Before this recent stay, I was in Germany in June 2011. At the time I didn’t have a child, wasn’t even pregnant and hadn’t really paid much attention to children while I was here. That’s different this time as I now have Elisabeth practically glued to me; there isn’t anywhere that I go where she doesn’t. We’ve been here almost 2.5 weeks now and I’ve had plenty of time to watch people’s behaviors and attitudes towards kids.
I’ve noticed two “big” things which have struck me as very interesting.
- While there is plenty of infrastructure here that supports kids (parks, ramps for strollers, extra large doorways on trams/buses for strollers and of course biggies like daycare for those that need it, etc.), parents are considerably less hands-on with kids. Kids here (small kids even) bike by themselves, walk naked around parks, “swim” in pools without a parent right on top of them, go to cafes alone, and ride public transport by themselves. It seems to be just the opposite in the US: child friendly accommodations are rare (even rarer in urban areas) and both parents tend to helicopter over their kids.
- The average German isn’t willing to make any (read: any) accommodation for you if you have a child…whether you’re crossing the street with a baby in stroller, walking in grocery store with baby, just trying to get down a busy aisle, walking on sidewalk or in street with baby or child. YOU, even with a child in tow, always need to be the one that moves.
And I’ve noticed two smaller things-
- There is very little baby/toddler wearing here. Kleine kinder are in strollers, not in a Bjorn.
- And, those same babies are ALWAYS flat on their backs in strollers or the dreaded car seat carrier.
Children, even babies, aren’t seen as special or little darlings here, except by their parents but even their parents don’t make too big of a deal over them. German parents are engaged, but almost removed. I’m not saying this is a bad thing or a universal truth, it’s just something that I have noticed after a few short weeks here. In the US, we tend to see children, especially babies, as little miracles (of course this applies more to some babies than others). Neither attitude is “right” or probably even “true”, just a personal observation. I wonder, though, if perhaps because German parents aren’t cooing over their kids 24/7, the rest of society takes a cue from them and is less attentive as well? As in, they are small and have needs which are accommodated but don’t need to be fussed over? Maybe.
I admit I’m used to seeing people smile at me, or at minimum, at Elisabeth when we’re out and about. Not here. I’m also used to people yielding space on the sidewalk for us. Not here. Friendliness is the exception, rather than the rule. People even stare at Elisabeth without smiling…which always leads me to look at her myself, in case Ive missed the fact that she is gagging or has a large boogie creeping out of a nostril. Nope. And she’s never misbehaving or wailing or out of control. She’s working her voice so may be a bit loud occasionally but she isn’t out of control. Elisabeth is jabbering away with a large smile or even laughing to herself and they still stare.
In my limited view so far, Germany is a child friendly place, in the sense of systems that support children. But in terms of its people and their attitude toward children, it isn’t at all. And that’s okay. It’s just a cultural difference that I’m learning about and from all the time while we’re here. It would be nice, though, if just once someone driving down the road would stop and let me go, even though yes, they do have the right of way. I’ll let you know when it happens. But, don’t hold your breath.
What have you noticed about how people in other countries that you’ve visited treat children? Leave a comment below. All comments are confidential until approved.