Radical at Home, Routine Abroad

by Kevin Sexton


            I was recently working in Berlin, traveling around the city teaching English at preschools. There was one particular kindergarten where they used to keep photo montages of recent events in the hallway. They had pirate-themed parties, sleepovers, outings to the park. It was all very cute.

            The one that struck me, though, was the Night of the Orient. Most of the pictures showed one of the caregivers, a girl in her late twenties, dressed like she belonged in the king’s personal harem. She had Aladdin pants and a light scarf across her back. And on top, nothing but her flat, bare stomach, a tight bra and a lot of cleavage. In the pictures, she was giving belly dances to four-year old boys and teaching her art to four-year old girls. Aside from a few wide-eyed kids, everyone seemed to take it all in light-hearted fun.

            Now, I know virtually everyone on the planet likes to look sexy (though, as with obese people in tight clothes, it doesn’t always work out for us), but it strikes me that if there’s one time to turn that off, it’s at a kindergarten. But maybe I’m just a conservative North American with hang-ups about the body. Really, what’s the harm in these kids seeing a bare stomach? In fact, nakedness is no big deal there at all. In another preschool I worked at, I showed up on a 32-degree day to find all my students running around naked by the hose. Again, my reaction was to be a little freaked out. But it was hot out! And they were having a good time! What’s the problem? The problem is, I guess, that I’ve been raised to run from naked children in fear of imprisonment, to throw my hands up in the air when I see one coming towards me. It would take a madman to let their kids run naked through a fountain in Toronto. People would stare, security would come.

            And know what else is shocking to a North American living in Europe? A man walking around with a beer. We can’t do that without getting arrested. The powers above probably assume that if we were without our anti-public drinking laws, there would be drunken chaos in the streets. Fights would break out daily in public parks. There would be orgies on every street corner. The gutters would run with vomit. Just like they do in Berlin. Right?

            And while we’re at it, what else is scary and radical in Canada? As the coverage of the Montreal tuition protests have recently shown us, free school. You can’t have everyone just go to school for free! Well, first of all, we do. Right up to grade 12. But that aside, Germany has free school! Germany, the grout that’s holding together the fractured tiles of Europe’s economy. Free education is not causing them to struggle. And not only is school free, some people are paid to do it! My roommate was making 750 Euros/month simply to be enrolled in a nursing program. It wasn’t even conditional on finishing the degree. Clearly, free school is not just a wild communist dream, but a social choice. And the Germans are proud of it.

            So why don’t we all relax a little? Let’s share a beer on the subway, let’s let our kids run around naked. Or not, but let’s talk about it. Let’s discuss our politics with reason, not fear. Just because we don’t do something over here, that doesn’t make it radical. I’m sure those toddlers aren’t any the worse for seeing a little cleavage. 



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