One of the highlights of 2016 for me was my maiden European trip to Switzerland. It was an official trip for a month to the financial hub Zurich and I took my mum and daughter along as it was a good opportunity for them to visit a new place.
The trip was fabulous personally as well as professionally, as I soaked myself in the eternal beauty of a country so enchantingly beautiful (an added bonus was visiting at the onset of winters which meant a good glimpse of the snow capped mountains). Professionally it was a high as I got the chance to meet so many of my colleagues and stakeholders in person and putting a face to a name always helps in future interactions.
A few things I saw and experienced which had a significant impact on me and when I mentally compared it to the way of life in India- I can almost vividly see why we struggle with so many issues. It’s crystal clear.
Switzerland has always scored high on the world happiness index and the quality of life is known to be high. I could easily see why.
- Moms comfortable in their skin– In most foreign countries you do not have the luxury to travel by cab, its insanely expensive. So you use the metro, buses, trams which are very efficient. During our weekend getaways we saw many moms who breastfed in public places without any hesitation or looking uncomfortable, nor did passer bys nudge each other or give them a second glance. Normal isn’t it? But the situation back home is just the opposite for the most natural thing like breastfeeding makes people uncomfortable- moms are asked to use the toilet or go to a different room as people around feel uncomfortable.
New mums did not seem uncomfortable with their body, or make attempts to hide that flab, they carried themselves with as much confidence as any other girl on the street.
- Hands on dad does not need a standing ovation– We were once travelling by metro and at a station saw a Dad with a 4 year old baby boy and a toddler enter the train. He had a stroller which he pulled along and a knapsack. While he was settling down the excited 2 boys and we were admiring him on how hands on he is in managing both of them all by himself so well, we heard a wail from the stroller. Peeped in and saw a baby cooing there. So it was not 2 but 3 kids. But we were the only ones who looked in awe as we compared him to dads back home. How many times do you see a dad managing kid/kids single handed? There are a few who do it , they are always showered with so much praise as if they went out of their way while in fact they are just doing a part of their duty as a parent.
And that’s what the Swiss and everyone else in the metro thought- a few people spoke to the little boys but no such oohh aah and glances of admiration. Gradually we learnt this is a very normal thing here just like you see moms scuttling children around in India.
- It was a common sight to see many babies and toddlers with pacifiers in their mouth for the entire duration of travel which was sometimes around 2 hours in a train. Parents used strollers for wheeling children around, some as big as 4 years were seated in a stroller happily munching a snack as the parents took a stroll. People never gave them a second glance, there were no hushed whispers, no judgement. In contrast- I remember when my daughter was barely a year and I used the stroller, I was told why you don’t encourage her to walk. By 1 she should we walking. Then someone else asks me why don’t you hold her in your arms. All these are not known people but strangers who take it upon themselves to educate a new mom on how she should be taking care of her child. Most moms are sure to identify with this unsolicited advice.
- It was a common sight seeing women roam the streets late at night, sometimes taking a puff from a cigarette or a beer bottle in hand as they coolly walked on the street. Now before you judge me that smoking and alcohol consumption is not something we should be proud of as its harmful, I wonder why this selective abstinence is only for women. Look at the smoking zone in Café Barista or a corporate- while you might find 1-2 women, you cannot fail to notice the multiple glances people around give them which reeks of judgement. Same case when it comes to drinking alcohol- a woman drinking is considered bad, but for a guy its cool! Ladies should limit themselves to soft drinks, mocks tails or maybe a lady’ drink if the men around are liberal. Why these double standards I always wonder? If something is harmful, lets ban it universally and not just for half the population.
It was a common sight seeing many people in their late 30’s and 40’s not married and living alone, some lived in with their partner and they had no qualms talking about it cos no one gave them that awkward pause or look. We often talk of bringing our whole selves to work, ever wondered why we fail so miserably doing that in India?
- This one was pointed out by my mom and I almost hugged her for this wonderful observation. It was noteworthy to observe how most women, not just youngsters but middle aged and elderly women as well walked. Their posture which was so erect, with the shoulders broad and back held straight which made them look so confident as they walked. In India you will notice many of us crouch our back, in an attempt to hide our breasts, we pull up that top or jacket, or the pallu of our sari or the dupatta is spread across our chest, all in an attempt to hide cleavage. For weren’t we always told as little girls- sit properly, don’t spread your legs, hide your chest and sub consciously that has affected the way we carry ourselves. This is not to say that none of us walk straight but you cannot deny that we are forever conscious of any skin that shows and not really very confident of our bodies as we should be.
This post is not meant to say that we blindly imbibe everything that the Swiss do and then we are set to have a good life and awesome score on the happiness index But it’s worth thinking about these things and earnestly trying to change our mentality, being less judgmental and hopefully our children can have an India which scores much better on the quality of life and world happiness index.