We are living in a small street in Brussels and more than half of our neighbours are over 65. They are very nice and polite; we exchange greetings, smiles, we even have small talk sometimes; making jokes about the gloomy Belgian weather! I like Belgian humour though, I manage to laugh each time.
They greet our children, too (whom they know since they were a newborn); but hesitantly. As someone with a Mediterranean background; I found this very strange; in our culture we almost always salute the young children cheerfully. We often try to catch their attention in the restaurants, try to make them smile when we see the mother need some help to distract the baby, it is like a national competition for us in Turkey. I also remember people with full of joy were coming towards our son in Italy chanting ‘Che bel bambino!’; in Spain people in the street congratulated us for having a baby, ¡Qué hermoso bebé! I don’t expect the same sympathy, but some empathy…
I kept wondering what drove this distant behaviour of Belgians (sorry to generalize, but this has become a common experience for me for the last 6 years) therefore I asked a Belgian couple… Okay, I must confess; first I thought that my children were not cute enough to receive compliments, gulliii-guliii’s from neighbours or elderly people we more or less see every day on the street. Or receive any free cookies, chocolate samples, bread crumbles from shopkeepers and pharmacists? Why are they so stingy?
When my children started to walk towards elderly people’s dogs; it got worse! I was warned immediately that they would not appreciate if my kids try to touch their precious dogs… Though the tail of the dog said the opposite. (We cannot pet their dogs, but we have to clean their poops in front of our houses?)
This was the final straw that I saw an old lady grouched loudly when my 2 year-old daughter took the wrong side while she was walking. I was not proud of myself of saying that to her but it escaped from my lips so naturally; ‘Thanks to this little girl that you grumbled to Madame, she is the guarantee of your future pension payments and all your hospital fees!’ She looked puzzled, she turned back and continued… But I felt so bad thus I needed an advice from locals…
This Belgian couple -a francophone lady from Liege & her néerlandophone partner from Ghent; came to my rescue, to better understand the situation. Why do elderly people seem distant for young children? The first idea came to their mind was the famous Dutroux case in 90s. They might well remember the case, and they are so afraid of any contact with strangers’ children. (Marc Dutroux, a convicted pedophile, murderer and supposed leader of an international child pornography and prostitution ring, terrorized the city with his shocking crimes, between the mid 1980’s and late 1990’s. The Dutroux case caused such upset amongst Belgium’s citizens, that it prompted one of the largest peacetime demonstrations since World War II and a shake-up of the Belgian government, causing the resignation and dismissal of several government officials. http://www.crimelibrary.com ) Secondly, they have got enough from their own grand-children, the crèches are expensive so they are forced to take care of them until the secondary school, age 12!
After all this learning, I try to put myself in their shoes; honestly I would not enjoy taking care of my grand-kids every day at age 79! But I will definitely let young children pet my precious dog!