They say it takes a village to raise a child, and in Salzburg the inhabitants take their role in telling you how to bring up your child very seriously.
Fotos: Veronica Köllerer
Complete strangers will be totally invested in your and your child’s welfare. In one respect this might seem very caring and neighbourly, they are just trying to offer their kind advice, albeit unsolicited. However as an eye-contact avoiding British new mum, I found this very unnerving. In London, I used to get on the tube with millions of other passengers but if I even made unintentional eye-contact with one of them, let alone accidently engage in light body contact as the tube went around a bend in the tunnel, the horror would weigh on my conscious for days. We would share a shy oh-my-goodness-I’m-so-sorry-smile rest assured in the knowledge we would never see each other again. In Salzburg I found the culture to be very different.
Please don’t talk to me (all the time)
This is all very well if you are Austrian and used to it, trickier if you are a Brit unaccustomed to such practices and it is even more unnerving if you are a British mother wielding a pram containing her first born child. If I had a Euro for every time someone peered into the pram or lifted the hood of the buggy, not to exclaim how cute my daughter was, but to tell me that she should be wearing socks/gloves/a hat/a blanket/no blanket/shoes/dinosaur outfit/had three heads, I would be able to afford a small one bedroom flat in the centre of Salzburg’s old town district.
I would be given unsolicited advice at least five times a day, most commonly whilst waiting at bus stops where people are prone to enjoy a chat (shudder). If it was 30 degrees Celsius my daughter should be wearing a hat, gloves and a blanket and when it was winter, why wasn’t she wearing gloves. Any parent of a small child will understand why my child was not wearing gloves in winter. Because it’s impossible to a) put them on, and b) keep them on. The same can be said for shoes and socks. I’d smile and thank them in my polite British way whilst muttering something about how, yes we do have gloves but no, she won’t wear them.
In my head these exchanges played out very differently with me wanting to scream and shout at these people to please leave me alone.
At once point I even considered getting t-shirts or even flashcards printed with standard answers to all the questions I’d face on a daily basis; yes, my daughter sucks her thumb; yes, we do have gloves/hat/shoes/socks but no, she won’t wear them; yes, I am aware that it is windy; yes, she looks like a monchhichi (children of the 80s, remember those?)
Giving birth in a language which is not your own is a challenge
It requires learning a whole new set of specialised vocabulary, fachsprache if you will. You will learn all the key terms like Wehen (contractions), Kreißsaal (delivery room), PDA (epidural), Einleitung (inducing the birth) and the like. Now, even though I studied German at university many moons ago and actually have a degree in the subject, this was a whole new set of words and phrases to get my head around. The more I spoke to the midwife and nurses the more comfortable I felt with this new language.
However, nothing prepared me for all the new words I would hear thrown around once my daughter was born. I learnt a plethora of words for a dummy (titti, schnuli, zuzzi, zuzel) with the most disturbing and confusing one being titti which I heard a lot every time someone commented on the fact that my child was a thumb-sucker and always made my British soul feel very uncomfortable. Parentese (or baby language) is where the diminutive form in the German language really comes into its own. A bottle is a Flaschi, having a bath becomes badi-badi , a nap is a Schläfchen or in dialect I often heard heia. I found this fascinating and it made me realise that the English language is so limiting is when it comes to making words sound cute. In my attempt to transfer this method to the English language I tried to give my daughter a bottely-wottely, splashy-time and a nappy-wappy but nothing stuck, it all sounded ridiculous and I returned to my über-Britishness and spoke to my daughter as if I were addressing an adult. I loved the Austrian words and phrases but there was no way I could pull them off authentically, all the other parents I met on my way already thought I was weird enough. My motto was, stick to what you know, and I knew how to talk to adults and not babies.
I took every baby course imaginable, from baby massage (amazing but I wanted a massage more), baby swimming (also amazing), to playgroups where we sang songs and observed our children (not for me) and herbal remedies for childhood ailments (you’d be surprised how versatile and healing cabbage leaves, onions and Topfen can be!)
Having dealt with the unsolicited advice, navigated my way around the new language, it was time to work out what to do with this baby for the 24 hours of each and every day. With a husband working long hours and multiple night shifts in a local hospital, my parents and parents-in-law out of reach, I turned to my loyal frenemy google and printed out a list of all relevant baby classes in my area. I then signed up to as many as I could pack in. I wanted to be around people and I was petrified of being alone all day every day with a baby who couldn’t talk back and converse with me. I threw myself into these courses with the determination of a school girl desperate for good grades. I took every baby course imaginable, from baby massage (amazing but I wanted a massage more), baby swimming (also amazing), to playgroups where we sang songs and observed our children (not for me) and herbal remedies for childhood ailments (you’d be surprised how versatile and healing cabbage leaves, onions and topfen can be!).
My daughter, who couldn’t even roll, would lie naked on a mat in a warm room whilst I attempted to engage her with silks, cloths and feathers.
One course which was recommended to me by a lot of other parents was a PEKiP course where babies engage in sensory play completely naked. Well, as a prudish Brit, this was an interesting course. My daughter, who couldn’t even roll, would lie naked on a mat in a warm room whilst I attempted to engage her with silks, cloths and feathers. When she was more mobile she sat in a ball pit with a lot of other naked babies whilst I observed her behaviour wondering how this was contributing to her early-years development. As her first year progressed I became more selective when it came to choosing our group activities. Key criteria became; how tired will my baby be after this class (nap potential) and quality of the coffee for the parents (coffee quality). Anywhere that served decaffeinated coffee was dropped and classes which resulted in my daughter sleeping for a good hour afterwards were prioritised – hello baby swimming!
Naked baby sensory classes did not appeal to my UK-based friends
As is often the case, a lot of my friends back in the UK were also having babies at similar times and on frequent Skype chats and Facebook messages we would compare what was similar and what was different. Naked baby sensory classes did not appeal to my UK-based friends, neither did the constant interfering in the welfare of my baby and I wasn’t really into how important sleep-training was to them (in hindsight something I maybe should have looked into!). One thing they were all unanimous in was their wonderment for was the length of maternity leave and financial support available to me here in Austria, as well as the pre- and postnatal care prescribed in the Mutter-Kind-Pass. The thought that in the UK I would most likely have returned to work just 6 months after having given birth was hard. I am 8 years past having my first child and I still forget to take water and snacks to the playground, so goodness knows what I would have forgotten to do at work in those early days.
So, having given birth to my daughter 8 years ago and my son 6 years ago, enough time has passed for me to see whether my children have benefited from any of this. Who knows! With an Austrian doctor as a father who discusses all body parts using medical terms and a prudish British mother who avoids eye contact yet lost all her naked dignity due to the fact she can never pee or shower in private, my children; speak to each other in their own sibling developed version of Deunglish, are comfortable with their bodies, won’t look you in the eye, and will form an orderly queue when waiting for a bus. Only time will tell how they will truly turn out!