petite anglaise

October 11, 2005


Filed under: Tadpole rearing — petiteanglaiseparis @ 2:56 pm

The journey to the airport had been stressful enough, but apparently the gods were not smiling on me last Saturday.

Tadpole, Lover and I were heading to England to visit my best friend and her family. I had been looking forward to this trip for months, my enthusiasm only slightly dampened by the fact that I had woken up that morning only to find that I had almost entirely lost my voice. When I opened my mouth, either a whisper or a squawk came forth. Thankfully, even if I did sound like a cross between Frank Butcher and Dot Cotton, I wasn’t in any pain. But it was hardly an ideal state of affairs, neither for catching up with a friend over a few beers, nor for keeping a willful two year old in check.

First, the bus which would ferry us to Gare du Nord was a long time coming. Second, the ticket vending machines at the station were all either out of order, or preceded by lengthy queues of tourists, many of whom didn’t seem to be able to get them to function, or who went through the whole transaction, only to find that their foreign credit card would not be accepted. Last, but not least, the airport bound RER train which we leapt into just as the doors slammed closed turned out to be a slow train, stopping at every single suburban town between Paris and Charles de Gaulle airport. I started to fear that we wouldn’t be going anywhere, wondering how I would break the news to my friend.

I had an epiphany on that train: on balance, a € 40 taxi fare is a small price to pay for the preservation of my sanity. Austerity budget or no.

We finally checked in just in the nick of time, cleared customs and joined the queue for the baggage scanners and metal detectors.

Now, I know that the people scanning luggage have an important job to do. What I don’t understand is why the French security staff are so much more difficult and unpleasant to deal with than their English counterparts.

I have not-so-fond memories of setting off the metal detector in France while heavily pregnant and being asked to remove my shoes.

“My shoes? I can’t even reach my shoes! It’s my belt buckle which set it off, can’t I just take the belt off?” I said, smiling persuasively. When it became apparent that I was now expected to remove both: “I don’t suppose you have a chair I could sit on?”


Not even a, “Non, je suis désolée Madame”. Just “no”.

Luckily, Mr Frog was on hand to perform the unzipping of the boots, whilst I leaned against a wall, indignantly.

When travelling with a small child and a pushchair, I have encountered similar unhelpfulness on French soil. In England, a member of staff pushes Tadpole through the detector, still wearing her coat and securely strapped in. My permission is sought to search the buggy, and someone half heartedly rummages around, while Tadpole chatters away, turning on the charm.

In France, on the other hand, a slightly less helpful policy is in operation. Tadpole must be released from the pushchair, her coat removed, and the pushchair folded and fed through the scanner along with my bag and coat. On those occasions where I have travelled alone with her, this has been horribly problematic. When Tadpole was too young to walk, I had to enlist the help of a surly and reluctant looking member of staff to hold my baby while I folded the pushchair. Since she learned how to walk (and indeed run), the challenge has always been to stop her absconding. Two hands is never enough.

Sure enough, on Saturday we got the works. No smiles, no help. Tadpole trotted gaily through the metal detector on her own, ahead of me, as instructed. No beep. Mummy and Lover went through immediately after her, and both beeped. I was asked to remove my belt (but thankfully not my trainers) and with a weary “ah là là “, I retraced my steps and went through again. Without beeping, this time. Assuming that a member of staff had been keeping an eye on my daughter.

I looked around.



Tadpole’s life flashed before my eyes as a block of ice slid down my spine. I tried to call her name, but only managed a pathetic squeak. My eyes scanned the busy terminal building, not really processing what I saw, too panicked to be of any use to me. This was every mother’s worst nightmare. What had I done? How could I have taken my eyes off her, even for a second?

“Oh my god, where is my daughter?” I yelled. Unfortunately, the words came out as a stage whisper. Not even one head was turned.

Lover, who is considerably taller and more level-headed than I, scanned the building and pointed to tiny figure, receding into the distance, far away in the duty free shop.

