I have recently realised that cultures, although close geographically, can be vastly different.
For the foreigner, the stranger, the visitor, these differences may seem wonderous things at times. After all a change is good, almost as good if not even better than a rest. Differences that are celebrated are differences that are enjoyed.
However for the foreigner who installs himself or herself in the culture in question many of these differences, as I have already pointed out result in stress.
The fault of the stress is of course how the stranger chooses to deal or react with the issues of difference.
If the unhealthy choice is made, the result is illness, ill at ease, frustration, tension, resulting often in anger, or confidence being shattered. Trust me on this I speak both from observation and personal experience.
The remedy is to either bugger off back to where one has come from or, find new strategies for dealing with life. After all why would the strategies that served so well in one culture be assumed to be okay in other? It makes no sense that they should.
There are some differences however that are just baffling. They are not so much stress inducing but leave the observer feeling dumbfounded, lost, scratching their head in a complete lack of comprehension. These interactions are often those which result in a person just throwing their hands up in the air and walking away!
Some of the things I am beginning to notice that for me are fundamental differences,and absolute head scratchers, revolve around baby.
Baby is not even born, and I don't think there has been one person who hasn't asked, "...is it a boy or a girl?". I reiterate tirelessly that IT, first and foremost, is a person. IT, I am sure, has no concept of the roles of men and women in this culture or any other, and there for to be branded male or female at this point in time, is a spurious concept. A concept that results in brain washing our young to perpeptuate the inherent, inbred violence we do to one another, in our cultural assigning of roles, just by not thinking.
I am pretty sure that eight years ago in another culture, also branded 'western' but with a nod towards the spiritual that is more evident than here, I was perhaps asked that boy girl question perhaps twice in the 9 months. Everyone here knows the sex of their child long before it is born. I would never want to know.
This however is a small thing. But it leads me to remark on other differences, differences I find hard to celebrate. A friend of ours is 30. She is 7 weeks pregnant. She has already told quite a few people. I have seen this before. It's very unusual to hear at home that someone is pregnant so early on. I guess it's driven by a little caution and a little fear and a little practicality. Too much can go wrong certainly with the first pregnancy, in the first 3 months. So this difference makes me fear for the lady who imparts the information. If nature decides to take a course which doesn't result in a life, then the pain of having to face all those you have informed is harder.
During the conversation breast feeding came up. For those who don't know what that is, it's lactation apparently. France is not big on the boob that is for sure. When it is discussed, medically, in English they use the word lactation. I scratch my head again!
This lady's explanation for not breastfeeding was the breasts are sexual and it was going to be a non starter.
Our mid wife filled us in a week later. Breast feeding is very uncommon in france. In the South, there seems to be a lot of people who have children, don't breast feed, and give the child its own room within a couple of days.
I have seen this happen and put it down to the individual. My personal culture is common sleeping. Everyone in the same bed and let's have a cuddle. I picture it now with boy when he cuddles up, as if we are two tigers or bears in the wild, lots of body contact, reassurance, confidence and love.
I am speechless when I see people who refer to giving the breast as being like a cow. Humans are after all the only mamals who give other mamals milk to their young! Cows don't give their calves human milk.
In this culture here, people are more comfortable to talk about sex, to refer to each other as sexual objects. I often think if it was the USA or even Ireland a lot of folk would be loosing their jobs through sexual harrasement. I am wondering is the awareness of sexuality, or even dare I say it, the forcing of people into sexually defined roles, as opposed to roles defined by gender, affecting how people sexualise childbirth, and child rearing.
I am wondering about the 'break down' in society, where people seem to consider no one except themselves. Respect for your neighbour is at best ignoring them and at worst not giving a damn about them. Could these issues be sourced from a lack of decent boob time when we are young?
I am not saying the problems in society that I witness here, don't exist at home. Of course they do. From what I hear, Ireland has recently become a cesspit of selfishness and racism but it's a relatively new development. I wonder if allowing more children to cuddle up to mother and father, encouraging more women to maintain the role of being a mother, without being sexist about it, giving the breast, hugging, holding.
I am amazed that our midwife, refers to me as English all the time, holds up the English system as an Ideal, when I know nothing about it whatsoever, and persists in asking me questions about it. But that aside from that, she is what I would want for my child, an earthy practical woman, who gives off very down to earth yet sensual aura.
It is certain that women here, in this day and age, don't seem to have the support of their peers, the mothers, grandmothers, sisters, seem to be distant from the individual experience. This she reiterates to us consistently.
The men seem to mainly fulfill a role I associated with the 1950's. Many don't want to be at the birth. It's a womans place they think. I for one can't imagine not being there. I can't imagine my child being in another room and I can't imagine my child not being breast feed given that there is nothing medical preventing it happening. It makes me scratch my head to think otherwise. What I find almost impossible, is that the mother will be kept in hospital 4 days, the child will be kept in a nursery and no siblings under the age of 15 allowed anyhwere near the ward. That is just too inhuman for me. But then maybe I don't have the correct life strategy!
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