Monday, February 8, 2010

More Good News from France : Fighting like Pirates

Miss Crankypants has a slight smirk on her face this morning.

Her relatively good mood began yesterday when Papa called her to show her an email he'd received from the Parents of school kids Association he belongs to (notice it's not the Parent - Teacher's Association in France it's just the Parent-Parent Association - no teachers in sight unless the parents are upholding their latest strike... These associations are also politically oriented, meaning there can be more than one in a school; there's the right-wing assoc and the left-wing assoc and the independants! But the independants have no say NATIONally... get it? - Why's this, you ask? Why no teachers? Well, because parents and teachers only associate in France with knives drawn behind their backs. Mom thinks it comes from the fact that most French people who have not, as adults, actually become teachers themselves have very painful, humiliating memories of their school days...I mean, to this day Papa and Papy, (yes, PAPY!) still have nightmares about having to take the baccalauréat again!!!!!).

I suppose I - Stella that is - shouldn't say Miss Crankypants is in a good mood. She's not. Because the news Papa showed her - and me - is actually very bad and besides even good news can't put Miss Crankypants in a good mood, now, can it? But it does sort of prove she's been correct in her assumptions all along and there's always some little pleasure in that, right? On top of that, this news means she just might also be able to do something about her crankiness for once.

What's it all about? Well, hold your hats on! Here we go!

Recently, a couple of kids from my old collège (that's the cool French word for middle school, grades 6-9 in France) - the one I got kicked out of, remember? - had a fight with the new girl who came to take my place. Actually, only three of them were really from my old school, the fourth was a boy who was also from my old school but who got kicked out a few weeks before me...

(Since I was kicked out in December, Mom, Papa and I have learned a few things. Like the existence of a sort of city-wide square dance that takes place all year long in the different Parisian collèges : it starts with two kids getting kicked out of two different schools. When that happens the national education system has to propose a new placement for the kids in a new school, but since there are very few places available, hop! The two kids exchange spots! And round and round it goes, all year long...But when you arrive in the new school, your new principal instructs you to tell people you just moved into the area...).

So anyway, one of my friends, let's call her Y, was present at the fight which took place in front of the XXth arrondissement's City Hall. The boy who'd been kicked out, let's call him Z, apparently beat the new girl up for some reason (unknown to me anyway). My friend Y,who's a friend of Z, was there with two other girls and they could not separate the belligerent parties. Z's BIG.

Now, no one's saying this is a nice picture to be sure - boys and girls slugging it out like pirates in front of City Hall - but you have to realize, we do this kind of thing all the time. It's called "Meet me out back and we'll work this out man to man." I would certainly not have taken Z on man to man, but hey... I really don't know the details of what happened between them. (And besides, even James Dean did it in A Rebel without a Cause cheered on by Nathaly Wood, remember? I mean, he didn't slug a girl or anything but he did fight it out in front of the planetarium. Mom gave me the dvd for Christmas after reading John's comment in December after the news that I finally did get kicked out broke on Blog spot and Facebook...)

You also have to realize that last year, Mom and Papa were once called to school because I had gone into the vice-principal's office to complain about a situation I found unjust. It was because only one of two girls who had slugged it out after school hours and off school grounds was getting a punishment from the school vice-principal. It just happened to be the girl whose parents had not complained to the principal whereas the other girl's parents - the one who was not getting any punishment- had, and they said they were going to go to the police about it! That girl with strong parents was being considered the victim! I found this downright unfair! I mean, I'd been there - at the fight that is - and neither of these girls was a victim. They had both organized and prepared for the fight. Not only that, they had told us all to be there to watch and support them! I mean, the one now being called the victim had taken her earrings out in preparation for the show down! She's my friend but I still found it totally unfair that the other girl was being punished and not her! At the time, as soon as I learned about this gross injustice, I just couldn't stomach it!

