My kids have been exposed to many things in France that they might have not encountered so young back home: snails for dinner, a taste for unpasteurized cheese, the freedom to roam the city without parents, and travel journals filled with stories of their adventures across Europe.
But for all these pluses, they've also been exposed pretty regularly to things that are not so nice such as public urination and daily encounters with street alcoholics. They can even point out the prostitutes whose cars line certain lanes in the Bois de Boulogne. On the one hand, it's probably not such a bad idea for them to understand that things aren't as cushy for everyone as they are for us. Life is messy and unfair; it's the seamier side of living in a society where education, opportunity, ambition, and good sense are not evenly afforded and where people are free to make choices about their lives. On the other hand, there's an in-your-face quality to dodging a drunk rambling down the sidewalk that is not as instructive as the times we worked side by side packing groceries for the hungery, organizing the shelves at a clothing bank, and painting and cleaning a facility for sick children. I'm not particularly happy about the crew of panhandlers encamped on our street, a daily obstacle of requests for small change and cigarettes between our place and the corner store. This is the same group who were around last summer; they disappeared over the winter and reappeared in the spring. In the meantime, they seem to have lost their talent for acquiring used furniture. Instead, they now have a rabbit on a leash.
I don't blame Paris; Washington certainly has its share of homeless folks and prostitutes. But they were not quite so much a part of our daily lives as they are here. Is it too much too soon? I'm not sure.