Friday, November 16, 2012

The Critical Mom and the German Mommy

I ran into a friend at the church on the German version of Hallowe'en, which is called "Martinstag," or Saint Martin's day.  Saint Martin is a Sir Walter Raleigh of sorts; Raleigh, you recall, is the one who spread his fancy cloak over a puddle so that Queen Elizabeth could walk without getting her Manolo Blahniks in the muck.  Naturally she chopped his head off.  St. Martin handed the poor guy his cloak, and in celebration, German schoolchildren sing catchy tunes while walking through the streets with lanterns, and back in the schoolyard get rewarded with waffles and Bratwurst.  
The friend, who has a small child, came with a quiet young man who had an ascetic, soulful look, and who was introduced as a "visitor."  The "visitor," it developed, was without means, and wants to travel around the world.  So he rings doorbells asking for room and board, in return for which he says he'll garden, do repairs, babysit, perform any household chore.  And he was interested in organic and symbiotic farming, too, said the dewy-eyed mother who was relieved to have somebody else holding the heavy two-year-old for a moment.  And I looked at the young man with the hooded, unreadable eyes and thought "he's probably harmless."  And then I thought of Etan Patz, apparantly murdered by his babysitter's boyfriend.  And of Yoselyn Ortega and the Krims.  And of growing up in New York and seeing all the things that make you realize why you should not talk to strangers or invite them into your home five minutes after they ring your doorbell and give you their spiel.  And then I thought of my friend, the mother, who grew up in the Balkans, probably during the wars.  The rules are different in wartime, I wanted to scream, when I saw her on the tram today.  Instead I said nothing.  The visitor was, after all, gone, the baby is still alive, no stolen silver has been reported, but oh, Dorothy, I don't think I'm in New York anymore.


  1. know, I would have had the same thoughts (concerns, reservations, fears) you had. I don't think it's necessarily a US / DE thing, though culture likely plays into it.

    I had a similar sort of Aha!-moment when I visited my friends in Utah the first time. When we came up to her parents' house, even though nobody was home, none of the doors were locked, we just walked in. They also never locked their car. They probably still don't. But then, they live in rural Utah, where people know each other too well.

  2. It may well be a country-versus-the-city thing . . .