Monday, January 7, 2013

Extreme Participant Observation: Bus Edition

When we finally arrived in Mexico City, we got on a bus to Zihuatanejo. Nine hours, 34 seats, two bathrooms, four fold-down tv screens, and at least eight children, all of whom were sitting on laps. As we boarded and got situated (no seat pocket, but two strong elastic bands that hold your stuff without collecting who knows what in the bottom - I approve), R and I remarked to each other that we were really in for it. Nine hours on a bus with as many children? We assumed it was going to be awful. 

Instead of a nightmarish scenario of bored, whiny kids making our trip miserable, it was the fact that they showed the dubbed-in-Spanish version of The Devil Wears Prada twice that made the trip really tedious around about hour seven. The children were totally chill. They chatted with their family members, looked out the windows, watched the movies, ate their snacks, and took occasional bathroom breaks, all in a perfectly calm and straightforward manner. The most annoying thing that happened, if you could even call it that, was when a particularly cute five or six-year-old propped her chin on the back of her seat and gazed solemnly at us for a couple of miles.

Oh, did I forget to mention that R and I were the only non-Mexicans on the bus? 

I know it's a small sample size, and I'd hate to overgeneralize, but I observed a stark contrast between the behavior of Mexican children and the behavior of US children. The logistics of our bus trip were essentially the same as an airplane, and just think about every single time you've been on a flight with a bunch of kids. If they're not whining, they're throwing a fit, and if they're not running up and down the aisle, they're kicking the back of your seat.

In our ten days in Mexico, I don't think I saw a single Mexican child have a temper tantrum or fit of whining. I was also struck by how evenhandedly Mexican parents interacted with their children. It's so common in the US to see parents get frustrated with their children and react with impatience, even cruelty, but I saw none of that in Mexico. Possibly, as our just-married expat friend pointed out, good behavior is the result of being raised with the threat of corporal punishment. I don't believe that corporal punishment is a necessary part of raising great kids (I don't think I ever spanked Twelve, and she's turning out pretty well), but there does seem to be something happening in Mexican child-rearing practice that isn't happening in the US. 

Oh, and did I forget to mention that there wasn't a single Primate Anesthetizing Device on that entire bus? All of those kids were perfectly capable of hanging out on a bus all day without electronic assistance from personal devices. They did watch whatever was playing on the drop-down tv screens, and I was a bit surprised that they showed the movie about the guy who cut off his hand to get out from under a rock. I tried really hard to sleep through that one - score one for always having a few pairs of earplugs in your bag.

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