Probably my pet hate about India – apart from the smelly, polluted water and the rubbish piled on the streets – is the children as public property attitude.
It is the exact opposite in my culture where it is not OK to touch someone else’s child – especially a stranger’s. It is not OK to photograph someone else’s child and it is not OK to talk to the child and joke about taking them away from their parents. Not only is that not OK in my culture, it is fucking scary talk.
So anyway. A story to illustrate the strangeness of cheek pinching:
We decide to have lunch at TGIFs and got a booth table. We sat the children on the inside and my husband and I sat on the outer seats.
As we were eating I noticed a young woman walk past our table a couple of times and look at Xanthe. That’s normal. That’s ok.
She then walked up to our table and reached over my husband to pinch Xanthe’s cheek, spilling his drink in the process. Shocked, she pulled her arm back, mumbled an apology and then reached over to pinch Xanthe’s cheek again! Which is when I yelled “don’t touch her!”
Appropriate behaviour where children is concerned aside, you spill someone’s drink, you apologise and buy him another one. Again, cultural differences and social norms blah blah.
She looked rather offended that I told her not to touch my daughter and just stood there looking at me, I said again “do NOT touch my child; go away”.
She went away and then walked past the table another two times to look at Xanthe.
When we were leaving the restaurant, the woman was outside and she pulled her mobile phone out of her bag to photograph Xanthe as we left.
I understand that when in another country, one must be sensitive to the cultures of that country. Usually we are. We ignore the staring, we smile and nod and answer endless personal questions. We pose for photos and allow the kids to be pinched and patted. – Except for Millar because he really hates it.
But the above situation is where my cultural sensitivity gets thrown out the window.
I just don’t get it.
I understand that cheek pinching is a sign of affection and I can understand showing affection to the children of people you know. But random strangers that pass by on the street? Strangers sitting eating in a restaurant? Why?
We have had some people ask us nicely before photographing the kids. That is appreciated and we allow it gladly, because they asked first.
But seriously. I can not get out of here fast enough.
This time tomorrow, we will be boarding the plane out of here.
Goodbye India, I’m taking my kids’ pinchable cheeks with me.