When you are a child, and you are staring at some person for being drunk or dressed funny: your mom hits you. If you are down in the pub and some bloke starts giving you the eyeball: you hit him. That’s the rules, refined over generations. However, another rule (well, more like a derivative corollary) that you learn elsewhere when you are a kid is: Don’t hit old ladies. This is the root of my cross-cultural conundrum. Let me explain.
When I am taking my baby out in the baby carriage for a brisk walk, maybe to purchase some fine meats or visit the local confectioners or even to simply enjoy the kôyô, the baby carriage is invariably invaded by gawking grandmas. Often, without asking, old women will stick their entire head into the carriage to get a far-too-close view of my child. They do not wait in strategic areas like a hunter near a stream where deer congregate. They do this while I am full-out walking, oblivious to my hurried gait and my over-attentive keitai fiddling. Ignorant of my attempts to ignore.
Is this some sort of age-right? Like the right to elbow while boarding trains, or to wear leopard print capes? It is like they are feeding off the energy of the young, like some sort of parasitic photosynthesis.
Younger women do not do this. According to the observational data I have collected over the past four months the baby-staring phenomenon is limited to women over the age of fifty Earth years. Elderly men try to sneak a peek, but do so at a safe distance from a not-so-subtle angle, easily obscured by a strategic placement of the body. Frustratingly, there seems no similar simple technique for baby-staring obachans.
Is baby-staring even done outside of Japan? I have never raised kids in my home country. I have no internalized rules about how to react to baby-staring. It is obviously a blatant violation of personal space, similar to the inexplicable impulse to touch the belly of a pregnant woman. Can’t they see that I have places to go and meats to purchase? Must I set up a barbed wire enclosure around the baby carriage to ward off the elderly? Or should I just be done with it and punch them in the mouth?