Crying babies in cafes. Crying babies on buses. Crying babies on airplanes.
I hate crying babies. I think most people hate crying babies. Especially in our Western capitalistic culture of “me, me, me”. We live busy lives, we don’t have time for babies and the disruption they cause. We can’t look outside our own needs and desires to understand and sympathize with a crying baby. Not all people in Western culture are like that – but many are. I mean, no where else in the world will you be asked to leave a cafe if your child makes noise. There are even some restaurants that don’t allow children full stop.
I have to admit I used to be one of those people that got annoyed by noisy children. So now that I am a parent, it has to be my greatest phobia. When my baby starts crying or even making too many happy squeals of delight – I panic. I literally panic. My heart rate increases, I start sweating, I interpret every glance from a stranger as them judging me, them hating me. I frantically try to hush my child while expecting someone to come over and ask me to move along. Even when we have been the only ones in the restaurant, I still fear that the waiter will kick us out if my child is too exuberant.
And maybe they would kick us out if we were in the USA, or Australia, or somewhere else with an individualistic culture. But we are in the Balkans, and everything is totally different here.
The Balkans have still retained their family centric culture. People tend to have large families here, and extended families often live together. People are a lot more tolerant of babies, in fact, they are more than tolerant – they love babies.
When Jacob was making noise in the classy restaurant, instead of throwing us dirty looks, the waiter came over and started playing with him. When he was being annoying on the bus ride, a bunch of strangers came to the rescue. He ended up getting passed between four rows of adoring people from every walk of life who played with him and entertained him – giving Dan and I a rest and keeping me from pulling out my hair in frustration.
Everyone in the Balkans adores my baby.
The guesthouse owners in Albania fussed over him the second we emerged from the room – allowing us to eat our breakfast in peace. People on trains and buses not only seem to not be bothered by my noisy child, but they seem to embrace it – smiling at him and encouraging him to squeal even louder.
Even in places where quiet is normally embraced, my child is still loved and accepted. We try to time our museum visits to nap times. You see, once Jacob figures out that his voice echoes, he just won’t stop. Usually we are successful and he sleeps through the entire visit, but in Athens we were not so lucky. And actually, it was mostly the museum staff to blame. The ladies there were so excited to see my child and they got him so worked up and excited that there was no way in hell he was going to sleep. Of course, as the baby noises (and echoes) got louder and louder I started panicking. I was ready to escort myself out of the museum when the staff came up again and told me not to worry, “he is just trying to tell us a story” she said (and then proceeded to get him even more excited.)
But the thing that surprised me the most, and which I think really highlights the differences between Balkan culture and my own is that even the demographic group that you would think would be the least interested in babies, loves my baby. I’m talking about adolescent males.
When we were in the museum in Athens and Jacob was being noisy, a school group passed by. All the girls came over the see Jacob. But what really surprised me is that later all the boys came over to make faces at him and say hello to him as well. Later, when we were in Macedonia three brothers in their father’s barber shop took turns vying for Jacob’s attention as their father cut Dan’s hair.
When it comes to traveling with children, the Balkans have certainly been extremely welcoming, hospitable, and understanding. Now let’s just hope the same is true for our co passengers on the 20 hour flight home to Australia.