It is really important to people in SE Asia to know which of our 5 children is the eldest. As our three eldest are quadruplets, that makes for a fairly lengthy chat to a seemingly basic question. And lots of totally intrusive personal interrogation. And lots of ‘thumbs up’ for Chris for being such a ‘strong man’. Hello?
People also want to know how many are girls and how many are boys. Since we shaved our heads, it is not always clear to the onlooker which is which. So we learnt ‘girl’ and ‘boy’ in Malay, Thai, Khmer and now….. Vietnamese. In Vietnam, it seems, if you can’t answer the question, they find out by grabbing at your child’s crotch. I didn’t see it happen the first time, but I heard all about it. My kids were cross and offended. It has happened a number of times.
Blimy. What am I to think? Firstly, I am pleased that our children know that is NOT OK, and that they told us about it. Cross and offended is exactly how they should be.
Secondly, I really am going to learn the words girl and boy.
Thirdly, what on earth are these people thinking? Surely its not considered culturally ok to grab at a child’s bottom to ascertain their sex? And that’s the thought that catches me. So what if its ‘considered ok’? I don’t believe ‘cultural’ is a label you can stick on any behaviour and make it ok. Let me go one step further say I believe in a black and white, right and wrong kind of world. (I know there a whole lot of grey, but my point is, there IS black and white)
For example; female genital mutilation is wrong. Infanticide is wrong. Child slavery is wrong. Sweat shop conditions are wrong. Napalming people is wrong. Uncurtailed consumerism is wrong. Suttee (widow suicide) is wrong. Locking up people with disabilities in dark rooms and throwing scraps of food at them is wrong.
Putting the label ‘cultural’ on any of these doesn’t make them right. It just means that a generalisation can be made about where or when these things occur, that refers to one or more cultural group. When we travel, so much is new, so much is different. So much newness and difference is cultural, but some stuff is just plain wrong.
So yes, I think it is wrong to reach out and grab the crotch of a child, for any reason. I wonder if the people who did it think it is acceptable, or wrong but the kind of wrong you can sort-of do anyway (like buying pirated dvds or not stopping at red lights…there’s that grey area again). I honestly don’t know what they thought. If we could communicate, I suppose it wouldn’t have happened in the first place.
By the way, I am appoaching this on two levels. One is theoretical. Its about right vs wrong, new and different vs ‘normal’ and the whole idea of something being ok because its ‘cultural’.
The other level is practical, I don’t give a hoot what’s cultural. NO ONE is touching my kids inappropriately, and we instantly gave them permission to slap any hand that tries to. Child Protection principles apply here. No child should be forced into any contact they are uncomfortable with. Safety trumps manners, hands down, I don’t care if its rude, I too, will slap any hand that touches inappropriately (and have done so since).
Snowy, our cute 5 year old, gets pinched on the cheeks a lot. His white blonde hair attracts attention. People ask him his name. He basically doesn’t like it, he refuses to answer and clings to me. Initially I was busting him big time for rudeness. After some thought and discussion, we’ve told him that’s fine. He doesn’t have to interact, but it would be nice if he tried not to be rude about it. Once the rest of us have got to know someone, like a guesthouse manager we see daily, he will warm to them and start to chat. So I’m happy with that. The inappropriate touching is a safety issue, but this is a parenting issue.
I was so ingrained with the mantra that we should always be polite that I was putting it ahead of my own children’s wellbeing. If I insist that Snowy greets, smiles at and gives his name to everyone who approaches him that could easily be 50 times a day I get it wrong. My instinct was to make him say hello, and to bust him if he is rude. But really, I’m never going to see those 50 people again, and I’m not soley responsible for how they view Australian/white people/westerners or whoever else I am representing. Sure, its nice to have pleasant interactions with people, and my own interactions are pleasant whenever possible. In fact, the rest of us are so friendly it takes forever to get anywhere for all the chatting. But it’s more important that Snowy can tell me if he’s ok or not, can know that I value his wellbeing above pleasing strangers, and that he trusts his intuition about who to trust. We’ll try to model polite conversations and how to end them, how to avoid eye contact when necessary, how to ‘check out’ if people are scamming us or being friendly. But we are always happy to hold hands tightly, let little faces bury themselves in our tummies, and pretend we are in a hurry and quickly move on out.
Vietnam has proven quite a challenge….
So, how would you handle all this?