the smell of my desperation has become a stench

Lost in translation

Over the weekend I was watching an episode of House Hunters International where a family was moving from the Midwest to Paris. While touring the second floor of a house in the Paris suburbs, the mother pointed out to the realtor that there were no screens or any safety devices on the windows, how was she supposed to keep her two-year-old from jumping to his death? And the realtor answered in English with a deep accent, “Vell, you tell heem not to jump out zee vindow, and he will not jump out zee vindow.”

You guys, why did she not think of that?

I sat there and rewound that segment about seventeen times, pausing each time on the realtor’s face when that mother asked that question, his eyebrows raised to his hairline. I don’t know if there is a French word for DUH? but his face said it.

(maybe, le DUH?)

Perhaps two-year-old French boys would hear, “Do not jump out the window.” But I’m guessing that those boys have been drugged.

Most would hear, “Outside this window is the most amazing toy ever invented. No other child on earth has one. In order to get it you must jump as far off of this ledge as possible. But you have to do it when no one is looking or the toy will go away. Also, the toy will be even bigger if you make a huge fuss over dinner and then kick your mother while she tries to pull your pajamas over your head. One last thing: your big sister is going to find out about this toy in less than 24 hours, so you should probably set her bed on fire while she’s sleeping.”

  • labradoris

    2010/11/08 at 2:42 pm


  • artmeetslife

    2010/11/08 at 2:43 pm

    Those French, with their philosophy, their cafes and their art…what is the window anyway?

  • signot

    2010/11/08 at 2:57 pm

    Maybe french children are well behaved and listen to their parents! I wonder if moving there would somehow force my kids into a french kid mindset…

  • Becky Cochrane

    2010/11/08 at 3:07 pm

    THAT’S why I didn’t have kids. They wouldn’t have been French.

  • AlliBally

    2010/11/08 at 3:21 pm

    How about the fact that you will have flies and every other bug you don’t want in your apartment. I desperately miss screens so much.

  • emah

    2010/11/08 at 3:24 pm

    Also, here is a news story about a French 18-month-old FALLING OUT OF AN EIGHTH STORY WINDOW (happy ending).

    So apparently they don’t always listen.

  • Bobbi French

    2010/11/08 at 3:30 pm

    I have just run away to France and I can verify that there is not a screen to be found. Anywhere. I can also tell you that it is not raining children so they must have a way of keeping them from leaping to their deaths. I’ll ask every mother I see tomorrow and get back to ya…


  • Alexa

    2010/11/08 at 3:45 pm

    There is something called childproofing.

    The thing that struck me about the woman – she was so intrigued by the second place – she was fascinated because it was modern and probably so unlike her experience. I felt as if she was asking for something new before she returned to the Midwest and what she perceived as her more normal, conforming life. I saw that in her face, anyway.

  • Eventually

    2010/11/08 at 3:54 pm

    I remember seeing that episode and thinking the same. As someone who grew up in Europe I am always surprised how little safety is (was?) put up around the house there and how much we put up here in the States. I have no idea how I didn’t electrocute myself, fall out of the window, crack my head, or drown in the toilet as a kid.

  • WashingtonMama

    2010/11/08 at 4:05 pm

    this is what they do in Paris:

  • cherylsmith75

    2010/11/08 at 4:13 pm

    That’s what we told our kids when we moved into a 9th floor apartment in Japan. It worked. I won’t pretend that I wasn’t nervous, but I’m happy to say that neither of them ever tried to jump.

  • lilacrystal

    2010/11/08 at 4:27 pm

    they give their kids wine at lunch and dinner. calms them down.

  • AlexandraDare

    2010/11/08 at 5:11 pm

    Ahahaha one of my best friends is French. I love myself some French people. But they do very often look at us Americans like we are the craziest psycho people on Earth. I went to France for a month this last summer, and I was like, what are we, in the DARK AGES? WHERE IS THE AIR CONDITIONING? And my Parisian friend turned to tell her other Parisian friend, “In America, you have to wear a sweater in the summer to go to the GROCERY STORE.” And I thought to myself… Hmm. I guess that is a little ridiculous, isn’t it?

    I guess the French figure their kids are not going to jump out the window. And if they do, then probably the world is better off without them. Survival of the fittest, they might say. LOL, but that’s the French for ya.

  • Spambot

    2010/11/08 at 5:33 pm

    Shouldn’t have stopped calling them freedom fries.
    French bastards.

  • kranky

    2010/11/08 at 5:36 pm

    that’s what’s always been striking to me about articles i’ve read on european parenting. they don’t seem to have to childproof. there was an article in parents magazine about this last summer. all it did was make me feel like a bad mom. i’m sorry, but my kid would be dead by now if we lived in europe and i don’t think i’m the one to blame for that.

