've spent a sunny spring afternoon on one again, I just have to share my enthusiasm once more.
After school, parents and grandparents in France as well as Norway, pick up their small children. Instead of going straight home, as is normally the case where I come from, many here spend an hour or so at the local playground before they go home to make dinner, several hours after the north European equivalent.
This is a square in Belleville, not so far away from the school where the Chinese grandfather was brutally brought in by the police a couple of days ago, when he came to pick up his two grandchildren after school. As the headmaster was also put in police custody for seven hours for protesting against the arrest, the brutality of Sarkozy’s measures against the sans-papiers has provoked such a widespread political debate that it has reached the election campaign. (For better of for worse…).
This playground in Belleville is the extreme opposite of Sarkozy’s election campaign – which has gone as far as proposing a Ministry for National Identity and Integration… – because here sheer coexistence exists. (A frequent critique I hear of Sarkozy, is that he divides the population, the outright opposite of the sought after vivre ensemble, living together). There is not one skin colour or hair colour missing here in the square – but as we are in Belleville, I hear almost as much Arabic as French amongst the parents, and a Swedish looking father was just saying Yalla! to his two blonde daughters. Judging from parents and children’s dressing – as well as behaviour to some extent – there is a thorough social mix as well.
It pleases me to see this mixed local community, but the phenomenon of coming together like this, of children and parents, on an ordinary Tuesday afternoon, just as part of the routine of everyday life, pleases me even more. It’s such a sociable, nice little everyday thing to do… Hanging around for unreasonably long time in whatever place on earth one can find to watching humans interact, is a habit I’ve inherited from my father (biologist, with interest in every aspect of nature). When I tell him about the French square (perhaps as an unconscious attempt to prepare him so he won’t be too surprised if I end up moving to France in order to provide a good growing up environment for my eventual children ), he asks me if I think it’s Mediterranean cultural trait. It might very well be, since in Greece and Spain as well, children, youth and grownups come together on public places and spend time side-by-side and together, long past sleeping time for Scandinavian children. But rather than being Mediterranean, I think actually that it’s the climate in Scandinavia making us standing out from most other societies in the world. (I think we can also include the Anglo-Americans to this. A survey I’ve heard cited on the radio here in France several times recently shows that scepticism and even fear of teenagers, based on the lack of contact between teenagers and adults, are far more widespread in Britain that other countries in Europe). And it’s not a Scandinavian exception I’m particularly fond of.
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