Appearance is important in France. Which means that plates of food, shop windows, and clothes (among other things) can be very, very beautiful here. However, it is possible, I believe, to take things too far. For example.
We were eating lunch at a nice brasserie along a river in a small city in Brittany. Boys had finished their lunch and had been served 2 scoops of ice cream. And they were eating them with much enthusiasm. Which translated into total silence and focus from Boy1 and relative silence, focus, and total messiness from Boy2. There was ice cream all over his face and a fair amount on his shirt. I hadn't brought a bib and the paper napkins were useless again his efforts to become a chocolate-covered Boy2.
There were four people seated at the table next to ours. A middle-aged couple and an elderly couple. They watched Boy2 eat his ice cream for a minute. The elderly woman smiled indulgently and said, "He sure is enjoying that ice cream." Her daughter clucked her tongue and said, "Yes, but he's getting it all over his shirt. It will be stained. "
"That's ok, " I said. "Kids are supposed to be dirty, it's proof they're having fun."
HER: "But he'll be stained and dirty all day unless you change his shirt."
ME: "Well, I won't change his shirt, I have enough laundry as it is and really, it's only chocolate ice cream. "
HER: "But people will look at him and see that his shirt is stained."
ME: "If it doesn't bother him or me, why should it bother anyone else?"
HER: "I suppose that's true. But appearance is important here."
ME: "I can appreciate that. But judging people based on appearance should not be."
HER: "That's true."
It sounds kind of snippy, but it really wasn't. The tone was very civilized and I think she was as baffled by my attitude as I was by hers. My position is in no way superior to hers, just different. For her, clean and neatly-dressed children are a result of good parenting. And for me, at the end of the day, grass stains, muddy hands, and chocolate stains are sure-fire signs that the day was a good one.