Having been a fan of blog-star, Petite Anglaise, since I first stumbled across the link to her blog on Expatica.com, I have happily dipped in and out of her observations on life in Paris. Being a Kiwi living with a Frenchman in London, I am fascinated by the cultural differences she writes about as an Englishwoman living across the Channel. In spite of our different locations, some of our experiences are similar, such as the menace of slippery little dog poos on a footpath (almost trod in 3 of the blighters en route to work this morning), the stultification of being a graduate working in admin or the way that the study of languages has infected us with a passion for The City of Light. Other experiences are quite different, namely, I am not a Mum, like Petite, and therefore couldn’t possibly imagine how hard it has been for her to go through the events of recent years, nor would I even try.
Like so many fans of Petite Anglaise, my calendar was marked with the release date for the book of the blog for ages. I couldn’t wait to read it and see how Petite’s experiences translated into a more traditional form. There was a lot of predictable pre-release hype regarding the morality of Petite’s actions as detailed in the book, most importantly, what drove her to embark on an affair behind the back of her long-term boyfriend, Mr Frog, who is also the father of her daughter, Tadpole. Some of the comments following on-line reviews and articles are encouraging “live your life, Petite!”, but others have been judgmental and cruel in the worst way, making me wonder whether this was simply because Petite was a woman (heaven forbid) who’d had an affair. If a man had had an affair, left his wife and child and written a book about it, it would probably still be in some sub-editor’s slush pile somewhere. It’s simply too commonplace a scenario.
Affairs are a sensitive subject to broach, with good reason. Someone usually gets hurt and their ripple effect transports pain and awkwardness throughout the surrounding group of family and friends. But why should anyone feel they have the right to pronounce on someone else’s life and actions? No matter how well we think we know someone, we can never see inside their minds to truly understand how they feel or why they act in a certain way. With this in mind I started to read Petite Anglaise by Catherine Sanderson (Petite’s real name), searching for reasons to explain why people were being so hateful towards her.
In three words: there were none.
Granted, Petite had hurt Mr Frog by falling for another man, but given the hum-drum routine that her life had become coupled with a lack of attention and physical affection from her partner, perhaps we should focus on this for a minute. Perhaps being taken for granted and spending most evenings caring for baby alone, waiting for the moment that Mr Frog returned home late (yet again) from work is where the real damage was done. Perhaps the hurt done TO Petite, as opposed to BY her is where the real pain lay. We cannot know. We are not Petite or Mr Frog. Only they can truly understand the way their relationship dissolved and why.
Which brings me to the next point: you should never judge a person until you have walked at least a mile in their shoes, should you? So what sort of tortured souls are they who find it appropriate to criticise a woman who has made some unenviably difficult choices and written a candid book about them? I guarantee that they are jealous of Petite. Perhaps they, too, found themselves at a crossroads once, but instead of being brave and trying out the unknown quantity in their quest for a more satisfactory existence, they did what society considered “right”, only to become bitter online comment makers with nothing better to do with their spare time (of which there is too much) than be mean to those whose courage we should be celebrating.
Just to take my own turn at being bitchy, have you ever noticed that these commenters are so keen to get their angry words on the page that they make spelling mistakes? Really silly spelling mistakes which immediately undermine whatever their opinion is by making them look stupid. They also tend to get their facts wrong. I would suggest to anyone about to write with acid tongue about another’s work to please, do your research. The very fact you misinterpret could change your view if you took the time to get it right. Lastly, and most importantly, how about experimenting a bit with ‘live and let live’? The book may not be for you, it may not be interesting subject matter to someone who lives for wargames, doesn’t like children or who has no interest in other cultures, but it may be a great read for your neighbour or colleague. It’s not right to dismiss things out of hand because they don’t suit your own personal preferences. Let go and try to do something positive with that misaligned energy of yours, and if you don’t have something nice to say, say nothing. There’s enough negativity in the world.
In the meantime, I’d like to tell Petite that I have to admire her candour for writing about such tricky subject matter. I, for one, admire her for not accepting drudgery in her life, for seizing the day and changing direction and for maintaining a good friendship with Mr Frog in spite of all the ups and downs. You go, girl! Can’t wait for the next instalment…