That’s my daughter. Whenever she sees a window of opportunity, she takes it. And disappears. The lure of the gaudy colours in the brightly lit shop? Of cigarettes and alcohol? Who knows what goes through her tiny little head.

We bellowed her name (or rather Lover did, while I bleated) and Tadpole turned and started running towards me. He fetched our belongings as I dropped to my knees and held her close to me in a vice like grip.

As we made our way over to the gate, tears rolled down my cheeks. Just for a second, I had glimpsed what life without Tadpole would be like.

And it was indescribably bleak.


  1. I hope you never, ever, have to live that life for real.

    Comment by Zinnia Cyclamen — October 11, 2005 @ 3:20 pm

  2. That bloody airport is a slimy cesspit of evil. Something bad always happens to me there. The most traumatic event was not the fault of the staff though: last time I got off the plane from NZ at 6 am, while waiting for French Hubby I decided to phone my parents from a cabine to say I’d arrived safely. A fist-fight broke out between two taxi drivers, in the scuffling and chaos of the crowd I nearly got punched in the head while on the phone! There was also dog poo INSIDE the terminal building: welcome back to bloody France!

    Comment by Antipo Déesse — October 11, 2005 @ 3:25 pm

  3. I lost my son in Galleries Lafayette once, only for about 1 minute but it is major heart attack stuff,
    never let go off their hands in major public places or get them to walk infront of you.

    Have to say it Petite as a Brit living in France I do so hate french bashing.(just as much as I hate to see Brits doing the same to the Frogs) This isn’t perhaps what you mean to come across in this post but it’s what sticks in my mind and it’s not the first time. I’m talking about the Pannini…

    Try a little humour. My Dad says France is great if it weren’t for the French !

    Comment by P in France — October 11, 2005 @ 3:47 pm

  4. P – I’m the first to mock the English when I get the opportunity. I just happen to think that in this context, the English staff are consistently more helpful.

    In the panini post, it was the commenters who went off on that tangent, not me.

    I’ve been here ten years, what on earth would I be here for if I hated the French?

    Comment by petite — October 11, 2005 @ 3:54 pm

  5. How frightening. Did you ever read Ian McEwan’s ‘A Child In Time’? Perhaps it would be a bad idea for a parent to read it, or perhaps in fact, it would have that much more impact. The bit about the security checks did make me laugh though. So typical. There are many things I love dearly about the French but they don’t half know how to make things difficult, just when you least need it.

    Comment by Katherine — October 11, 2005 @ 3:57 pm

  6. Sigh… this brings not so fond memories of living in Paris…

    I have to say, 40 euros for a taxi might seem cheap when the RER feels like a snail as you’re anxiously checking your watch every 30 seconds… But I don’t think I’m the only one who ever got stuck in a really serious traffic-jam on the A1, ending up paying 70 euros for a 2-hour standstill. At least the gold old RER is slow in a predictable way. Usually.

    Comment by ontario frog — October 11, 2005 @ 4:04 pm

  7. The thing that struck me about CDG the first time was the armed police, poncing about in those stupid tucked-in trousers looking like gay stormtroopers.

    Comment by Homer — October 11, 2005 @ 4:14 pm

  8. Oh you made me cry! I almost lost my daughter in a shopping mall and it is a HORRIBLE feeling that I never wish to repeat. Glad Lover is tall and calm!

    Comment by Bee — October 11, 2005 @ 4:14 pm

  9. One of my earliest memories is “losing” my father at the Natural History museum for a few minutes – I was about 3 and even now, 30 odd years later I remember it and still feel the panic of looking round and not seeing him anywhere. I’m sure he felt a thousand times more panic than I did!

    After an awful beginning like that I hope at least the rest of the weekend was great.

    Comment by Hazy — October 11, 2005 @ 4:31 pm

  10. I have read ‘The Child in Time’, both before becoming a parent, and after. And I cried both times.

    Comment by petite — October 11, 2005 @ 4:32 pm

  11. I used to use the child reign. It caused a bit of trauma initially but we turned it into a ‘position of importance’ to be wearing it on the wrist. (That’s the child of course)

    The silver-foiled drinks container used to set off searches as they are impervious to the X-Ray machine.

