When you live with someone from another country you can talk about cultural differences all day long. I find them fascinating. Why do we do what we do? How is it different in Sweden or Germany? Thailand or Brazil?
We came across an interesting topic that crosses all cultures – hygiene. My au pair Romina is from Germany and she didn’t quite understand why so much time was spent reviewing hand washing at the Cultural Care Au Pair training school in New York
To her and her friend, hand washing is nothing new. Common sense! But the degree to which it was reviewed was perplexing to her. Since everyone in the room was between 18 and 26 years old common sense told her everyone already knew how to wash their hands. Perhaps they could focus on other more relevant topics that would help them in their au pair year. So this is where our conversation started – why the obsession with hand washing!
Exhibit A – Different interpretations of clean and serving as a role model to their charges. When I reminded her of a child’s perspective on cleanliness v. an adult’s and used my own children as an example you could start to see a light bulb go off. Emmet or Caroline know what they are supposed to do to have clean hands but if someone isn’t watching I wouldn’t put it past them to just quickly run their hands under the water and call it a day. Who needs soap? It’s just an extra step that slows an otherwise busy child down and keeps them from the action of doing something else more FUN. Showing them and keeping tabs that they are washing their hands properly is something au pairs need to be aware of.
Exhibit B – Sharing is caring? We teach children to share everything. They seem to think germs are no exception. They use their hands, arms, legs, clothes, toys (insert any favorite or convenient object here), piece of paper to clean off an otherwise dirty face or covering up a cough, sneeze or runny nose in lieu of actually getting up and taking care of it properly. And yes, we have spent the last 8 years reminding them of how to do it properly. Next thing you know the germs have attached themselves to an otherwise unsuspecting child or adult in the vicinity.
Exhibit C – A national fear of spreading viruses. Swine Flu, Avian Bird Flu and any other condition I could come up with that are easily spread through germs and personal contact that could be combated by the thorough act of hand washing.
15 minutes later she started to understand why there was such focus. Taking care of you is one thing but helping children care for themselves and keep their germs to themselves is another story. A few minutes later on our drive, I noticed my daughter wiped her nose with the front of her shirt. Exhibit D! Clothes are useful as Kleenex…..according to a kid. We had a good laugh and handed Caroline a Kleenex and some Purell. Remarkably, the hand washing training she received at the training school will be something she uses everyday…..even though it is common sense!