Friday, August 19, 2011

Kulturkrock

A few years ago (and it frightens me that I still remember what I wrote nearly three years ago and can dig it up and link to it but whatever), I wrote about childcare in Sweden. Not because I actually have children, but because it’s a pretty popular topic. People the world over comment on the parental leave, the daycare, the child allowance all provided by those high taxes that Swedes pay.

In that post, I mentioned in passing about a Danish woman who ran into some legal trouble in the US for leaving her child in a stroller while she went into some sort of business establishment. Eventually, the whole thing settled down and she managed to even get some money out of the whole thing. Well played Danish woman, well played. Now a Swedish woman is in the exact same situation in Massachusetts. She left her kid outside in the stroller and spent gasp, 10 minutes in a restaurant. By the time she came out, she was facing charges of neglect. Bummer.

This is the ultimate kulturkrock. A culture crash of the kind that leads to serious problems and demonstrates a lack of understanding on so many levels. From both parties. I think this is a ridiculous overreaction by the Americans. I also think it is a little ridiculous that the Swedish mother in question wasn’t savvy enough to realize that this sort of thing doesn’t necessarily fly in the US. Silly, but you might want to pay some attention to what is socially acceptable in different cultures. I don’t eat bacon while wearing shorts and a tank top when I visit mosques in Istanbul.

All that being said, I sometimes forget just how Swedish I have become. Aside from the lack of cultural awareness, I see nothing wrong with this. Leave the kid to sleep outside. Don’t drag a huge stroller inside a crowded, or even empty, café or restaurant. Hell, some places in Stockholm have signs posted forbidding strollers from entering the building. It’s smart really. And I know, what if the child is kidnapped? It’s the big bad United States of America where nothing is safe…

There’s no need to be paranoid. That’s all it is, unwarranted paranoia. The statistics of kidnappings from the US Justice Department bear this out. Very seldom is a child just grabbed by a random stranger. Very, very seldom. Too often I hear the, well Sweden is just so safe so that this is completely acceptable. I believe it has less to do with actual safety and more to do with perceived safety. Yes, there are some places in the US you don’t want to be late at night. Of course, the serial rapist who was victimizing Flemingsberg while I lived there would suggests that there are some places in Sweden as well. Overall though, it seems my views on childcare for the hypothetical child that I don’t have, have suddenly been very much influenced by my Swedishness.

Welcome to the US. And kulturkrock.


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20 comments:

  1. Dear Hairy, I noticed that the time stamp for your post says 6:20 AM. I'm just curious to know if you are actually up and about, writing blog posts about childcare at 6 in the morning...? Det är dock alltid intressant att läsa vad du skriver, så om detta nu är fallet, snälla fortsätt skriva blogginlägg extremt tidigt på morgonen :) I always look forward to reading something new from you :D

    Late night Swedish hugs,
    Linn The Pink Viking

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  2. I can see it from both sides. On the one hand, it's just a few minutes, and she probably didn't want to lug the stroller into the place. On the other hand, crazy mess (not just kidnapping) happens every day. Maybe a pitbull could maul the kid. Or a gust of wind could knock the stroller over, the brake on the stroller pops up, etc.

    But here's the question: why didn't she just, y'know, *take the baby out of the stroller*. It's not that hard. Unlatch the buckle. Pick the kid up. Continue holding said kid while in the restaurant. Enjoy your drink or whatever it is that you thought you could have ordered, prepared, and consumed in 10min. Not difficult.

    Oddly, I've never seen a kid left in a stroller in Sweden, but I have seen a line up of empty strollers (that amazingly never get stolen) out front of shops.

    ~American Hustru

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  3. Many years ago (early 1970s)my father decided to take my family - wife and four blonde daughters all of young teen age - on a sort of tour of all the places in the arab world to which he had been sent as a very young (and apparently very unobservant and ignorant) soldier whilst doing his military service after WW2.

    He decided that, after (the fiasco of) trying to get us, mini-skirted and bare-headed, into a mosque, we would go and visit the local camel market. I was aware of all the looks my parents were getting as they strolled down the street holding hands, even if he wasn't - in fact, the only hand-holding we saw was between young males - it was acceptable to link the smallest fingers, apparently. We wondered where all the women were.