    That was fun.

    Oh, and having lots of loose change in the pocket. The most surly I’ve come across is entering Australia via Brisbane.

    Comment by Greavsie — October 11, 2005 @ 4:38 pm

  12. bee and petite,
    well that makes 3 of us.
    Crying that is.

    Comment by Lou — October 11, 2005 @ 4:40 pm

  13. *handing around tissues*

    I like that slip Greavsie – shouldn’t it be reins? Even if Reign sounds kind of appropriate where toddlers are involved?

    Comment by petite — October 11, 2005 @ 4:43 pm

  14. Well, I have to say that while panic was briefly rearing its ugly head, it did cross my mind that if you’re going to lose your child, the secure zone of an airport is as good a place as any. I “lost” my eldest aged 5 for 20 minutes on a cross-channel ferry (amongst other occasions…). Wherever and whenever it happens, the mixture of emotions when you finally see the little bugger is quite something.

    Comment by Jim in Rennes — October 11, 2005 @ 4:51 pm

  15. I find the security at Carcassonne a bit variable, they start out for each flight with good intentions. Checking evrey bag, shoe, and whatnot – but about five minutes before the gate closes they always seem to resort to just throwing people through.

    That said, last time the security guy had the girl in front of us in floods of tears…

    She was a carrier bag collector, and had a carrier full of ‘Top-Name’ carrier bags. Unfortunately Ryanair have a ‘single bag’ policy for cabin luggage.

    The guard would not let her take a carrier bag full of carrier bags because that was more than one bag!

    Honest, no way would he let her do it.

    So, she had to call her father back through security and put her carrier bags into his holdall (which zipped up) and that was ok (because that was a holdall full of bags – apparently!).

    Personally, I get searched every time – sometimes quite thoroughly (behind curtains) because I have enough steel in my leg to alarm Hans Blix!

    Comment by Martin — October 11, 2005 @ 5:17 pm

  16. English staff in airports are way more helpful and polite, that’s true. The politeness partly has to do with the language, in English it’s common to say “I’m afraid that’s not possible”, whereas in French you just say “Non ce n’est pas possible”.

    But I’ve had one too many problems with British customs, immigration or airline employees that, when finding out that someone is French, *enjoy* scaring or even humiliating people. They’re not the majority, but they’re far too frequent.

    Comment by Amélie — October 11, 2005 @ 5:20 pm

  17. Has anyone ever been to Stansted? Worst staff in any building ever. From their permanent scowls to chasing you down like a bitch in heat to demand your boarding card, twenty minutes after you’ve got off the plane. Uck, horrible place, horrible people!

    Comment by reachy — October 11, 2005 @ 5:54 pm

  18. Hee. The security folks are a trip no matter where you are. Although I did discover a perfect way to smuggle illegal items on board a plane while flying out of CDG. Just be a grown woman with a teddy bear in your carryon. The security folks will be giggling and snickering so hard at your silly American ways that they will completely forget to frisk you and wave you on while mumbling very humorous things about you in French.

    Comment by Teleri — October 11, 2005 @ 5:58 pm

  19. I really detest CDG airport. I have travelled through it twice and both times have been crap. It epitomises French bureaucracy at its worst.

    Comment by D — October 11, 2005 @ 7:03 pm

  20. oh, good god. losing sight of your child with no voice to scream. two elements of parental nightmare. when my son was 3, he escaped from the house. i ran around the block, and thank god, he had just wandered to a neighbor’s house. i would have turned myself in to the authorities had my wife been home to watch him.

    Comment by brando — October 11, 2005 @ 7:38 pm

  21. I hadn’t thought about the nightmare element Brando, but you’re right. Although, being short sighted, my dreams tend to torment me more often by being blurred.

