We’ve headed home to the U.S. for the holidays and I’m in Chicago now. Talk about some reverse culture shock! Big SUVs, big supermarkets, big everything. Even the toilet bowls have more water in them than the ones in Italy (check out this YouTube link for a philosophical explanation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XfOa8G8J72g)
But the main difference I’ve noticed has to do with children. We went to church last weekend with Alex and had to keep the stroller in the back room, whereas in Pesaro, people keep the babies and strollers next to the pews. In Pietrelcina, a small town in southern Italy where we lived prior to Pesaro while Michael did research, not only were there plenty of babies and strollers in church, but churchgoers talked constantly (and rather loudly!), and flowed in and out of the church like it was their home—which, in a way, it is. People in Pietrelcina feel especially blessed by Padre Pio because they’re his kin—they come from his hometown. My husband calls it a form of “Old Testament spirituality,” which differs from the “New Testament spirituality” that other devotees show toward Padre Pio, where all are Padre Pio’s spiritual kin as long as they believe in him, regardless of where they are from or who they are (Matthew’s Gospel and St. Paul’s Letters talk about this as the basis of the catholic (or universal) church).
Anyway, we attended Mass in Chicago and noticed that as soon as a baby started fussing, the parents whisk him or her to the back of the church (or to a “cry room.”) Alex particularly likes to “sing along” to the music at Mass, and so when he started doing this, I raced to the back of the church. It was so quiet in there! In Italy, when Alex fussed, we would just walk him around to calm him, and no one seemed to mind that we stayed inside. We’ve apologized to people (even the priest!) in church in Pesaro when Alex would cry and everyone looks at us like we have two heads. “But, he’s a baby! He’s supposed to cry. It’s natural.”
We’ve noticed that the U.S. certainly has a very different “baby culture” when it comes to these public places—especially restaurants. We were able to take Alex into any restaurant (fancy or low-key) or bar in Pesaro, and that’s certainly not the case in Chicago. I feel like there’s a much clearer separation of adults and children. If you want to go to a restaurant, get a babysitter. They get babysitters in Italy as well, of course (mostly it’s la nonna, or grandma, that watches the baby), but if you prefer to take your child out with you, no one seems to bat an eye.
We’ve already begun to discover places that are baby-friendly (we had no problems going out for sushi last week), and so far everyone has been just as nice as in Italy…although strangers don’t stop us all the time on the street wanting to touch or pinch Alex’s cheeks. 🙂