I love coming across one of those Aha! moments. One of those, but of course! moments. And such was the result of much back and forthing this week concerning friends at the school.
Meetings, language, cues, nuance, diplomacy. How fascinating to have opposing views on such important subjects.
The situation in question concerns an English family and the school, but it could be a replay of numerous meetings held between teachers and British/Anglo-Saxon parents over the past few years. Our school, the only Rudolf Steiner/Waldorf school that goes through to high school situated in a particularly attractive location in Europe, attracts many internationals. And, of these, there are a number who contemplate/dream/plan to settle permanently in la belle Provence. You can put whatever spin on this you choose. Is it the English reconquering a land they've coveted for centuries, more than a millenium? Is it simply the new sunbelt of Europe? In any case, with computers and flexible working conditions, housing prices being a bit more reasonable on this side of the channel, this option has tempted a number of families over the years.
There've also been a number of visiting families from other English/Anglo countries: Americans, Canadians, Australians. But in general, they are visitors for a set time period, and then they return home. It's a family adventure, no more.
Our school welcomes with open arms these families. The teachers accept the children who manage minimally the local language, and we all pitch in to make it work. But what happens when the parents don't know and have difficulty learning French? What happens when that Provence dream turns a bit sour when they realize that the job market here is supremely difficult? It's not always as easy and smooth as one might wish. How much can the school help?
I digress. I have set the tone, but truly what I want to consider is how bad news is presented during a meeting. It is dawning on me that the French and Anglo-Saxon viewpoint are opposed in this delicate situation. From my personal experience -- and that of a few friends -- it is clear to me that we Anglo-Saxons need a bit of sugar with our medicine. Face it, we were many of us raised with Mary Poppins as an important cultural icon. We need to be reassured that all is not evil, that there are redeeming character traits (in our child for example) or that there is hope for improvement, or that this meeting is simply a chance to inform and plan future collaboration towards a solution.
I know that I (and I believe many others of my culture) simply shut down and panic when bad news is dished out first. It's rather terrifying, I'm not ready, what? hunh? but when? for how long? whoah.... isn't there anything positive you could say to soften the blow? For us diplomacy is defined by the art of couching/framing/preparing the negative information with a bit of the positive. We are thus reassured (in this case as a parent, but this could be a business meeting, job discussion, the list is long) that our child is seen as a whole and complex being.
By contrast, a few of my French (particularly Parisian) friends have a tendency to avoid what they see as sugar-coating as being dishonest and simply putting off the inevitable. They distrust and are wary of such tactics -- that's how they see them. Get to the point, why have you called this meeting? Diplomacy is deemed being brutally honest.
Or, as a (French) friend astutely put it, what do you want the person in front of you to walk away with? Do you begin with the bad and end with the good? and thus hope that the lasting impression will be better? or do you begin with the good and end with the bad, and your partner thus walks away depressed?
Curiouser and curiouser. And so, I am seriously contemplating more discussions on this topic and making a proposal to the school to I hope, more adroitly welcome and manage what is clearly a growing population for us.