    So, if I’d lost my glasses, and my voice, and Tadpole, then we really would be in nightmare territory…

    Comment by petite — October 11, 2005 @ 8:05 pm

  22. It’s happened to me a couple of times, and each time mental images of “A Child in Time” swim in front of my eyes. Not a book one forgets easily.

    And I was in a hypermarché a while ago when a panic-stricken woman rushed past me yelling her child’s name and screaming “vous avez vu mon petit garçon? Il est en jean et pull rouge!”. The worst thing was that hardly anyone reacted, staff included. How can people ignore that? In Sainsbury’s they’d be barring the exits until the child was located. He was found in the end wandering in the brico section by a member of staff, but the poor woman had aged ten years in those five endless minutes.

    That sick panic… *shudder*

    Comment by Susan — October 11, 2005 @ 9:08 pm

  23. I hate that “putting the pushchair through the X-ray” business. Especially when I’m travelling alone with a hyper 3 yr old and a non-walking 18 month old, who’s about as docile as a herring gull. I usually thrust her into the reluctant arms of the bloke on duty, and he holds her at arm’s length as she flaps and squawks.
    Manchester airport make you go through the whole rigmarole too. But at least the staff are good old warm-hearted Mancunians (like myself, of course).

    Comment by Mancunian Lass — October 11, 2005 @ 9:15 pm

  24. That feeling of panic and dread, that you suffered when you lost sight of Tadpole is one of the worst feelings ever. I lost my son for a while in a huge garden centre. His crying and my obvious distress soon had us reunited. He had taken refuge under a palm tree. Oh joy of joys.

    Now hopefully you can relax (at least until the return trip) and have a fun time.

    Comment by Sarah — October 11, 2005 @ 10:30 pm

  25. Horrible feeling, and you just want to hold them tight forever at that moment! Glad you found her quickly, sometimes we need that reminder of what we could lose, and how quickly.

    Comment by Kathy — October 12, 2005 @ 12:52 am

  26. And imagine what life would be like with good service in France?!!

    Ah, Parisian ignorance and unhelpfulness. Another reason why my wife, our son and I didn’t cope more then 2 months in France (the country where I lived 27 years of my almost 33-year long life), and headed straight back to Sydney wondering what on Earth had possessed us to try and live in that inferno…

    Only way to stay sane is to travel to the UK as often as you can!

    Comment by A Frog in Oz — October 12, 2005 @ 2:25 am

  27. Hope your cold is getting better, petite!

    I “lost” my daughter once, and it is amazing how just reading your post brought back that same feeling of dread, even after all these years. I also realized that I had been holding my breath until I read to the end of your post. Then, I breathed a sigh of relief when I read that you had found her.

    A number of years ago my daughter had been playing quietly by herself in the nursery. I decided I would take the opportunity to change the bedding in my bedroom at the back of the house. In the 10 minutes that it took me to change the bedding and walk back down the hall, she was gone.

    I searched the house and the yard. I checked under the beds, in the closets, etc. I called her name over and over. I wondered if she were hiding, so I tried to entice her out by calling that I had candy to share. Nothing.

    I frantically telephoned my husband to come home. I could barely speak I was so freaked out, and I didn’t have a cold. Then, I saw my dog wagging her tail as she walked down the road. I wondered how the dog got out, but didn’t have time to dwell on it.

    But right behind the dog was my daughter. Apparently, she had let herself out of the house and locked the door behind her. She was not even 2 years old. I later learned she had walked all the way down the block to the main road! What I found very strange was that many of my neighbors had seen her and no one thought to stop her. No one wondered why a toddler was walking alone with her dog on the road! We bought deadbolt locks and installed them high so she couldn’t escape again!

