Saturday, January 14, 2012

Cultural characters

The other day I was checking my Twitter feed on the way to work when I came across one that linked to a now taken down article in The Guardian and stated that French parents were better than me. Of course, that was bound to set my blood boiling and my little thumbs furiously smacked out a reply all about those great French parents. Then I planned a great big long rant about French and UK parenting, before remembering that this was a writing blog. 

By the time I got to work (having already tweeted the 140 characters of aforementioned rant) I had that little moment to reflect on the fact that my child is half Brit, half French. In our parenting combo, right from the off, everything the other did was wrong. Totally wrong. Not because it was wrong, but because we were brought up differently. Where the Frog suffers (and believe me it shows all over his face) the indignity of having to put his child on time out and then asking the child if she understands why she was on time out, I have to chew my lips when I can see the three year old is dying to leave the table, but we haven't all finished eating yet. We're different. It's different, there's no right or wrong parenting. The book French Children Don't Throw Food, may purport French parenting styles, and we may read it to further our understanding of social anthropology in the same way that we might read A Year in the Merde, but we're not actually going to start acting like the French, because we're culturally programmed not to.

Which brings me to writing. I've lived here for eleven years, before that a couple of years in Madrid and before that Mexico. This year I can no longer vote in the UK, I am well and truly an ex-pat, yet I still write British characters. I can't stop. I just don't feel equipped to write a French one, and wouldn't dream of writing a Spanish or Mexican. I may put them in as minor characters, but as a main I wouldn't dream of it. I think that as my child grows up, I'll be in a unique position to write the French character and may even do so one day, but at the moment it's easier to create a whole new fantasy world.

And then boys? Do I write boys? Yes, British boys. But I was reading this blog the other day: Interview with Shelly Harris, and she raised the point:
I was surprised how much I had to learn about a male viewpoint, and how different it can be from that of a woman. 

She also wrote from an  British Asian point of view and talks about how she went about making the voice authentic. And that is the point. I'm not saying we shouldn't do it. Having just reviewed Unhooking the Moon, by Liverpudlian author Gregory Hughes, one of the things that I really liked about the book was that the characters seemed real. As writers we can write from a male/female POV or a Peruvian one, if we so wish, we have that liberty, but we have to make it true.

And just to prove this was a writing post, books mentioned during this post:
French Children Don't Throw Food by Pamela Druckerman
A Year in the Merde by Stephen Clarke
Jubilee by Shelly Harris
Unhooking the Moon by Gregory Hughes.

7 comments:

Andrew Leon said...

Sure there's a right way to parent. My way! :P

Michele Helene said...

Of course Andrew...Ah well, goess I don't have THAT much to learn about men after all, just write them as if they are ALWAYS right ;)

Andrew Leon said...

No, most men aren't always right. Or even right most of the time. That's just me :P

Michele Helene said...

What ARE you like? (Very English saying that!)

Andrew Leon said...

Atypical? I'm not sure I understand the question.

Ann said...

I write from an Irish point of view. Parenting...now there's a loaded question!

Michele Helene said...

Hi Andrew, atypical is a fine answer. I liked (or is +1 now?)your post about your atypicalness.
And Ann, parenting. Oooh
BTW I see that you are in Ireland and Wisconsin. Are you Irish or American or Irish American?

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