  • sherina

    2010/11/08 at 5:48 pm

    You know, we have a book that I had as a kid and it’s all about different kinds of homes. One shows a little boy of maybe two years of age SITTING IN THE WINDOWSILL of an apartment at the top of a skyscraper and he’s feeding pigeons because the window is open and there is NO SCREEN NOR ARE THERE BARS.

    When I was a kid it never crossed my mind. As a parent I wanted to set the book on fire before my kids – here on the 4th floor – got any wild ideas.

  • mrs_k

    2010/11/08 at 6:01 pm

    Must be a French thing. When we lived in Germany, they had bars on the windows of our 3rd floor apartment for that very reason. And screens. Except our cat managed to ninja his way through both, and I awoke one morning to see him chilling on a tiny windowsill three stories above the earth.

  • kimba

    2010/11/08 at 6:03 pm

    i JUST found this show yesterday and i’ve already set the dvr for both versions of it! love love love! i can get my fix of home buying while i sit in my RIDICULOUS rental in the bay area.

    also, is THAT how it works?! you just tell them and they do it? that’s too bad, because i’m pretty sure my toddler doesn’t speak Rational.

  • tokenblogger

    2010/11/08 at 6:04 pm

    Some of us still hear and believe…

  • jg2010

    2010/11/08 at 6:45 pm

    I think that man has not spent much time around little boys. Well, not little boys like my chimney-climbing, catflap squeezing-through, oven-door surfing, ironing the dog, hosing the living room, syruping the walls, crazy wee maniac of a son!

  • bditty

    2010/11/08 at 6:49 pm

    I am a complete house hunters international addict. I love to see how folks in other countries live. And I do think we are a completely neurotic bunch of folks here in America. Perhaps there is something to be said for ‘fear-mongering’ parenthood…especially since I live in constant fear of everything…sharp corners, hard floors, paper cuts, pedophiles…

    I was just thinking of you today as I sat with my nearly 2 year old in the dentist’s chair as he polished down her chipped tooth. Such fun!

  • donna boucher

    2010/11/08 at 7:27 pm

    Funny. I saw the exact same House Hunters Int…..

    and I thought the Americans were the morons.

    Live in the heart of the city people…you went to France for the Paris experience!

    I loved that French dude. I was dying to say the same thing to them.

    ah well….

  • Momsword

    2010/11/08 at 7:42 pm

    I was watching last night and was struck by the couple buying a house in Morocco. What got me was they kept saying they wanted an old house but they kept saying how it just wasn’t thier style. Then they ended up building a very American house on an olive farm. Why move to a different country if you are going to complain about how things are different from America.

  • freckleface

    2010/11/08 at 7:53 pm

    Ok.. this reminds me of a story that I’m sure will shock and horrify and amaze you as much as it did me.

    My best friend (guy) lives with friends in an apartment on the third floor of their building. Their complex moved in a 4th roommate who was pretty sketchy. One day the sketchy guy had a girl over, who had her 8-12 month baby with her. They were in his room with the door closed, doing their thing.

    So my friend is in his own room with his door closed when he hears a knock at his door. He opens it and sees sketchy guy, looking a little nervous, saying “hey.. I need you to drive me to the hospital.” Naturally my friend asks why, and he says “because my friend’s baby was sitting on my bed, and then all of a sudden he just CRAWLED OUT OF OUR WINDOW AND FELL THREE STORIES TO THE GROUND BELOW” (note: he said all of this very calmly; the screaming caps are just my reaction of horror). So he drives them to the hospital, baby is fine and not even crying… checks out ok and nothing is wrong at all. How weird is that? And who lets a baby crawl around in front of an open window anyways??

  • BellyGirl

    2010/11/08 at 7:55 pm

    IMHO, European children behave so differently from American kids. Rarely on my travels in Europe did I see kids being constantly corralled by their parents and told, “No…don’t…get over here…stop that”. The European kids seemed more in control of themselves and more likely to play independently without the constant need for their parents’ attention.

  • peppylady

    2010/11/08 at 8:03 pm

    I bet the realtor don’t have any children.

    Coffee is on.

  • melissat11

    2010/11/08 at 9:23 pm

    I saw that same episode a few months ago.. I thought it was funny. I guess they don’t have any goverment agency for that…

  • noellef79

    2010/11/08 at 10:20 pm

    I agree with the French on this one. We grew up with no childproofing, bike helmets, blah, blah, blah. All those kids who had such restrictions: I teach them now, and they don’t even know how to get themselves a tissue.

