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.