    Comment by Elle — October 12, 2005 @ 2:35 am

  28. It’s true that French security officers are most of the time rude and unhelpful if not aggressive.
    I find it even more irritating when I’m coming back from New Zealand where they probably have the most friendly and smiling airport staff in the world.
    However, having experienced going through customs in L.A. twice, there is a whole new level of unpleasantness at airports, believe me! Yelling, intimidation and humiliation sum it up pretty well. For a minute, I thought I had woken up in Gantanamo…

    Comment by Maurine au bout du monde — October 12, 2005 @ 3:10 am

  29. So Flightplan. That movie will have everybody here running like Niagara Falls if they leaked over this, not to belittle your misadventure.

    Comment by nardac — October 12, 2005 @ 3:15 am

  30. Ah – the joys of travelling with children! Amazing how a trip that never seemed like a big deal pre-child becomes so much more stressful and complicated! My husband is already stressing over our Christmas trip to the UK – schlepping luggage & carry-ons for 4 (including twice as many disposable nappies as we think we’ll need until we can get to a supermarket in the UK), plus a pushchair and 2 car seats . . .

    2 things I’ve found help in the airport:
    1) reins/harness/leash – whatever you want to call them. Yes, your child looks like a pet dog, but it saved our sanity when it took us over an hour to check in at Logan Airport because three quarters of the BA staff were waiting on the FirstClass passengers. Dear daughter was able to run rings around us and not feel frustrated at standing in such a long queue, and we didn’t have to worry that she was going to take off. At 7 months pregnant I certainly wasn’t going to be able to catch her anyway. Don’t think I can use it now that she’s 6, but I plan on bringing it at Christmas for the 2 year-old.

    2) when travelling with two adults, always have one adult go through security before the other and wait until they’re clear before sending the kid(s) through.

    Many years since I’ve been to CDG so I have little recollection of how awful it was, but I hate the way at Manchester they don’t announce which gate your flight is leaving from until the very last minute. Gatwick is like a cross between a refugee camp and a shopping mall – hard to believe sometimes that there actually are any gates. At the opposite extreme, Brussels felt like a bus station.

    Comment by Susan — October 12, 2005 @ 3:32 am

  31. Oh la la – when I was a nanny, many years ago, my darling Liza — four years old, Down Syndrome, mechant — her favorite game in the world was “run into the Denver Airlport and get lost.” I can still remember, nearly 15 years later, the sensation of her little hand slipping out of mine, the near-instant vaporization of said child. She’s fine. She survived the Denver airport and many other near-misses and is now a happy, self-sufficient 21 year old — but oh my — that feeling in the pit of one’s stomach. It’s so terrible.

    Comment by Charlotte — October 12, 2005 @ 3:43 am

  32. frankfurt. worst airport in the world…ever. staffed exclusively by stormtroopers with a personality bypass, and that’s just the shop assistants. flying in from australia once, i fronted up to the passport check with the customary australian “hey, how you’re doin’?” at the ready. remembered at the last moment that this was germany and instinctively switched into german, blurting out the immensely inappropriately familiar “hi, wie geht’s dir?”

    really really bad idea. don’t be friendly with the customs man. “would you like to follow me, sir?” (only, obviously, in german and hence without the “would”, “like to” and “sir”). latex gloves snapped onto hands make a really ugly sound.

    Comment by sydneysnider — October 12, 2005 @ 7:09 am

  33. Petite for what it’s worth I dont’ think you were French bashing at all. I’ve been reading your blog for a while and you seem to have just as many positive things to say about the French and France as you do negative. Now if your blog was all negative I’d have to wonder. I read another blog about the US and it is always, and I mean always negative and feeds on stereotypes( and this person has never even been there)If its brought to the bloggers attention one is accused of being sensitive, or just because it’s critical doesn’t mean it’s bashing. I agree with that but when it’s alway negative it is is most certainly bashing. I did read a great article on the BBC recently about stereotypes that was very interesting. My favorite quote is “In fact, unfavourable stereotypes of national or ethnic groups are potentially very dangerous, forming the bases for prejudice, discrimination, persecution, or even genocide” It’s ok to criticise but to demonize is wrong and I have never seen you demonize french culture in any way. None of us are perfect all the time nor are any of us bad all the time.