  • WVKay

    2010/11/08 at 10:59 pm

    Ze French. Fuck them.

  • Juliasarmoire

    2010/11/08 at 11:57 pm

    Just saying 😉 The Paris babies fly too, out of window.

  • Juliasarmoire

    2010/11/09 at 12:00 am

    Oops, I was not the only one posting the link, but what’s interesting… how many babies actually felt out of window? Some articles say the baby was a boy, the others say it was a girl… in one of them, the baby was together with 3 years old sister… in other articles it’s 4 years old brother. Duh. Go figure.

  • sabina

    2010/11/09 at 12:23 am

    You should see the plexiglass and metal contraption we invented for our fourth floor Parisian window. It’s true, window guards do not exist. ps – there are no fire escapes either.

  • d2inAustin

    2010/11/09 at 3:38 am

    This story is so timely. I moved to the south of France in May with my husband and our (then) 9 month old, and we are still of course in le shoque culture! (Yes, I know that’s not real French.)

    Anyway, there was a story in the news here last week that a 17 month old girl fell from the 7th floor (that’s the 8th floor to us Americans), but was completely uninjured. How, do you ask? She landed on the awning of the street level cafe, and was CAUGHT by a doctor. I guess the French just assume miracles of this nature will save their children? We see really small children on the backs of motorcycles, with their huge helmets bobbing on their tiny heads, and babies in their parents laps in cars instead of in carseats…it’s definitely taking some adjusting. I’m having nightmares of what’s going to be allowable for my daughter’s friends when she’s older!

  • mattarine

    2010/11/09 at 4:00 am

    Hello Dooce,

    I am an avid reader of your blog, you make me laugh, sometimes, your opinions, your humor, your writing, your point of view sound very european, this is a compliment.
    This is my first comment here.
    I am french and currently live in France, my husband is american and our 4 kids have the dual citizenship, we have lived in many countries but mostly in France and in the US, both the West and East Coast.

    Yes, french parents and society don’t hoover too much over children, we are quite laid back, americans assume the worst will happen and see danger everywhere. This is why there is no need (in France or Europe) of child raising label like Free range parenting. To us, it is natural.
    One would say we raise our kids like your own parents raised you back in the days, more freedom and less neurotic ideas and fears.

    I read here a lot of negative somewhat mean comments about France, what is the point of calling us “basterds and freedom fries”? Fries are not even french but from Belgium! We are not a third world country who doesn’t know his left form his right and we do not live in the stone-age, it is just a different culture, when you tell one child to not do something, you kind of trust him to do so and think he has some kind of common sense to get the danger.
    For instance, it is quite common for teenagers to drink red wine at the dinner table or champagne on special occasions (actually when a newborn comes to the world, it is a tradition to dip his lip into a glass of fine Champagne) and your GYN will tell you it is OK to drink few glasses of Bordeaux during your pregnancy, yet, they don’t become drunk losers by the age of 20. We see nudity everywhere, an ad selling a new brand of toothpaste will display a naked woman…yet, we are not outraged by the exposed nudity, go to a french beach and you will see most kids are running around naked and women of all ages and shapes are topless and no one is really caring or paying attention, we don’t become perverses, nor we are trying to hide it from our kids, in the end, since all is much more open and liberal, far, very far less oppressed than it is in the US, youngsters don’t really seek to break the line or misbehave, give the child freedom, open-mindness and trust and you might be surprised.
    As Woody Allen say (yes french people love Woody Allen) we are somewhat always trying to philosoph and reflect on the sense of our existence (hence the existentialism movement) “french people are so refined and advanced, it would never happen in America to have a funeral of a president with his wife and his mistress and their love child, side by side and no french citizens cared about it”

    As far as the AC goes, indeed we do not like it, we can’t stand for the temp. to be 90 degrees outside to have minus 20 degrees when we’re inside. We like to enjoy the nice summer days by staying outdoors and enjoying our meals on a terrace. And we are trying to save the planet and respect our environment, full on all day long AC is not eco-friendly at all. AC is not a vital necessity.

    Bonne Journée!

  • lonek8

    2010/11/09 at 6:39 am

    Oh, I don’t know about that. every time I have to dart out of the bathroom for a second while my kids are in the tub I tell them “don’t drown” and never once has any of them drowned.

