So last week, @JacintaNandi wrote on her Exberliner blog, Amok Mama that people in Germany hate kids. Or, in her words:
“In Germany in general and Berlin in particular, it is really, really cool to hate kids. Kids are loud, kids are annoying, kids are stressful, kids are kind of disgusting. People complain about kids on the U-Bahn, people complain about kids at the lake, people complain about kids in the supermarket and people complain about kids in the Hinterhof. People complain about Prenzlauer Berg yummy mummies, those smug slags with their Kinderwagens bigger than an SUV. People complain about bad parents, those useless losers whose kids are totally out-of-control on public transport. People complain. About kids. A LOT.”
This, I have to say, is not a statement I disagree with. There’s a lot of hatred toward children going on. But it’s not a phenomenon limited to Germany, nor to Berlin. It’s rampant in the Western world, and has been for generations. It’s just taking on new forms. And becoming more obvious in major metropolises.
There’s a good reason for the hatred: kids are narcissists. And everybody hates narcissists. Especially the grown-up narcissists. You can’t appreciate anyone else’s narcissism when you’re totally wrapped in your own, now can you? And a kid screaming at the top of his lungs because he hasn’t gotten his own way is a total intrusion on your well-earned god-given right to silence in the supermarket. Verdammt nochmal!
Kid hatred’s grown because our privileged culture’s sense of entitlement has grown. We have rules and expectations for how our lives will work and kids come shrieking across the stage on which our lives are being acted out and destroy fucking everything. Because they’re living their lives in the only way they know how: totally self-centered.
In Germany, especially in these examples Jacinta’s given above, this is more visible because we live in a culture of silence. People here are like fucking librarians — me included — shushing everyone in sight, at least until they get drunk. Kids shatter that silence, and we don’t notice this in the Anglo-Saxon world because English speakers are the loudest people on the planet, always walking dramatically into a room and begging for attention with our booming voices. Ever see anybody get a stare down for using their mobile phone on the subway in the States? No, because everybody does it. A couple years back, on a post-rush hour commuter train, an American next to me mused that it must be illegal to use your cell phone on the train because she could see no other reason why the commuters wouldn’t be using theirs. Um, respect? I told her. Because Germans will tell you you’re being an asshole if you do? It’s the same with kids. If they break the golden rule of silence in Germany, they are going to get tutted. It’s how the culture here works, like it or not.
I think what Jacinta gets wrong in this article is narrowing this kinder-feindlichkeit to Germany. It’s not an exclusively Teutonic hatred. Hell, I think German kids are waaaaay better behaved than some of the monsters I saw in the States. No wait, I take that back. The kids act the same — it’s the adults who are way worse behaved in the US. When I got on a Lufthansa flight from Germany, not a single person batted an eye and the flight attendants were phenomenally helpful. When I hit up a cross-country flight in the US a few months later, I got, at the end of the flight, thank yous from other passengers for, “controlling my child” and therefore making the six hour journey less hellacious than those around me had anticipated. Never mind that I had just left my husband and was about to have a nervous breakdown, of course I am totally fucking aware of YOUR need for peace and quiet to read some shitty romance novel you’re about to tuck into the seatback and forget every word of. The difference is that Americans and Brits passive-aggressively seethe about the kids around them and then go online to bitch about it. Or the parents try and avoid the confrontation altogether by handing the kid an iPad and making it suck down some Benadryl. The hatred is there, it just takes a different form.
Which is unfortunate, I must say, because kids are generally pretty awesome. I don’t believe that all children are inherently good, just as strongly as I believe that there are some parents who need to learn how to parent. But I also don’t believe that I’d have the same response as Jacinta would to a woman who’d asked me to quiet my kid. I wouldn’t, or we wouldn’t, as she says: “cringe and we bow down, we say sorry, we shrug our shoulders apologetically, we whisper to our kids to be quiet. We basically try to take up as least space as possible. Because we know we’re the most worthless people in society. Because we know we don’t ‘deserve’ to be here.”
This seems a very Anglo-Saxon response — the same one that has Americans apologizing at every bloody thing, and one that I’ve worked hard to minimize without being arrogant myself. Instead, I’d tell the lady to fuck right on off, as I’ve done in the past, on more than one occasion. Assholes are assholes, wherever you are in the world, and if someone can’t handle a bit of noise in her space, then she’s got every right to high-tail it on over to another one. Maybe there, there won’t be any kids.