I felt like Madeline calling for Ven-gé-ance for Miss Genevieve! (Thank you Ludwig Bemelmans and Viking) I immediately ran upstairs to the vice-principal's office, burst in without knocking, jumped on a chair, raised my fist in the air and told her in a loud voice that it was unfair! Normal, no? Well, the vice-P didn't think so.

Mom and Papa got called in because I'm a leader! Mom learned that day that in France being a leader is NOT a good quality; it really means ringleader. (Incidently, she learned yesterday that the correct attitude is to be fédérateur and conciliant - that's what Malcolm's teacher said he was and both Mom and Papa were very proud and told him so!)

Basically, the vice-P - and you have to realize this is the same woman who just a month before had accused me of being involved in a district-wide marijuana sales ring with out a single piece of proof besides another girl's accusation - well, the vice-P wanted Papa and Mom to tell me to stop being a leader right away! As if that would have done any good! Mom said "Since we we're all gathered here together perhaps we could at least hear what Stella has ants in her pants about then we will be able to decide if she should stop being a leader or not." If Mom had not insisted, even raised her gentle voice an iota, the vice-P would not have let me tell my story!!! So I tell my story and then the vice-P goes on and on about how she knows that the "attacker" is a spoiled little brat! Then the vice-P gives us quite a few intimate details about this girl's private life that we have no business knowing and she would gladly have given us more if Mom hadn't stopped her by saying it was inappropriate to tell us these things!

Suffice it to say that, in the end, I came home from school very proudly a few days later to tell Mom and Papa that both the belligerent girls had received the same punishment and that no one was going to the police! I felt kind of like justice had been done! In some ways, thanks to me! Mom said the "victim" must have been super happy to have got a punishment but I told her the girl knew it was only right...

Basically, Mom's been saying all along that there must be something wrong with the school system if I got kicked out (she can't fathom the idea that there might perhaps be something wrong with me...)! Also, she's been thinking that the principal of my old school is not handling things quite the way Mom thinks she should be. The story above was just one example. Not that Mom would do any better but then it's not her job, is it?

Anyway, back to more recent incidents. Well, once again, the "victim" of the latest fight - and she may well really be a victim, I don't know the details well enough to say. In any case, she is a girl and she was hit by a boy, a BIG boy, and that's not fair! - anyway, she complained to her parents who apperently complained to the police who apparently went to see the principal of my old collège...

This is where Miss Crankypants starts growling. The principal, without having been present, without knowing for sure what happened, took the policemen to the classrooms of two of the girls who were being accused and handed these girls over to the police! The Parents' Association also thinks she gave them the names and adresses of the boy who is no longer in her school and of one of the girls, my friend Y, who was home sick!

This is where Miss Crankypants exchanges her smirk for a black scowl! Using this information, the police went and got the children, taking Y who was home alone with her 17 year-old brother from her bedroom in her pyjamas without letting her get dressed, saying "You don't have to be made up to go to the police station!" They put hand cuffs on her, drove her to the police station and locked her in a cell for ten hours without letting her telephone her parents or anyone else. Y's brother did immediately call his parents who went to the police station with the other parents but none of them was allowed any contact with their children for 10 hours! Z was held in a cell for 24 hours without any contact with his parents. These kids are my friends. They are 14 years-old, like me.

Now, perhaps the principal of a collège is under some legal obligation to co-operate with the police, I'm not sure. But here in France we have shiny, golden, commemorative plaques reminding us of the school children who were taken from our schools - grades K thru 12, that would be - by French policemen during the Nazi occupation of France. These children died in concentration camps in Germany. So some people here in France don't like policemen taking underage children from schools or their bedrooms to the police station and holding them like criminals. It brings back bad memories.

