Being Blunt with Baby
It’s often said that Koreans are blunt. I don’t recall hearing any Koreans say that but plenty of foreigners that come to the Land of the Morning Calm do. I imagine if you grow up here, what we consider blunt is considered normal and what we consider polite and non-confrontational could be considered passive and aloof. Going out into public with the new baby is something I look forward to while at the same time brings a nervous jittery feeling I never had before when faced with stepping out my front door. Will she cry? Will I be able to soothe her in a swift manner? Will people stare? Will people touch her? So many questions wash over me and every time I go out, I’m met with new situations and new people to interact with. Blunt is certainly one way that some people come across.
At the grocery store last week, the baby was strapped to my husband as usual while I pushed the cart. She was snug as a bug in a rug up close to her daddy and with her long sleeve onesie and a little hat on top she was cozy and warm. This was made clear when she immediately passed out upon getting up next to his chest. With him in the front and me pushing the cart behind, we headed to the meat section to stock up when this woman who was on the staff called out in the lower form of Korean, “Cover her up! She’s cold.” My husband turned around and gave her a slight polite smile while I glared at her as I passed. “Excuse me?” I wanted to say. “Who are you to tell me what to do with my baby?” I wanted to go on. Of course, I didn’t say a thing. What was it about this situation that she was so brazen to call out to him to cover up our child when we knew she was perfectly fine as she was? I would certainly never go out of my way to tell someone else how to take care of their child, especially when I didn’t know the woman or parents. Doesn’t mother know best? I’m finding that either Korean women don’t think that’s true, or there are just a lot of rude older women that happen to see us when we’re out and let us know we’re doing something “wrong”. And they certainly have no problem letting us know.
That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate the help. This week we had to take the baby in to get some vaccinations and as I ran out to tell the man to bring our car down through the car elevator and my husband held the baby inside the pharmacy to get some meds in case she came down with a fever from the shot, our little one started to cry. She cried because she was hungry. The shot hadn’t fazed her and her diaper had just been changed. She hadn’t eaten for three hours and was ready to go. I ran back inside to help get a bottle ready and seeing that indeed six hands would be better than four, this older woman waiting inside came over and swooped the babe into her arms. I got a bottle, he got the meds and she held the baby. Do I want strangers holding my baby? No. Did I appreciate the help? I sure did. In this case though it was very different. This woman, seeing that we had a fussy babe and a couple things to do came over, asked if she could help and then did, really without a reply from me or my husband. She didn’t say we were doing something wrong. She didn’t tell us to do something to make the baby stop. She just helped and we appreciated it. With her holding the baby, it took all of two minutes for us to get our stuff in order and back into my husband’s arms and into the car the baby went.
It’s doubtful that anyone in the States would do what this old woman had done, I thought later. More than likely, I would have gotten some stares as I juggled the bag and the bottle and the baby and the keys. Here though, what can sometimes feel invasive and intrusive can be kind and helpful when considered in the right context and certainly when it’s presented in a helpful manner. I’d say that in the States people would stare and they wouldn’t help, but not because they didn’t want to, but because parents would see that as too intrusive. Even if someone were to walk up and say, “Can I help you?” How many parents would take the stranger up on the offer? Here, old women just want to do their part in raising the next generation because it’s a communal endeavor and not just up to the parents to do so. This will continue to be a lesson I’ll have to teach myself while raising a child in Korea I imagine. Thankful to a helpful stranger was the feeling on the way home. The baby had been calmed, we’d gotten the car and the medicine and it was a better situation that gave me an optimistic view of raising a child here than I had after the first few encounters with strangers coming right up and pulling down the blanket to see our baby followed by the yelling scene in the market. Will my expectations of how I and my baby are treated have to change? Certainly. Am I ready? I guess I have to be.
Have you raised a child in Korea? Have you had any helpful or not so helpful stranger experiences?