    Comment by Étienne — October 12, 2005 @ 8:30 am

  34. Hay Petite,

    I am a french woman and it is my first visit here. I am quite sad when I see how you seemed to see the french people. I understand that maybe your experience in france has not always been an easy one, that’s why I wanted to live you this message; to tell you that you can also choose to see only the good in each of us, even if they are differences that can appears from one culture to another one.
    You are the better positioned to make things change.
    Good luck ;)

    Comment by Pauline — October 12, 2005 @ 5:58 pm

  35. totally know what you mean – stuff like that is so scary and i can’t imagine what life would be like without my wanderer.

    Comment by jan — October 12, 2005 @ 6:07 pm

  36. Your daughter sounds like mine. We went away on holiday and we were on the beach building sandcastles as you do, one minute she was there next minute she wasn’t like you Panic we lokked everywhere for her and she didn’t care of she was walking along the promanade thinking she was great. I could have murdered her but she thought she had done nothing wrong. This became her favorite trick on holiday so as you can imagine it was very stressful.

    Comment by Growing Up — October 12, 2005 @ 6:56 pm

  37. Brrr! Chills went down my spine reading that…I have 5 children and the thought of losing them is always omnipresent in my mind.

    I cannot even begin to express the scenarios my brain conjured up…from accidents to James Bulger-like children taking her, paedophiles and the like….AWFUL. Just awful. I am so relieved you found her and so bloody ANGRY that people would not contemplate HELPING you to keep her close!!!

    When you love your child(ren) so much it is every mother’s nightmare.

    I love happy endings!!! YAY!

    Comment by Kiora — October 12, 2005 @ 7:57 pm

  38. I’ve just returned to France after a trip home…can commiserate on those damn security checks…..

    And a few years my youngest son (2 at the time) went walkabout in a crowded hypermarket…leaving me running madly up and down the aisles, screaming my lungs out….I KNOW that feeling of terror.

    Comment by Wendy — October 12, 2005 @ 9:02 pm

  39. I think that where we used to live is seen through rosy coloured glasses. I’ve lived outside the UK since 1998 and often think it was better back there. However, airport security in France and the US is definitely worse and less polite. I still ask myself however if the fact that I’m a UK national and white middle class doesn’t sway things. In the US I have been reasonably treated but they have no patience. I was wonderfully treated at Dallas airport though, an oldish guy who explained why I was being screened fully (I got extra screened, belt, shoes, all hand baggage etc etc).

    The French just don’t have a sense of humour in the police and customs. They definitely have a lot to learn from their English counterparts.

    Comment by fruey (Let's Have It) — October 13, 2005 @ 9:21 am

  40. Aah, it’s good to come back! I’ve LOVED catching up on all your news, Petite. Your post about Tadpole Jam had me lol in the office – so much like my 3, who still do it aged 6,5 and 3!
    Problem with my youngest, when he runs off, is that he is frightened of NOTHING, and just wanders around waiting for me to find him – I wish he’d scream or something, it’d be so much easier…I lost all three once in Stansted (vast jungle airport). How do you decide which one to look for first? Youngest-oldest? Girl and then the boys??
    I hate that feeling of the multiple nightmare scenarios that whizz around your head, squeeze your heart and twist your stomach.

    Comment by Lucy-Jane in Rennes — October 13, 2005 @ 12:18 pm

  41. How frightening for you! I would have been panicked too! I’m so glad she didn’t wander far and that you were able to find her quickly. I get so paranoid when I travel with children. I have these mental images of some Chester the Molester type person coming up while I’m not looking, grabbing the child and sneaking off with him/her.

    Comment by Taarna — October 13, 2005 @ 6:06 pm

  42. Oh God, the interminable taxi rides between central Paris and CDG airport.

    Oh God, the baggage scans at CDG airport.

    Oh God, the satellite departure lounges at CDG airport.

    Oh God, CDG airport…

    Comment by mike — October 16, 2005 @ 4:56 pm

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