My family takes public transportation a lot. Commuter busses. City trains. International-bound planes. And, when we do, I let my sons speak to me. Speak to each other. Speak to friends. But, I always encourage them to do so in low voices.
As any parent knows, kids are inquisitive. They want to ask a million questions. Often, streaming them together, not pausing for an answer before firing off another inquiry.
As any parent knows, kids are impatient. They want to ask their pressing questions. Right now. The urge to ask it, causing them to jump up and down, never slowing until the question bursts forth from their lips.
As any parent knows, kids get energized by new experiences. They bubble with the excitement of spotting something new. And, the volume of their voice often matches the level of their excitement – sometimes reaching levels we can’t even begin to phantom.
But, as a parent, I know that I also need to be conscious of those around us. Especially, in tight, contained spaces like buses, trains and planes. And, so we usually talk in hushed whispers, always answering questions, talking about new things or remarking on the passing sights.
To me, this is a polite way to act. A behavior I thought knew no bounds. But, one travel day caused me to question what I thought was a universal norm.
When cultures clash on an Amsterdam-bound train
Recently, my family traveled by train from Belgium to Amsterdam. Having just landed in Belgium from a flight from Chicago that connected through Dublin, we were all tired. And, not at all in a talkative mood.
Once on the train, we settled in for our afternoon trip, letting the rhythm of the train lure us to sleep.
With my younger son’s head resting on my shoulder, I jolted awake hearing a man angrily confront a woman at the front of our train car.
I had heard the woman’s children speaking in quiet voices, asking questions, making statements. But, their voices seamlessly joined with the rushing wind that flowed across our train car. I didn’t register their individual voices. It didn't wake me. But, the sounds of a man’s annoyed tones sure did.
“Madame, there is no talking on the train. Kids are not to talk on the train. Please silence them.”
With sleep still weighing down over me, I suddenly became conscious. First of my family, all of whom slept silently. Then, of another family, potentially in need.
While my first reaction was to be prepared to help another woman, another mom. I quickly realized that she could hold her own.
The voice that answered the male passenger calmly said, “Sir, we are a family. They are kids. Kids ask questions. We are quietly talking as a family.”
Her answer was simple. It was bold. But, it didn’t dissuade the disgruntled man.
“Madame, I am from France. And, in France, you don’t talk on the train.”
Not to be deterred, the woman replied saying, “Well, sir, we are not in France. We are in Belgium. And, we will continue to talk as a family.”
And, with that, the man fell silent. His argument quelled by the mere fact that the woman politely reminded him that there are other norms and behaviors to be respected. Those of families. And, those of other cultures.
And, with that, the family began speaking again. This time, their conversation started with a stream of quiet questions from the children.
“Why is he so mad?”
“Why did he say those things?”
“Why can’t you talk on the train?”
And, with that, the woman begin quietly answering each and every question peppered at her by her inquisitive children – who now had a new topic of conversation thanks to the lone man who had wanted to silence her family on the train.
Parents around the world share their personal experiences
For weeks, this confrontation stuck with me. And, it made me wonder if people in other cities, from other cultures talk on public transportation. So, I asked my fellow Multicultural Kid Bloggers to share their personal experiences with me.
Many bloggers shared that they do speak on public transportation – with their family members and sometimes with others, too.
Lisa of Family Life in Spain shared: “Definitely in Malaga, Spain. Not only within the family but also often with strangers. It’s one of the many things we love about living here.”
Galina of Raising a Trilingual Child said: “In Russia as well as in Italy family members and friends talk to each other on the public transportation. Also it is not unusual for strangers to start a conversation with you if you are with kids. I often had a chat with someone on the Saint Petersburg subway during our stay there.
Several bloggers also noted that while they do talk as a family, they rarely speak with others around them. This called out to me other cultural norms where you may not readily address others around you. But, instead enjoy your conversation and let other passengers enjoy their travel moments as they see fit.
Annabelle of The Piri-Piri Lexicon noted that: In Paris, people would chat amongst family or friends but not often address the other strangers.”
Tarana of Sand in My Toes said: “In Dubai, UAE, public transport isn’t very ‘chatty’ that way, although the women with kids might end up talking. But mostly, people keep to themselves. It could also be because of so many cultural differences.
Stephen of The Head of the Heard shared: “In Curitiba, Brazil, we are a bit more restrained, but it is not unusual for people to chat amongst friends and family.”
Chontelle of Bilingual Kidspot said: “In Italy we talk with the people we are traveling with but not often strangers. However in the bigger cities, because we have many tourists I usually end up speaking to them to help with directions.”
Amanda of Miss Panda Chinese noted: “In Taiwan and Hong Kong people talk with family and/or friends on the public transportation. People don’t really talk to strangers. However, when people give their seats to family with young kids, pregnant mothers, or seniors, a small conversation might get started after saying ‘thank you’ or ‘I appreciate it.’ But it is rare.”
And, a few bloggers did share that people don’t often speak on public transportation where they - or their siblings - live in the world.
Ann Belle at Kids Travel Books shared: “Where I lived in Germany we definitely did not talk unless it was in very hushed [tones].”
Leanna of All Done Monkey noted: “I talk to my sister in Maryland often as she is leaving work and she always ends the conversation when her bus arrives because it’s considered rude to talk on the bus.”
To me, these comments show that cultural norms for talking on public transportation differ – sometimes across cities within the same country. So, my approach will continue to be to take cues from those around us – and continue to encourage my sons to ask questions, make observations and share their experiences in low voices no matter where our travels take us at home or abroad.
Do you let your children talk on public transportation? Has anyone ever asked your family to not talk or to lower your voices? Please share your experiences in the comments below.
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