    Then he managed to read the sign for 'cafe', written above a vast, hangar-like shed. We entered, to a cacophony of sound. Which stopped abruptly as family of 5 blonde mini-skirted females entered accompanied by one older man. (Everyone used to think our mother was our sister)

    We were escorted to a table in complete silence, every eye in the vast place upon us, some men even standing on their seats to get a better look. The waiter was extremely courteous, though. As you can imagine, we didn't stay long. :)

    We were later informed that they had probably thought that my father was an immensely rich man to be able to afford so many young blonde wives, but that allowing us to wear so little clothing in public was unwise!

    The rest of the holiday was spent in jeans, cheesecloth shirts and headscarves.

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  4. Oh boy. Yup, I still have a hard time with this one. At a party, "Where is the baby?" "Oh, outside sleeping in the stroller." "Uh..ok?" On a recent trip back home to Canada after an absence of a year and a half, I felt so "unsafe". For the first time in my life, I felt unsafe in my own home. No matter where I went, the mall, the cinema, the neighbourhood sidewalk...UNSAFE. Afraid for myself and my child. Even though I am most definitely classified as "that paranoid mother from Canada" here in Sweden and cannot partake in most forms of foreigner-perceived neglect, I wanted desperately to feel as safe back "home" as I do where I live, in Sweden. I feel for the Danish and Swedish Moms in this situation. Wrong place. But yes, we do need to make an attempt to learn and adapt when traveling abroad.

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  5. I agree the police reaction was over-the-top, but I really question a mom's instincts to leave her child outside while traveling abroad. While that doesn't rise to the level of child neglect or abuse, it's still odd that someone would feel free to do that in a foreign country (esp. the U.S., where, I'm sure, people are aware that crimes occur, including kidnappings). The good thing is that the child is safe. What an amazing world this would be if people could leave babies in strollers unattended for a few minutes with complete peace of mind, or even leave bikes unlocked and house doors open. *sigh*

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  6. Actually,In the first couple days when I arrived at copenhagen, I was already a bit shocked. Almost all the children are put into a basket or something to be carried by their parents.Children are just like "something". I promise, this would never happen in China. Parents would never take their children with them when they are riding.

    Maybe it is just the culture gap between China and North europa, even North europa and USA.

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  7. After only having lived in the States for a few months I was asked by someone who found out that I was from Sweden whether it was really true that we left babies in strollers outside to sleep even in the winter time.. I had to pause and reflect, my first thought was of course we don't but then I started to think about it and yes it does happen or atleast it was common say 15-20 years ago. The baby would be bundled up and left to nap outside. Or was is early spring not that it makes a big difference it's still cold at that time in Sweden.
    When I go back home I have no problem leaving my son in the stroller outside but not in the winter - I am much too Americanized for that sort of craziness. But I will definetely leave him in the shade in the summer outside my parents house.

    I have been an avid reader of your blog from the time that you were living in Sweden and I had many LOL moments since I was able to look at my countrymen from the outside and since I was living in the States (and am still) I was able to have "distans" as we say in Swedish. Loved the blog entry about the girl in the elevator with her boob exposed!!

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  8. Btw Hairy, not to seem like a crazy stalker or anything, but I kind of had a "little" shout-out to you in my blog today... Nothing creepy, or semi-psychotic, at all, just a perfectly normal "hey check out this guy"...hm yeah, vi säger så :P
    If this sounds interesting (and doesn't completely freak you out) you can read it here:

    http://poopie-nonuts.blogspot.com/2011/08/inspiration.html

    /Linn

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  9. This is one of the only times I actually disagree with your insight on things, Hairy. And I've been reading the blog for a while (but don't post comments often at all)

    This is a case of When in Rome... Indeed, just as you wouldn't go eating a pork sausage while wearing a tank top and shorts while standing outside a mosque in the Mideast, in the United States there are more than enough cases of child abductions or attempted child abductions. This is a very large country. As internationally minded as I am, I think to leave your child in a stroller outside for ten minutes (even for ONE minute) is just insane.

    Perhaps this works in Sweden, but it doesn't work here. It really is considered awful parenting if not outright neglect to do this.

    No matter how you want to look at it, the US is not the safe utopia that is Scandinavia.

