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Free Things My Small Child Was Given In France And Italy, Ranked

Chris Thompson/Defector

They say the French can be haughty and aloof, and they're not wrong. This can make traveling in France—and in particular in Paris, where even non-Parisian French will warn you not to expect any friendliness whatsoever—intimidating for a goofy outsider. But they also say that the French adore babies, and buddy, they are not kidding. In fact, it turns out the French cannot suppress their adoration of small babies even long enough to fix the child's parents with that famous automatic scowl of disapproval. You can commit any offense at all in France and be met with patience and warmth and good humor, so long as you have a reasonably alert tiny child in your company. It's basically a superpower.

Do not even get me started on the Italians. You have to actively buck up any Italian over the age of 21 who encounters your baby, otherwise they will openly weep tears of joy.

My wife and tiny daughter and I recently returned from a trip to France and Italy. If you ever have the opportunity to travel in France and Italy with a tiny child, I highly recommend it. For one thing, as I have already noted, a cute baby will earn you instant and utterly impermeable goodwill with all French and Italian people, so that they will hardly notice your persistent brutalization of such key words and phrases as bonjour (hello) and enchanté (nice to meet you) and the absolutely dreaded arrivederci (goodbye). For another thing, you will almost never have to pay to feed the child, because the French and the Italians will not let babies travel 20 feet in any direction without thrusting cookies and pastries and ice cream into their hands.

My tiny child is extremely into people, and the French and Italian people we met were extremely into her, and I am here today to tell you that she received a downright obscene amount of free swag, just for smiling at sweet European grandparent-types. This was already a theme even before two Italian grocers taught her to blow kisses and say ciao; from that moment on she had absolute mind control powers over all Italians. Sauron himself never dreamed of such powers of domination. I'm almost afraid to ask how the Italians are handling the fact that this child has returned to America. A very nice woman in Minori who nicknamed my daughter "patata" and ran after us on the street on multiple occasions in order to give us fruit and cookies for our child became visibly upset when I told her in broken Italian that we'd be leaving for Sicily the following day. The southern part of the nation very nearly came under my tiny child's formal dominion. It will take some time to convince my daughter that her name is not, in fact, Amore Che Bella. Babies are simply too powerful for Europe.

This building contains an art exhibit. The baby was inside for approximately 30 seconds, and emerged with free food.

What follows is a partial list of gifts that were given to my child, many in the style of sacred offerings, across France and Italy. It does not include innumerable bottles of water (both still and sparkling), a half-hour of impromptu babysitting from an enthralled Icelandic flight attendant, or the time when a guitar trio quite literally abandoned the wedding party for whom they were hired to perform in order to come across a restaurant and sing "O solo mio" to our slightly confused but ultimately delighted baby, who was at that moment slurping up free pasta with bottarga in what might've been the only high-chair in the entire town.

Her majesty looks on approvingly.Chris Thompson/Defector

The items are ranked according to how much approval they appeared to gain from the baby herself, from best to worst (please do not read this, gentle Italian man who spent 10 minutes shaping a napkin into an elaborate origami animal):

  1. One Delizia al Limone (Minori)
  2. One potato chip (Annecy)
  3. Bear plush toy (Paris)
  4. Lion plush toy (Taormina)
  5. Glazed bun (pictured, L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue)
  6. Orange slices (Cannes)
  7. Three apricots (Minori)
  8. Plastic flower (Catania)
  9. Lavender bouquet (Nice)
  10. Large handful of fruit candy (Minori)
  11. Chocolate gelato (Positano)
  12. Peach sorbetto (Cetara)
  13. Pistachio granita (Taormina)
  14. Normal handful of fruit candy (Minori)
  15. Medium inflated ball (Minori)
  16. Apricot cornetto (Minori)
  17. Peach (Minori)
  18. Apricot (Paris)
  19. Single piece of fruit candy (Roussillon)
  20. An entire cantaloupe (Minori)
  21. Fior di latte gelato (Minori)
  22. Approximately 11 homemade shortbread cookies (Minori)
  23. Three shortbread cookies (Fontaine-de-Vaucluse)
  24. Two shortbread cookies (L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue)
  25. Calamari fritto (Taormina)
  26. Bowl of scialatelli with bottarga (Cetara)
  27. Small rubber ball (Taormina)
  28. Arancino (Taormina)
  29. Strawberry gelée (Cannes)
  30. Orange juice (Paris)
  31. Madeleine (L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue)
  32. Strawberry granita (Taormina)
  33. Lemon sorbetto (Minori)
  34. Banana (Minori)
  35. Homemade limonata (Minori)
  36. Orange juice (Cannes)
  37. Brioche (Biancavilla)
  38. Banana (Minori)
  39. Plate of spaghetti (Nice)
  40. Arancino (Catania)
  41. Two tubs of strawberries (Annecy)
  42. Large bottle of milk (Taormina)
  43. Apple sauce (Paris)
  44. Towel (Cannes)
  45. Apple juice (Paris)
  46. Sunglasses (Taormina)
  47. Postcard (Gordes)
  48. Napkin origami animal (Minori)
  49. Ceramic ornament (Roussillon)
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