Walking alone to kindergarten?
Anyway, I like to learn more about Swiss and German culture when we get together. I have so many questions!! I posted on instagram recently how shocking it was to walk around in Switzerland, go sunbathing or for a swim in the river, take the train, etc ... with one major difference between the USA and here. What's noticeably different in Switzerland is the lack of catcalling, shouting dudes, beeping horns and men (in any capacity) trying to get (or demanding) the attention of a woman in public.
Ever since I was a young teen, I remember getting unwanted from men. It has taken me years to figure out that the commentary directed at women (and girls) is not complimentary and *is* best defined as street harassment. Who thinks shouting "compliments" at women and girls is flattering? The men doing it. Who else thinks it's complimentary? Women and girls who have internalized misogyny. I have made a lot of effort as I've gotten older to educate myself more about gender issues, cultural norms, the influence, and reach of patriarchial preferences, gendertyping, etc. Something I was used to (although didn't like it much at times) I now have more awareness and have established a different lens in which I view this behavior and experience. Once you are aware of it, you can never go back to ignorance.
I have two decades of being used to men shouting vulgarities, cars beeping, dudes on bikes running into crap because they are too busy begging for attention ... I remember just walking in Anaheim California as a young teen and being offered money from some random man (he must have been like 15+ years older than me) who drove up to me to have "dinner" with him. I was blissfully unaware that he was soliciting me as a prostitute. I never forgot him and his offer because it was the first time I was offered money for something. I didn't understand the full capacity of the "offer" but am glad he left when I said no.
After a few decades does it still bother me? OF COURSE! Not being able to just walk somewhere (or cut the grass in the front yard of my house) without some vulgar commentary or feel like someone is looking a bit too hard and driving their car entirely too slow past me while they break their neck looking out the window ... it feels unsafe and uncomfortable. It is not complimentary for women to get unwanted attention like this. Florida, where I now reside, has an overwhelming amount of sex predators so is the person shouting at you a predator ... like an actual predator?
I realize that there are a few different perspectives about street harassment - Americans will be as divided over it as they are with politics. And, depending on what country someone else is from, they will be equally divided. But here's the thing about Switzerland and what I'd like to share now that you have some context to my experience *existing* in the public.
Don't mistake the lack of catcalling for there being a lack of public interaction. We cross the street and wave "thanks" to the cars that stopped. They wave and smile back. We walk past people on the sidewalk and exchange a smile or they wave if my daughters wave at them first. Men and women and boys and girls have a different approach to being in public. From what I have seen, it's WONDERFUL!!!!
Often, rape culture promotes the ideological fallacy that "she was asking for it because of what she was wearing" as if the girl / woman was "asking" for attention for just existing in public?! Give me a break. How much more obvious do I have to be to say women in bikini bottoms and no tops who are enjoying the sunshine ALSO are not harassed or even crowded, or conversed with (at) unwillingly ... I am so glad to be in an environment like this. I think that it is my first time ever being somewhere like this WITHOUT a man next to me being the deterrent from abhorrent street harassment.
This leads me to another conversation I feel is directly connected to this topic.
My neighbors were telling me that KINDERGARTEN aged kids are encouraged to walk to school alone. You get that? Kids who are 5 and 6 years old are encouraged to walk to school. Parents are encouraged to NOT drive their kids to school. CAN YOU IMAGINE?!!!!
When I was in Virginia and DC with someone, he kept commenting that it's annoying that people don't stop for pedestrians. It makes the mere act of crossing the street more dangerous than it ought to be. Here, there are designated crosswalks and when a person or someone on a bike cross, the traffic stops.
The fact that the crosswalks here are safe walking spaces for pedestrians makes me think that it's equally safe for little kids. The culture here is different. There is more respect for people on the street and in public no matter the age. That's wonderful.
My neighbors said that their kids bike ride to school. He told me that one of the kids got a flat tire in route to school so he stopped by the bike shop. They fixed it within minutes and he told the shopkeeper that his parents would come around to pay for the service. His parents did pay and that was that.
Where you live, could your kid go into a shop and say, "My parents will come around and pay later?" Cause I don't know any stores like that.
Furthermore, back in the States, shit like this happens: [Headline] Mom questioned over son's solo outdoor playtime. (Article link: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/protective-services-called-on-mom-for-letting-child-play-outside/) There's also the story about a South Carolina mom who was ARRESTED for her 9-year-old playing at the park. (Article link: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/south-carolina-moms-arrest-over-daughter-alone-in-park-sparks-debate/)
So in the States, kids aren't even allowed to play outside but in Switzerland, 5-year-olds are encouraged to walk alone to school because it's good for them. A police offer comes to the class and teaches them about road safety. Parents are told to not drive their kids to school. On the bus the other day, a kid maybe aged 8 hopped on alone to go somewhere. No big deal here. Again, could you imagine that happening in the States?!
My neighbor said that the people who have the hardest time with this culture are expats who move here with kids. She said that a British friend of hers had the hardest time. She emphasized that the Brit had a particularly hard time because the child was a girl. (pardon my feminist eye roll) Anyway, no matter the gender, I can understand the conflict of trusting the culture, trusting the child, and trusting the drivers on the road.
It's amazing how different cultures are and what is accepted as normal. I much prefer the culture here; it's safer and more comfortable for kids and adults alike.
Anyway, I just wanted to share that with you. I am so grateful for this house sitting experience. This country is GORGEOUS! Being here for 5+ weeks gives me ample time to settle in and learn about regular life here. It's been a wonderful experience thus far.