Some thoughts about the recent events in Paris…

Last night, as the end of a long day drew to an end, I had the need to jot down a couple of thoughts about the events in Paris since Wednesday. It has been terrifying, horrific, violent, senseless on the one hand… and beautiful, peaceful and full of hope on the other hand. It is very hard to describe what has been going on in this beautiful city of ours over the last few days, so apologies if I ramble. ; )

I wanted to start off by explaining to the non-French contingent the importance of Charlie Hebdo and how much it symbolizes so much of French culture. Here in France, illustrated stories and cartoons are a huge part of our culture. Adults as much as children devour illustrated novels. (One of my 9-year-old’s after school activities is a cartoon class.) My generation grew up on the cartoon books by Wolinski and Cabu, so these guys were not just people working for a small satirical magazine that sometimes found itself on the fine line between offensive and provocative, they were illustrators that have formed the rebellious spirit of a whole generation.

The French are, on the whole, cynical, critical and irreverent (I mean this as a compliment). They are also, compared to all the countries I have lived in, the most politically aware and politically engaged. This is why the attack of Charlie Hebdo was so significant: it represents an attack on something us French hold the most dear: our freedom of expression. A quote by Voltaire has been repeated again and again this week: “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to death your right to say it.” People here feel strongly that provocation by cartoonist are incredibly important, as the irreverence and humour is such a historic way in France to mock the government and society in general.

For most of Wednesday and Thursday, Charlie Hebdo was our main focus – Friday’s attacks irreversibly changed the scale of the attacks. “Je Suis Charlie” suddenly became so much bigger than it had been. It came to represent all groups targeted in the attack. “Je Suis Charlie” suddenly came to mean: I am a journalist, I am Jewish, I am the Police. The slogan became bigger than just France, it started to represent all the people targeted senselessly by terrorists.


On Wednesday late afternoon, after letting sink in the terror of what had happened in my neighbourhood and in my city, I took the kids over to Place de la Republique. A spontaneous gathering was taking place and I felt like it was important to show the children (and myself) how a tiny little group of people can commit a senseless crime and how in the face of that, thousands of people gathered together peacefully to stand up against violence. The atmosphere on the square was so calm and strong and it was incredible to see how everyone needed to unite together and gain strength from likeminded people. I think, hopefully, that showing the children what was going on (both the good and the bad) was the best way for them to deal with the tragedies. The Charlie Hebdo shooting and the shooting of the first police man happened so close to us that ignoring it and protecting them from the events was not a possibility. But I do hope that by participating in the demonstration today and laying flowers down for the victims will give them an understanding of what happened and how important it is to stand up for our basic rights.


– Emilie

P.S. For anyone living in France or whose children read French, I really liked the gesture by Le Petit Quotidien, a children’s daily newspaper who have made a version dedicated to the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attacks downloadable free of charge.


Comments (17)

January 13, 2015

well said – in these days we all are charlie!
Thanks for sharing.

January 13, 2015

We all are shocked for what happened, but also impressed by the reaction of all the parisian in Place de la Republique. You give your daughters a great lesson, make them live it maybe will make them better people, I think I’d do the same with my boys if I’ve lived in France (and if they were bigger -only 3 and 1).

January 13, 2015

Oui Cabu ou Wolinski c’est aussi toute ma jeunesse … Ces derniers jours nous ont rassemblés partout en France et dans le monde.
Mon grand garçon (6 ans) a eu du mal à comprendre ce qui se passait … Et le petit quotidien a trouvé les mots justes pour m’aider en tant que maman qui explique l’inexplicable…


Emilie in Paris
January 13, 2015

pourvu que ça dure!

January 13, 2015

[…] I came across this blog post from Emilie in Paris explaining how she helped her children to make sense of what was happening on […]

January 13, 2015

This saddens me so much that these brave souls were taken from us. I stand with France in this hour, day and year! The cowards who did this cannot stop the freedom of our speech, ideas and work. VIVA LA FRANCE!

January 13, 2015

Having subscribed to your blog for years and never commented, I’m now posting in response to one of your posts for the second time in a week. There are no words to adequately describe the emotions we have been through in the past few days, but with children in mind I think your open approach was exactly right, I tried to respond to my little girls’ questions about the news on this side of La Manche in a similar way. ‘Courage’ for the coming days – I hope that this terrible tragedy will mark the beginning of a new and positive chapter.

Emilie in Paris
January 14, 2015

I do hope it does, it might be naive but I really do hope so!

January 14, 2015

Thank you, for a french person living in the US it has been really hard to explain to people what Charlie Hebdo is about. I loved your words. I will quote them, if you don’t mind (with credit given of course!)

January 14, 2015


January 14, 2015

it can be very hard to shed new light on a topic that is being covered on such a massive level. but you did. and i’m appreciative of your words, your heart, and your example. thank you for sharing it with the world. i have included a brief teaser and link to your post over at keep on shining, sister 🙂

January 14, 2015

Ha, most certainly will 🙂

January 14, 2015

Thank you for your words. As an American parent who strives to be politically savvy and globally conscious, I am always interested in the ways that other cultures parent their children. I was wondering if French parents try to shield their children from horrific events like these, or if they feel comfortable explaining what happened? I think in America we generally keep awful news stories from children as best we can and keep any necessary explanations positive and very general (“that happened but it will never happen again and it will never, ever happen to you.”) Just wondering how you handle it and if discussing tragedy is less taboo in France than here.

January 14, 2015

Hmm good question. I think it does really depend on the parents, but, at least here in Paris ( I think also in the rest of France) it felt like the only option was to explain it in an age appropriate way. On Thursday there was a minute of silence in all schools and public buildings, so the teachers and the kids discussed what had happened. Most magazines geared towards children, like Le Petit Quotidien, published a version dedicated to the subject. Newspapers for adults have been featuring articles on how to talk to children about the attacks. I think that we are (this is a yet again a massive generalisation) quite politically conscious, so children are very used to political debate and listening to “grown up” conversations on a daily basis.

January 14, 2015

A really wonderful reflection of last week’s events – thank you Emilie! I hope in the coming weeks, you will feel less shaken and often encouraged by the strength of your fellow Parisians.

January 16, 2015

[…] Interesting take on the events in Paris last week. […]

November 17, 2015

[…] main reason the atmosphere is so different than during the attacks on Charlie Hebdo is that this time we, here in Paris, feel like we have been targeted for being us and for living […]

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