    Maybe my kids are french

  • sonjabean

    2010/11/09 at 8:00 am

    Hmm, I don’t think a French two year old boy would hear all those things. I think he would hear, “I better not fuck with Mama, so I’m not going to climb out that window.” I’m American, and I am amazed at how few consequences American mothers enforce for their children. For instance, pretty frequently, I see children hit their mother and laugh and the mother says something like, “No! No hitting! That’s not nice!” and then the child wanders off laughing and continues to play. Um, hey, I THINK YOUR KID DIDN’T GET IT. Of course my kids experimented with hitting me for fun. But that experiment was only performed two or three times and then they learned that it was not any fun to hit Mama and it was certainly not a laughing matter. There were consequences – consequences they didn’t like. We had to leave where we were or they had to go to their room or they couldn’t play with the toy they wanted to play with. Whatever. But there was no hitting me and then laughing about it. That drives me crazy when I see it!

    Besides which, a screen isn’t going to keep your kid from falling out of a window anyway.

  • teksupddg

    2010/11/09 at 8:12 am

    while my dad barrelled down the highway at 80 miles an hour we would swap turns lying in the rear window of the car. seatbelt, schmeetbelt;

    the actual car seat was the the car seat for everybody, none of the 5 point safety harnesses until your 10 stuff.

    our playground was covered in gravel the size of baseballs. no soft bouncy covering of down and feathers they have now. the swings swung high, the metal slide was steep and only practice could help you keep all the skin on your knees.
    We are now afraid, very afraid.

  • Gypsy

    2010/11/09 at 8:13 am

    I’m actually kind of big on this (apparently French) kind of parenting.

    Our house is only minimally baby proof, and our baby (14 months) is pretty good about responding to “NONONONONONO.” Now, he touches something he shouldn’t, looks at me and shakes his head no, and usually puts it down. It’s not foolproof and he has a lot of bumps on his head, but I think he’s learning and he’s disciplined. We don’t spank or anything. We’re just trying to show who is boss from the beginning. I’m hoping for a Free Range Kid.

    Hope it doesn’t all backfire on me.

  • swindled

    2010/11/09 at 8:22 am

    I think the reality is that you can buy every safety device on the market and “child-proof” your house until you are blue in the face, but really what does your child learn from any of that?

    I have to agree wholeheartedly with Matterine, the culture of fear in North America is getting ridiculous. If you didn’t drown in a toilet when you were a kid without all the ridiculous toilet seat holder thingies what are the chances that your child will? I hit my head on things when I was a kid, I learned not to, as do most children. You need to make mistakes in order to learn not to do something. You learn how to ride a bike by falling off of it.

    We had screens on the windows when we were kids sure…we also knew how to take them off even as toddlers in the event of a fire, so what does that screen really do as far as childproofing? Well, if your kid doesn’t know how to take the screen off it could potentially trap them in a burning house.

    You can try and safety proof for every possible event happening, but sometime somewhere your kid is going to hurt themselves, that’s real life people.

    I was also pretty appalled at some of the rude comments posted about the French or other Europeans in general, its completely uncalled for. With a Francophone for a fiance and a French-Canadian baby on the way, I was insulted by the lack of respect for a different culture.

    Most of the time I find the comments and posts on Dooce to be funny, well-intentioned and smart. Today was an exception, but it saddened me greatly.

  • confusedkaty

    2010/11/09 at 8:40 am

    I don’t know.

    It is kind of a “DUH” moment. Americans over-parent. Plain and simple.

    I hate using Tucker Carlson-isms, but the USofA has a serious “Nanny-State” going on and I think it’s time we teach our kids to harden the fuck up instead of relentlessly coddling them.

    Getting bullied? Make a fist and sock that fucker in the kisser.

    Wanna see what happens when you jump out of the second story window? Go ahead, find out… I’ve been meaning to activate our emergency plan. When your laid up bored, with a cast, I will be there saying ” I told you it was a bad idea”.

    Evolution. It works.

  • Katrina

    2010/11/09 at 8:49 am

    Umm, Open the window from the top down?

    I don’t have a two year old, but I have a dog with a separation anxiety that has jumped out of 2nd story windows. Twice. Oh, and both times through the screen.

    Bonus on it being a dog as compared to a 2 year old? They don’t grow out of it. Also, when the window is shut, they chew at the frame trying to open it to jump out. Yes, I suppose a 2 year old can chew on the window frame, but I suspect with only a portion of their teeth, they inflict less damage.

    We only open the windows from the top down in my house. Problem (at least partially) solved.

  • jfwillson

    2010/11/09 at 9:40 am

    I live in France and can attest to the fact that they seem way more lax with personal safety regulations in general – no bike helmets, no screens, no baby proofing madness. But that makes sense when everyone has stellar free healthcare to fix them up when they accidentally fall out a window!

  • karenarens

    2010/11/09 at 10:52 am

    His response has nothing to do with French babies, and everything to do with asking that question of a man who has no children. The answer would be the same no matter what country you were in.

