ON holiday last week in a small rural French town much like Spalding I opened a local paper much like this one and my jaw dropped.
On page two I’d found a photo of a class of tinies no doubt newly arrived at school – but what were they doing?
They were sitting in a vineyard with the wine harvest going on all around them, and each child was clutching a small bucket to put their own grapes in.
The picture caption explained it’s completely normal for children in the Languedoc region to “join in” the wine harvest each year to learn all about how grapes turn into wine.
But these are very small children, and wine is alcohol, right?
A comparable British infant school trip would be to the nearest brewery to learn all about how hops turn into beer.
It’s never going to happen. It would be frowned upon at the very least.
And there you have a key difference in the way our two cultures deal with alcohol, which may go some way to explaining some of the other differences.
Like that you never see teenagers in Languedoc’s small towns drinking from beer cans or wine bottles in the park or the street – even though cheap alcohol is readily available in supermarkets, and the sunny climate tempts people of all ages outdoors until quite late at night.
Like that therefore local laws to stop people abusing drink in small French towns aren’t needed and aren’t an issue.
Like that generally French parents care a great deal about the quality of both food and wine and pass on their high standards to their children at family meals from an early age.
One way they do it is to water down wine for young teenagers to taste in controlled circumstances, and expect the whole family to sit down together to eat (and drink) in the first place.
You can teach children by example to respect alcohol and its effects and to appreciate and savour the very best wine or liqueurs.
Or you can show them never mind what it tastes like, all that matters is to buy the highest possible percentage of alcohol for the lowest possible price because the only thing it’s good for is to get you drunk.
Le Bon Vin, or the Demon Drink – take your pick.