I realize that in my last post I might have sounded just slightly negative about Portugal and the Portuguese. Let me just state clearly, so there is no doubt, that I absolutely truly love living in this wonderful country. And it’s not just about the food, the sun, the wine or the beautiful beaches. Portugal is one of the most child-friendly countries I know.
It is difficult for me to make a fair comparison to my home countries, since I have spent so long in Latin places (Portugal and Brazil) that my personality and culture has strayed very far from its Anglo-German origins. Just ask any English person who backs away when I enthusiastically greet them with a kiss! I’ve never tried to nurse a baby in England, never attempted to enter German restaurant with a pushchair. But it doesn’t get much better than what I’ve experienced in Brazil and Portugal.
Let’s start with pregnancy. In Brazil, you are automatically elevated to the position of demi-goddess. People in the street will exclaim how lucky and beautiful you are, no matter the size of your girth or breadth of your waddle. Little old ladies in cafés will stand in line to touch your baby belly, coo to the baby or pronounce a quick blessing. Granted, this can sometimes be a bit too much for someone who has clearly defined boundaries around their personal space (who, me?) but all-in-all being pregnant Brazil is like being wrapped in a comfy, welcoming social blanket (until you try and give birth…).
Then the baby comes.
If Mom is a demi-goddess, baby is Zeus and Hera wrapped into one. In Brazil, babies rule supreme.
Gone are the days when you could have a quiet dinner at a restaurant. Your baby may be fast asleep but every single passerby will want to lift the blanket to take a look. Random strangers will come up and offer to hold your baby, just because she’s so adorable. I’ll admit I found this difficult to adjust to: if I was uncomfortable having strangers touch my pregnant belly, I definitely did not want them carrying my newborn son around the shopping mall. But although new mothers have to learn to say “No” to little old ladies and be prepared to whip their babies out of the arms of strangers, the beauty of this attitude is that you and your baby are always welcome.
You can go to the beach, have coffee in your favorite coffee shop and even eat your favorite fancy restaurant. No waiter is too snotty to help you carry the push-chair over tables, smile at your squawking toddler and pick up his napkin the umpteenth time he drops it.
Portugal is pretty much my dream country in every single way, so I was delighted to find that this baby-friendly attitude extends across the Atlantic from Brazil.
Since moving here I have breastfed my baby in the local pastelaria, at a fancy Christmas dinner and walking along the beach. I now breastfeed a rambunctious toddler who enjoys pulling the goods out for all to see (if you know what I mean) and still, no comment, no looks, no disapproval.
If you’re out and about on your own with baby, everyone is willing to lend a hand. Just the other day two tiny old ladies offered to hold my bike while I attempted the impossible task of holding my son while switching to the other side of the handlebars. A friend of mine recently flew from France to Brazil. On the way there the Brazilian couple next to her entertained both of her kids throughout the flight. On the way back, a French couple tetchily complained when her toddler accidentally knocked against their iPad.
Like I said, I don’t really know what things are like back in England or Germany. I’ve heard positive stories of playgrounds galore, soft play centers that open on Sunday nights, and cafés with special baby corners. But I’ve also heard friends talk about feeling uncomfortable when out of the house, and of restaurants that are specifically “adult-only”. The Brazilian-Portuguese attitude that “everyone’s child is my child” of course has its downsides: I was recently berated by a couple on the beach for allowing my son to walk barefoot.
But for the moment, I’m just going to count my blessings. My attitude to parenting is that my baby just comes with me wherever I go – how lucky am I to live in a country that gives me the freedom to do exactly that.
How child-friendly is the country you live in? How do you feel about child-free restaurants?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Julie of Portugal. Photo credit to the author.