Cold Hearts?

As I related here many times during our sojourn to Thailand, we discovered that Oliver’s role in Thai society was completely different than his role here.

In North America, Oliver is a 15 month old infant, revered by his family and close friends but otherwise pretty well completely ignored, sometimes even resented, by everyone else.

For example, 9 times out of 10 when we go with Oliver to a “please wait to be seated” restaurant here, we get seated in some horrible back of the restaurant kid ghetto, far from everyone else.

In Thailand, Oliver is a 15 month old infant, revered by everyone. Monk, police officer, scraggly looking guitar player, waitress, riverboat driver. Everyone.

In Thailand, we get seated in excellent seats in the centre of the restaurant, and the wait staff take personal responsbility for Oliver’s happiness. If Oliver is crying, they pick him up and walk around with him. If Oliver needs a distraction, they distract him. And everyone in the restaurant waves at Oliver, and Oliver waves back.

And I’m starting to think this isn’t just a Thai thing. Oliver and I were at a Chinese grocery store in Halifax over the weekend, and he received the same sort of attention: I was struggling with a collection of grocery items and Oliver all at the same time, so one of the customers — I’m guess she was Chinese from her language and look, but that’s just a guess — picked up Oliver and squired him around. A good time was had by all.

I have anecdotal evidence from others to suggest that this attitude towards children, while perhaps amplified somewhat by the fact that Oliver is a rare white smiling baby in Thailand, reflects a general difference in the way children are regarded in other parts of the world.

If nothing else, it makes the Canadian “seen and not heard” attitude towards children appear cold hearted and mean.

When was the last time you picked up someone else’s crying baby to help them out? I certainly know I never have.


Johnny's picture
Johnny on March 5, 2002 - 03:03 Permalink

Its sad but true but I think there are those in North America who would be alarmed if somebody picked up their crying baby. I remember our brother Steve catching Hell from your friend Diane ten years ago for picking up her daughter, I think Cassia was her name.

Alan's picture
Alan on March 5, 2002 - 12:52 Permalink

I think we Canadians are indifferent about a lot of classes of people: the homeless, the elderly, people with disabilities, immigrants, folks with children, children. I heard a Gzowski interview with a immigrant to Canada where it was described as the opposite of Israelis, which people I understand self-describe as prickly pears — soft once you get past the thorns. Conversely, he said, Canadians are all warmth at the outset and then let you drift with perhaps the assumption that all is well or more likely knowing they are really relieved of needing to stay involved. I can recall that when I worked in Poland in 1991, examples of the relationship between parents and children were much more openly warm than here, though there were also shocking incidents of open drunkenness and resulting dangerous situtations. Likewise in Scotland, I can recall being mobbed when I was backpacking at 23 or so by grannies in Edinburgh when I pulled out a map to see where I needed to go. They all insisted on giving their advice and help. (Repeat final comment on Poland, adding tartan). I think it is all part of the one thing that there is a social reluctance to engage any unfamiliar or slightly uncomfortable situation here. Different degrees in different areas — I can’t imagine Newfoundlanders not picking up a cranky kid, for example. I now realize that I quite like trips to New England and all those loud, happy, and conversant Yankees.

Dave Moses's picture
Dave Moses on March 6, 2002 - 13:39 Permalink

Cold Hearts… or Obesessive New Father?
Charlottetown—Peter Rukavina was shocked, after recently returning from a trip to Thailand, to discover his first born was treated like any other kid. “It’s like people around here don’t even realize how amazing my son is,” said Rukavina. “Like yesterday when he waved…it was so cool!” In Thailand Rukavina was overwhelmed by the attention his son, a sandy haired white toddler, received from the natives. “It’s like the Thai people really grasped his amazing abilities— like the other day when he burped it sounded like he said ‘Noam Chomsky’.” Since returning to Prince Edward Island Rukavina has been taken aback by the lack of appreciation Islanders have been showing his son. “I’m surprised and hurt. When they put us in the back of the restaurant with all those other screaming kids— I can’t stand it. It upsets Oliver [my son], too.” Rukavina plans to take his concerns to the local Farmer’s Market this weekend. “There are a lot of hippies there, maybe they will pick up on Oliver’s special vibe.” Local activist Leo Broedrick has stated he will support Rukavina in his cause. “Whatever whacked-out scheme he comes up with— you can count me in,” Broedrick said from his home Tuesday.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on March 6, 2002 - 15:45 Permalink

Spoken only like a barren childless hermit could muster.

Stephen's picture
Stephen on March 6, 2002 - 16:45 Permalink

When visiting Mexico, we found the same thing with our son, i.e. universally loved and adored. Talking to a woman from Vancouver who had moved to Mexico, she said she would never move back to Canada and the coldness towards children was a big part of that. When she went to staff meetings at her job in Mexico, people complained if she DIDN’T bring her kids with her. At parties, she would walk through the door and that was the last she would see of her kids until it was time to go home — everyone wanted to hold and/or play with them. I think the simplest explanation is that workaholism, a North American virtue, tends to make people productive but at the price of shutting them down emotional and kids don’t have any “information” to impart to you since they don’t know that much yet but they have emotions to burn.