As a matter of fact, some of you might remember that back in June or somewhere abouts, Miss Crankypants went down to our neighborhood police station and insisted politely - in this case she was careful not to raise her voice - until they allowed her to make a deposition stating that she did NOT want her then 13 year-old daughter - that would be me - to be frisked by dogs and policemen in the street. Miss Crankypants said that if they really felt it was necessary to frisk me, she prefered that the policemen take me into custody, call my parents on the phone and that they would the gladly come down to be present with me while I was frisked by a policewoman. She even told some other mothers what she'd done and they'd said they were going to do the same thing... Don't think they did, though. For some time after that, the policemen and women who frisked my friends in the street first asked them if they were not Stella Paret! When they said they weren't, the kids got frisked. Mom felt like she'd been heard! Unfortunately, the policemen also made slightly threatening comments about what they'd do if the kids were Stella Paret. Luckily, it was never me!

Also, after learning from Max and his friends about how the police in the XXth district checked the boys' IDs, Miss Crankypants called down to the police station to ask if French policemen really did have the right to touch - through their pants - or look at - by pulling the pants and underpants down - the genitals of underage boys in the street during a simple ID check. At the time, she was told that YES, THEY COULD and NA! Actually, since then, she's learned that no, they can't, but the line between when they can and can't is so fine it's hardly visible...

Basically, Miss Crankypants, although she's disgusted by and worried about the abuses of the police state here in Paris - not to mention the collusion with said police state by school authorities - feels happy that perhaps some of the other parents are now starting to think it's intolerable too! They've even gotten together and started saying so out loud! This is when being part of a nationally recognized Parents' Association like the FCPE which Papa belongs to comes in handy. And here's some proof : this morning on National radio, I heard the news announcer tell the tale of my friend Y's garde à vue (which is the cool French word for... well, I'm sorry but I don't know exactly what American legalese for "taking underage children in pyjamas into custody and holding them for hours in prison cells in the absence of their parents" is.). Maybe someday soon a Miss Crankypants Collective might just whop the injustice of it all...

Don't hold you breath!


  1. I am shocked, shocked to discover fist-fights and disregard for authority in schools. Certainly I was never involved in such activities and always held our high school's principal in the highest esteem. (My Mom's not reading this, right? I fear her rebuttal would be lengthy indeed, and she probably only knows half of it!)

    Worst of all, though, is this accusation of leadership. I'm glad to know that the French authorities are vigorously stamping out any appearances of such depraved behavior.

  2. Hhhm... Makes things look a little different. Must not reform. Must continue to assume the absolute worst of any kind of organized authority, especially where schools and police are concerned. We appreciate this update.

  3. Oh man, oh man, oh man...
    What an amazing story. Thanks for the update.

    Do keep us posted on developments. And do, by all means, keep the pressure on all the school and police authorities so that their activities can not be carried out in the dark, if you will. Geez......

    Who knew how special the old PTA could seem, after a post like this!

    By the way, what did the e-mail that Thierry got from the "Parent of-kids-in-school Association" say? Somehow, I'm left wondering about that, oddly.

  4. Good question Monique. Stella forgot to elucidate that! The email told the kids' story and asked the question "Why did the school principal apparently offer information of her own accord to the police concerning a kid who was not in her school that day and also concerning another who is no longer under her responsibility at all?" The media has caught the story. Y has been interviewed and filmed. This morning our favorite radio satirist did his morning piece on the incident. Unfortunately, the police (and the principal) are defending themselves by saying it's their word against the girl's and her parents'... (One wonders where the OTHER three kids' parents are hiding this morning...) You know what that means, right? That means our 14 year-old made it all up, of course. Those school children are so inventive. (Cut creative writing from the curriculum, fast!) She was never hand cuffed, etc.

    No one seems to be scandalized by the very fact that she was taken into custody WITHOUT her parents being present in the first place. The parents were not even informed by the police (or the principal for that matter...)! It's the pyjamas and hand cuffs that have everyone up in arms! True, we Frenchies think too much AND we're too preoccupied with "la mode"! "Gosh, do I really have to go out in my jammies, without my hair being done?"

  5. Here goes yet another of my illusions, that of a France with a better human rights record than our own.