Don´t get me wrong. I am not a hypochondriac. But sometimes, I look around and start wondering about all the unhealthy habits people have in Argentina. Things that few people seem worried about. I drink coffee at work now. Every single day. As I look down at our white mugs stained permanently brown, all I can think is what it must be doing to my teeth and feel the urgent need to go and brush them. I watch people sip mate (see my other post, ¨The Uruguayan Obsession¨) all day long, and while there isn’t the obesity problem we have back home, all I think about is how many spoonfuls of sugar are being consumed and how it is that half this population isn’t on their way to diabetes. I watch my coworkers down a 2.5 liter bottle of regular Coke before noon and almost everyone around me put what must be a week’s worth of salt on things, from salad to fries to crackers, to pizza.
Safety standard differences are another thing. In Argentina I´m not sure there even is a standard. On my flight from BA back to New York, I sat next to an Argentine woman with a baby. At first I thought ¨oh this is going to be a long flight,¨ but the baby didn´t make a peep the entire time and fell asleep in the woman´s arms. A few hours later she got up to go to the bathroom, to my horror leaving her sleeping baby on the seat next to me. I was so nervous about a sudden drop in cabin pressure or that the baby might move and fall off the seat that I kept my hand close by to make a rescue if need be. The mother returned, completely calm and in no rush.
I ride a lot of public buses in Buenos Aires and ever-present are crying babies and their mothers. I notice the mothers seem to carry very minimal if any baby paraphernalia – no folded-up stroller, diaper bag, toys, not even a pack of baby wipes. The babies are never being held in any sort of secure baby carrier either. Sometimes they look like they are about to pass out from heat exhaustion, their hair glued with sweat to their dangling heads while they sleep cramped on the laps of their mothers, which probably explains why they´re almost always crying. It’s interesting to compare how different our worlds and realities can be. An old boss of mine who had two kids once tried to justify owning an SUV, saying it was impossible to go on a trip with his kids and wife in anything smaller when you had to bring playpens, stroller, baby swings, etc. That seemed excessive to me then and even more so now that I´ve seen the things people live without around the world.
As I have mentioned before, fire alarms and carbon monoxide detectors don’t exist here. When I ask how anyone manages to escape if they are by chance sleeping or not aware of a fire, no one seems to have an answer. To complicate things further, you need your key handy to unlock the door to get out, no standard bolt locks here.
On the total other hand, I think about how over-the-top we can be about safety and cleanliness in the U.S. How paranoid people are. Everyone is antibacterializing their child from birth isntead of letting them play in the dirt and build up immunity. Today every child seems to have a peanut allergy. Funny how Argentina doesn’t seem to have that problem. It seems a trend now, especially in places like affluent neighborhoods of NYC, to send children to occupational therapists, private tutors and coaches, anything to help children excel more easily. This recent article from the NY Times about ocupational therapy for children put me over the edge. It seems as if more and more parents are looking to find something wrong with their completely normal kids instead of demanding more of them or of their teachers, or doing the hard work themselves. As schools and admissions become more competitive, the higher ranks seem to be more and more reserved only for the affluent who have the luxury of hiring the coaches to help their three-year-old hold a crayon right and the private SAT tutors.
When I travel to other parts of the world I find it hard to make sense of the stark contrast between these two worlds. Babies holding their own on the front of motorbikes carrying a family of five, while back in the U.S. wealthy families are designing multi-million dollar homes that better accommodate their developing children.
Isn´t there a happy medium??