by

March 13, 2012

Do you like this?

So, the other day, I was on the U8 with my son when he started staring at this disabled guy.

I whispered, out the side of my mouth: “Stop staring, darling.”

He whispered back: “Why?”

I whispered back: “Because it's rude.”

He whispered back: “Okay.”

Then I dropped him off at school. That evening, his dad took him for the night. The next day, when I collected him from school, he told me, excitedly: “Hey guess what, Mum? Daddy says I'm 'lowed to stared at them 'isabled people. Because they look different, and I am neugierig. Daddy says it's normal for me to stare. He says you only think it's rude, coz you're not from Germany.”

I really try hard not to contradict his dad, you know? But I couldn't help it. I said: “No, in any country in the world it is wrong to stare at people just coz they look different to you.”

He said: “Daddy says here it's normal. You are just a foreign lady and you don't know it. He says I'm 'lowed.”

I couldn't help it then. I'm not proud of myself, but I snapped: “Either Daddy's wrong, and you shouldn't stare, or Daddy's right and the whole of German culture is wrong and you shouldn't stare. Okay? Don't stare. You're not allowed to stare. I forbid you to stare at people who you think look different. Okay? It's forbidden.”

I know, I probably did about a million things wrong in that conversation, but that is what I said.

What did surprise me, though, was all my German-mummy-friends' reactions. They were all, like, pro-curiosity and stuff. They were basically on my ex's side. And they're not usually.

“Well, they're just curious, aren't they?” said one German-mummy-friend of mine, a mum called Katja. “It is normal that they stare – because they are curious. Your ex is right in that way. You have to admit that.”

“I know it's normal that they stare,” I said. “But it's rude, that's why you should tell them not to do it. It's normal that they want ice-cream for breakfast. But they're not allowed. It's forbidden. Right?”

“I don't know,” she said. “You don't want to be killing their curiosity.”

I looked at her. I was thinking: What the fuck? Since when are you this anti-authoritarian-pro-curiosity-promoter? When did that happen? I remember what happened when I introduced Katja to my American friend Zenia. Zenia really genuinely was into curiosity. We went to this ice-cream cafe and her kid kept on sucking on the sugar dispensers like he was suckling. It was pretty disgusting. Then he and Rico had this kind of like, who can pour the most sugar into the other kid's mouth competition. It was also fairly disgusting, to be honest.

“Erm, Zenia,” I said politely, as Katja stared at our kids with all these German emotions like scorn and horror and indignation and stuff like that, you know, all those things German people stuff their souls with to stop them feeling any real emotions whatsoever. “Erm, Zenia. I kind of like think that the kids should stop pouring sugar into each other’s mouths. It's a bit disgusting.”

“Oh, no,” said Zenia, airily. “It's fine. They're just, like, discovering what sugar is. They're just curious. They need to find out what happens when you, like, pour sugar into your mouth like that, for themselves. You know? Because otherwise. They might never find out. You know.”

Katja looked like she was disapproving so much, her head was about to explode.

“Or you could just inform them that it's not allowed?” she sneered snootily. “That would be another option for how they could find that out. And it would save a bit of time, too.”

Yep. Basically, and I don't mean to generalize, but what I have discovered is this: the only time non-anti-authoritarian German parents give a shit about curiosity is when their kids are anglotzing some more marginalized member of society than themselves. Then, all of a sudden, they're like: “That transsexual/black person/wheelchair dude looks different. They look weird. And my child is curious. What am I to do? Kill their curiosity, etwa?”

You know what? SPARE ME. Spare me this mendacious verlogene despair about your child's curi-fucking-osity. SPARE ME. As if you robots give a shit, you don't even let your kids put their hands on their laps while eating fucking dinner, and even for those of you who do: guess what? Your child's right to anglotzen curiously is BEATEN by the transsexual/disabled person/black person's right to dignity. I'm not just making this up! It's in the motherfucking constitution, man. “Die Würde des Menschen ist unantastbar.” It doesn't say: “Die Würde des Menschen ist unantastbar, es sei denn, er ist gehbehindert, und dein Kind ist neugierig.”

Of course kids are neugierig. They're curious, man. Nosy, maybe, is a better word. Nosy and rude – and exuberant.

God, my kid has shouted at a Muslim woman in a full body veil – he thought she was a monster. He's shouted with joy at a guy in an electric wheelchair – he thought it was a snazzy little car in the shopping centre. He's shouted at old German grannies with warts on the end of their noses – he thought they were all witches. And a lot of black and dark-skinned Indian or Mauritian people – he was all like: “Look, Mama! Like Granddad! Just like Granddad! All brown!”

It is our job as parents to tell them this is NOT okay. To explain, yeah, some people look different than other people. Don't point. Don't laugh. Don't shout. Don't stare. Don't try and hug them. Even if you think they look weird – or different. STILL DON'T. Control yourselves. You might not find that normal, kids, but pretend like you do.

It's just manners, you know? IT'S POLITE. It's fucking Etikette. You don't have to express all of your feelings – negative or positive or neutral – about other people every single fucking second of every fucking day. You don't need to. You can swallow some of them. Coz you know what? You might think they look “weird”, but guess what? That's their fucking life. That's their LIFE. Get over it. Pretend it's normal for you, coz for them, it has to be.