    I was almost abducted as a child in 1987. A lady pushing a shopping cart loaded with bags and other junk at the holidays tried lifting me right out of my stroller while my mother had her back turned at Sears. If it wasn't for a guy who noticed and very loudly cried out "what the hell are you doing" I probably would have been quickly whisked away. The US was also safer in 1987 than it is now. Just food for thought.

    Keep in mind this also occurred in Massachusetts. I don't know in what part, but the northeast in general is not as safe as other parts of the country.

    I remember when we moved down to Florida in the mid 1990s, we were shocked people down here didn't lock their doors of their cars. One time, we actually went to the grocery store and for some reason forgot to close the sliding door to our minivan. We came out nearly an hour later, door wide open, not one thing in the van was touched.

    Fast forward though 15 years and car robberies and burglaries in this same neighborhood are now skyrocketing. The innocence is pretty much lost in much of Florida now.

    Maybe it's because you're from Colorado and things there are probably relatively safe as well. But I don't think many people in the state of Massachusetts would find it acceptable to leave their kid outside.

    Furthermore, when you think about it, when you are a foreigner in a different place, why would you even risk leaving your kid unattended?

    I'm sure the mother had no awful motives whatsoever, but it's still really lax behavior. I actually admire Sweden for still managing to be a country where apparently people can leave their kids unattended outside a store though. It really must be amazing to live in a place like that!

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  10. "The US was also safer in 1987 than it is now!

    Haha, bullcrap. For some reason a lot of people think that USA today is more dangerous then ever, when infact today the US crime rate is much lower then in the 70, 80s and 90s.

    And Sweden is not a "safe utopia" Sure the crime rate is lower then America but it´s around the same level as most other european union states. Infact West and Northeurope have slightly higer crimerates then south and east europa. A lot of Americans think it´s the other way around.

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  11. Good on you Hairy! For becoming a true Swede in this sense I mean :)

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  12. Hi:). I live in Finland and am originally from Hungary. When I spent my first Erasmus semester here it was very interesting to watch how different way people treat children here. They are good parents,but with less stressful attitude then in Hungary. Also in Finland you can see kids left sleep outside in front of a restaurant/shop.

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  13. I just found this blog and I think that this was very interesting. I used to live in America for a while and I experienced a lot of similar "kulturkrockar". You might think that their culture is similar to ours but it is not. They are more open people but they still suspect every little thing. They can be talking to a stranger just to be nice but they would never leave their kids with that stranger. Swedish people rarely speak to strangers and if they would, then they're not just opening a conversation but a trust.

    Anyway, check this out:)
    http://moreofness.blogspot.com/

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  14. Just found your blog! I have a similar background as you. I was born in Sweden but then around age 8 my mom remarried to an american. So off we moved to america. Been here ever since. I have been back to sweden and dream of living there but it seems overwhelming to try to plan. Also my mom didn't keep up with the language with me so I suck at it. =/ Anyways way too long of a comment eh? Love the blog/bookmark!
    Cheers
    Elin Winblad
    http://elinwinblad.com

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  15. I don't think it is typically swedish to leave the baby outside. I had a discussion about that some weeks ago with some people at work, and a was chocked how some people would leave their babys outside for exemple ICA. Sure, I could leave my baby just outside the window of my own house, in my own neighbourhood, but not in the city. This must be a question of big city versus small city. I don't think people in the larger cities of sweden leave their babys outside in a street wherer thousands of people rush by.

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  16. And please forgive me for my bad english :)

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  17. Funny, when I was in Sweden I saw baby strollers on the other side of a patio of a pub. Yes, Mom or Dad, was sitting on the patio having a drink while baby slept outside, nearby. It was summer and seems reasonable, but it's unthinkable here in Canada. People would judge that very harshly- drinking and walking baby. I found it interesting. Just like the fact that everywhere I went there seemed to be babies, and more babies. I think Sweden must have a very high birth rate!

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  18. Bra inlägg det kan man säga är kulturkrock,men samtidigt är det ett tuffare samhälle i LA än i Uppsala.
    I just found this blogg Lovely

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  19. Here is my part of Sweden

    http://mattsjansson.blogspot.se/2012/06/my-little-bit-of-sweden.html

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  20. Strangely enough, a friend of mine just asked me about this recently. She had found some link that popped up in her news feed about Scandinavians leaving their children in strollers. I just said, yes, I've seen it.

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