  • jennisdrinking

    2010/11/09 at 11:09 am

    Hmm…my sister in law is french (long story) and she was perplexed by all the crap here…air conditioning, storm windows, outlet covers, a YARD, grocery shopping for a week at a time, our “huge” cars, screens, and holy crap you should have seen her face when she saw our king size bed. Something about how a family of 10 could use it…. and she damn near crippled herself on the safety gates.

  • saraminerva444

    2010/11/09 at 11:53 am

    Even if telling them not to go near the window actually worked, I’d have to put a screen and bars on it for my own sanity.

  • J-Ri

    2010/11/09 at 11:59 am

    Specifically on the screens thing: no screens in Germany either, though it only gets hot and buggy enough to require them a few weeks a year. Still, Euros would rather have an unobstructed view, open window and a few flies than deal with screens. And anything beyond the most basic childproofing is virtually unknown– particularly noticeable given all the multi-level houses with steep stairs (and no baby gates). However, I do know German parents who lock their small childrens’ windows (say, in the room of a kid between 2 and 4). Another fix: at night, virtually everyone hear closes tight security shutters over the windows.

    As for the kid thing, yeah, Euro kids are more independent and given way more freedom in general. Again, my experience is w/ Germany not France, but by 8 or 9 kids can take themselves to a nearby playground or walk themselves to a nearby school; by 12 years old at the latest most kids are allowed to go on buses by themselves to the city to hang out with friends, go the movies, what have you. I’ve also noticed that, compared to American teenagers, German teens are given more responsibility and, accordingly, act more responsibly– they come across as a bit more serious and adult, maybe because their parents don’t expect them to act wild and crazy and give them the tools and info they need to act responsibly. Free Range Kids is just Euro Parenting 101. That being said, there’s a hell of a lot fewer guns and/or gun violence and there’s less fear mongering on the news, so parents are able to feel safer letting their kids roam.

  • Fifi Coon

    2010/11/09 at 12:02 pm

    OK – so I love House Hunters International. Especially the part that we, as Americans, have a tendency to look like total idiots…………no doubt our children are the only ones that fall out of windows – DUH!!!

    But I really love the show – I want to find a nice little place in some foreign country to run away too!! One with sunshine and white sandy beaches – oh and cheap tequilla :o) the cheap tequilla is the most important aspect of a foreign country!!!

  • kcbelles

    2010/11/09 at 2:43 pm

    I am loving the European responses (and I too think the name-calling, etc., was extremely un-DoCo-like – shame on you guys) – I was raised by Dutch parents and we were taught, early on, who was boss in the house. Were we angels 100% of the time? No, but we respected our folks and followed their rules; end of story.

    I find it very sad that America has become so fear focused. Also that government sticks it’s nose in where it doesn’t belong. I drank out of hoses when I was a kid; climbed tress and houses; ran barefoot; rode my bike sans helmut or kneepads. And yes, I got the occassional whooping, but that was rare, because we knew what was what.

    I know a woman here at work; her husband was watching their 6-mo old while she was shopping. She repeatedly told him not to leave the baby on their bed, but he did, and the baby rolled off and hurt itself (enough to have 9-1-1 called). He, being fearful of what his wife would say, lied and say baby rolled off the couch. When he got caught in his lie, the county stepped in and removed the baby from the house and then returned the baby, but said he had to move out and not have any contact with his baby or his wife. Really? Shit, I’ve know this couple for years; they are both so very sweet and loving. He made a mistake and now they’re in all kinds of legal mess, because the county had to stick their nose in where it didn’t belong.

    I often wonder what my life would be had my parents decided to stay in Holland instead of coming to the States. I love it here, but shit like this justs really boils my blood.

  • amyk1999

    2010/11/09 at 4:05 pm

    We lived on the 5th story when stationed in Japan 5 years ago. At the time I only had two children, ages 3 & 1.5. The military, being the overly obsessed with safety, had prison style bars on the windows that allowed them to stick a leg out, causing mommy to throw up and yell (at the same time) “GET BACK BEFORE THE REST OF YOUR BODY IS SUCKED OUT THE WINDOW!” From across the room.
    And, of course, come potty training time, guess where my son’s favorite place to pee was. I just assume the neighbors hated me.

  • Kazzer75

    2010/11/09 at 4:18 pm

    I live in England and there are no screens on any of the windows or doors here either. In fact, I can’t think of anywhere in Europe that has screens. And I am sure it has happened at least once or twice, but I cannot recall ever hearing a single story about children jumping from windows. I should also mention that there is absolutely no problem with bugs either, even in the summer when the windows are all wide open…due to no one having air conditioning. So I am with the French on this as well.

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