Your need to point and laugh and be curious – or whatever – is beaten by their need to carry on living every single day – just like how rocks crush scissors in rock-paper-scissors.

I love this country, I seriously do. But sometimes I just think: Germans. They're the most mendaciously honest people in the entire fucking world. And glotzen is NOT okay.

by

March 13, 2012

Comments (16)

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not ok

My daughter has started to laugh about people walking "funny" cos they are disabled, people talking sign language and people in wheelchairs. Not acceptable. I pull her up on it every time and now when she sees someone in a wheelchair she already knows at 4 years old that its not a laughing matter. Anyone who doesnt pull their kid up on it is doing a disservice to society. Seems to me like this is probably something thats been going on for generations. As a parent you have to pull them up on it, nobody else is gonna do it and its how you end up with a society full of assholes

Katbag 198 days ago

red socks

sometimes this staring is so hilarious..like when i wore these red socks last week..and im like all in a jacket, black and sort of italiano...and then whoever notice these socks just start staring at me as if id be a puss in boots...hah..what's wrong with you people?? t's just red socks, the others were dirty...

Davis Pudans more than 2 years ago

funny

to write an article on manners using such strong language.

Josie more than 2 years ago

I grew up

with a very strict "kuck nicht so hin" and my kids are also not allowed to stare at all.
Thank you for this post!

Julia more than 2 years ago

Why are you seeing so many cripples in Neukölln?

Is it a hipster thing?

Borek more than 2 years ago

korrekt

doesn't matter if it's cultural- you're right, they're wrong. here people who are mixed race get looked at with not only curiosity but with an element of repulsion yet watch how deftly eyes divert when jemand bettelt in der bahn. probs the parents do it too and their justification of this habit only maintains die grenzen zwischen "them" and "us"

aid more than 2 years ago

I wrote

mendaciously honest. It got subbed to mendacious honest. I think mendaciously honest is quite accurate, I do love you all, but you are mendaciously honest.

Jacinta more than 2 years ago

SPARE ME

"I love this country, I seriously do. But sometimes I just think: Germans. They're the most mendacious honest people in the entire fucking world."

das ist wirklich extrem beleidigend. nein danke! echt nicht.

Urte Beer more than 2 years ago

*

Kids stare at absolutely everybody, no matter what they look like and it's all part of learning.....

Laura more than 2 years ago

yes, but.

German here, and my kid is not allowed to point or stare. But you know what? In Germany, scissors beat rock. Because the stone whets the scissors, and they come away sharper. Ha.

Maria Fagerlund more than 2 years ago

@Andreas

But who is comfortable with being stared at AT ALL? one of the things I like about living in Neukölln is that you don't get stared at - or stared out, as if we'd say in London. There's relatively little staring going on, by Berlin standards. I fucking hate being stared at, I've sobbed on just about every U-Bahn-Line in Berlin coz I fucking hate it. And I know this is a bit cultural, but I don't think it's that cultural, nobody enjoys being stared at. Eyed up, yeah (but German boys never do, anyways) stared AT - no. Nobody likes that. It's horrible.

Jacinta more than 2 years ago

I think both approaches are way over the top.

Both "anglotzen" and "weggucken" are wrong, from my point of view.

I'll give any disabled (physical, fashion, or otherwise) just about exactly the same amount of curiosity I'll give anyone else who stand out.

And guess what? I've met a whole lot of disabled people who, when talked to, are actually positively thankful for every single person who treats them like a normal human being - with their very own, individual quirks - instead of shunning them.

So, consider acting natural. Don't artificially look away, don't stare longer than until you've noticed you are staring beyond what you'd feel comfortable about being stared at yourself.

And PLEASE let kids learn from more than one person. As they say in Africa: it takes the whole village to raise a child.

People are so much more colorful when expose to different personalities ;) ... but - I may be wrong myself ;)

Andreas Kotes more than 2 years ago

look for new friends?!

i am German and i think, it's not ok to stare,and that's exactly what i would tell any kid who doesn't seem to know. i never experienced people like those you're on about- so either you know the wrong people who have no manners whatsoever, or I've just been lucky or blind!

vicky more than 2 years ago

I love you, because you're right

“I know it's normal that they stare,” I said. “But it's rude, that's why you should tell them not to do it. It's normal that they want ice-cream for breakfast. But they're not allowed. It's forbidden. Right?”

simple and true. well argued.

and I have to say, Germans do stare the shit out of you. not only if you're gehbehindert or have a different coloured skin. sometimes it's enough to wear a pair of extravagant shoes on the U5 and everyone will look at you as if you're from mars. it's really weird.

berliner schnauze more than 2 years ago

Eesh

"...all those things German people stuff their souls with to stop them feeling any real emotions whatsoever."

"Germans. They're the most mendacious honest people in the entire fucking world. And glotzen is NOT okay."

Bit too generalistic maybe? I'm sure not every German person thinks that way...

milly more than 2 years ago

Curiosity killed the cat...

Satisfaction brought it back... bla-bla-bla, in deed. Feckin' hell, since when is that level of rudeness 'okay' even for Germany. Again - as so often - I have to wonder what sort of folks you hang out with, Jacinta.

Mike more than 2 years ago

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