If you guessed the United States, 10 points for you! Americans are obsessed with safety. They attempt to protect people from the minutest chance of harm, but then they do things that are incredibly stupid and dangerous--like insist on their "right" not to wear a motorcycle helmet. Children going on a school trip to the zoo often have to produce signed legal waivers before they can participate. American parenting magazines anticipate the remotest possibility of harm that could befall your child.
For example, last summer I browsed through an article advising parents to always turn their childrens' sleepers inside-out before washing, because your child's hair could collect in the foot area and get tangled up around a toe and cut off circulation and cause the toe to need amputation. This came complete with a parent's first-hand account of this happening and how they had to rush their child to the emergency room to remove the strangulating strand of hair.
Last week, when I was bringing the 3 kids to France on my own, I had two very bizarre and frustrating encounters with the American obsession over safety.
Anecdote #1: I was in the airport waiting for our first flight to depart. I had a 20-hour journey ahead of me, with 2 airport connections and 3 flights before we arrived. So my primary goal was to get the kids' energy out before we got on the plane. We were in a quiet, mostly empty part of the airport, so I let the kids go back and forth on the moving sidewalks until we boarded. At the next airport, we did the same thing until a security guard came over. "Ma'am, I don't want your children going on the moving sidewalks. They're very dangerous and your children could get their fingers pinched or cut off."
"But I'm about to get on a trans-Atlantic flight with 3 little kids. They need to get their energy out before they're cooped up on the plane."
"I'm sorry, but it's just too dangerous and I don't want to be the one having to call the ambulance if your child gets a finger torn off. Then you'll miss the flight and you'll have to stay overnight in the hospital and no one will be happy. We even had an old lady die in an escalator not too long ago when she fell and her collar got tangled in mechanism. One slip and it's too late. Now, it's your choice to let them play on the moving walkways, but I don't want to be the one calling 911."
After he totally spoiled our fun, we had to find some other form of amusement. We watched airplanes out a big window, slid down a small ramp at the bottom of the windowpanes, and shared toys with a family from (my guess) somewhere in eastern Europe.
Anecdote #2: About halfway through the trans-Atlantic flight, I finally got all three kids asleep. Inga was in a bassinet that clipped into the bulkhead in front of us. Zari and Dio were sleeping on the floor by my feet, curled up with their little red airplane blankets. A flight attended came over and angrily told me that I could not let my children sleep on the floor. "You have to get them off the floor right now! It's too dangerous!"
"But if I move them, they will wake up and start screaming, and then everyone will be miserable."
"I'm sorry, but they cannot be on the floor. If we hit a patch of turbulence, they could fly up and break their necks and die."
So I hauled two no-longer-sleeping children off the floor and buckled them into their seats.
Then as soon as I landed in France, I was reminded how differently they think about safety. On our first day, we were invited to someone's house for lunch. (Incredible food, by the way, though fairly quotidian by French standards.) Our hosts live high up in the hills above Nice, and there's no way to get there via public transportation. So they said, "We'll drive you! Hop in the car." They took me and Inga first and then came back for Eric and the other two children. No car seats, mind you. I buckled Inga in with a lap belt, praying that we didn't get in an accident.
On the way home, they wanted to avoid shuttling us in shifts, so they piled all of us into a tiny car and off we went down the hairpin turns. Eric sat shotgun and I was in the back with all 3 kids. We had to double some of them up in the seatbelts because this was a small 5-passenger car with 6 people in it. What struck me was the total nonchalance from all the French people around me at driving an overcrowded car, full of kids, with no car seats.
At one point during our lunchtime conversation, the topic of wearing helmets came up. I told them how in the States, all the kids wear bike helmets but none of the motorcyclists do. This is pretty much the polar opposite of France. Here in France, you don't wear a bike helmet unless you're an adult and a serious cyclist. But everyone wears a full helmet when they ride a motorcycle.
I just finished reading Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting. I highlighted the following passage (about how French women don't usually avoid certain foods during pregnancy, such as soft cheeses or raw meat): "The point in France isn't that anything goes. It's that women should be calm and sensible. Unlike me, the French mothers I meet distinguish between the things that are almost definitely damaging and those that are dangerous only if they're contaminated."
Give me the French approach to danger any day, where people take precautions for things that are actually dangerous (like crazy motorcyclists who often go 160+ kilometers per hour while weaving in and out of traffic) rather than fretting about minute possibilities of harm (like eating unpasteurized sheep's cheese topped with a slice of raw cured ham).
|Because you can never be too safe...|