97: A town with its own water cannon truck

Now that's a water cannon!

Our town may only house 60,000 souls or so, but that doesn’t mean its police force can’t have cool equipment, like armored water cannon trucks.

We were out for our Sunday stroll when we noticed all access points to our town square were covered by police vehicles and uniformed officers. Poised at the brink of the square was what looked like a Canada-style recycling truck. On closer inspection, we found the police logo on the door, which led to questions about whether police were branching out into the refuse and recycling collection biz.

Water cannons are abhorred in North America for their historical use in the race riots of the 1960s, but they are still made and sold in Europe (U.K.-manufactured), and come in handy to remind soccer rioters to keep their game-enthused vandalism confined to the arena.

Dave voted we just keep walking and not let our eyes meet any of the officers’ gazes, but my reporter sensibilities drove me on to the nearest armed police officers. Dave kept a distance so that after my arrest he would still be available to file a report to Amnesty International and call our U.N. -connected friends to see if they could shake me loose from the clutches of the Swiss authorities.

The officers were friendly and said that they were readying for a soccer riot, which is just about the best thing I’ve heard all year. European soccer riots are the stuff of legend and seeing one up close would be memorable. This view is why, by the way, Dave would like to put a leash and muzzle on me when we go out for a stroll.

“So, when should I stay clear of the square,” I asked the officer, but as any cop will tell you, when a reporter asks when to stay away, she is really saying, “When does the party start and what should I wear?”

Sadly, he said there was no need to stay clear. None of the officers wore that tense ‘don’t mess with me I have guns, billy clubs, a stun gun and I am ready to play Star Trek/Star Wars/Battlestar Galatica  on your head’ expression. The armored water cannon vehicle, the haul-you-off-to-jail vans and police were all a show of hands and in our mostly unassuming quiet little watchmaking town, that is enough to keep the peace.

Tear gas used to protect pro-life protesters.

As a side note: Although the police told me there was water in the cannon truck, Swiss police do sometimes use the trucks to shoot tear gas into crowds. It is reported they did exactly that last year when a peaceful march of about 1,000 people favoring protection for unborn children was threatened by people favoring unrestricted abortion access.

Advertisements

98: French fils et filles – c’est bon or non?

A French child playing quietly at an outdoor cafe' in France.

Yesterday’s one-day research project into the conduct of French children and the efficacy of French parenting was carried out over the cobblestoned medieval square at Mulhouse, a museum-laden town in France’s eastern Alsace region. Pity me, working so hard.

The task was triggered by American author Pamela Druckerman’s assertion in her hit book Bringing Up Bebe that the French know more about parenting than do Americans.

Joanna Goddard, Manhattan-based blogger at A Cup of Jo summarized Bringing Up Bebe in this way (this is a summary of her summary):

  1. You can have a grown-up life, even if you have kids.
  2. You can teach your child the act of learning to wait.
  3. Kids can spend time playing by themselves, and that’s a good thing.
  4. Believe it when you tell your child “No.”

This dog raised two boys, neither of whom turned to a life of crime.

It’s worth noting that these four tenets are nothing new. Focus on the Family founder Dr. James Dobson wrote the same stuff back in the 1970s. Before then, my mother took #3 to an extreme level by pushing us out the door immediately after breakfast and not letting us back inside until supper.

I took the practice even further with my own children who spent their summers outdoors under the supervision of a yellow labrador retriever that I trained to deliver notes to them that read “Dinnertime!” and “Don’t let your brother play near the shore.” Come to think of it, I should have penned a book “Retriever-Raising Your Rascals.”

Outdoor cafes in town squares are lovely car-free zones to teach children about restaurant manners. They can sit quietly with the adults, or safely blow off steam by running around the square.

In our afternoon of observing the French, we saw many children dining quietly at street cafes, trundling contentedly along the pedestrian malls and frolicking in the cobblestoned squares. Recalling the wailing kids we had seen in North American Wal-Mart stores, it seemed that Druckerman might have a point.

Then Dave saw a fussing four-year-old girl whose mother delivered to her a solid whack on the bottom and a stern reprimand.  A little later, another siren-whine of  some random child cut through the crowds. Two whiners in one afternoon seemed on-par with North American over-bored and stuck-in-stores-too-long child stats as reported by the unscientific commission of me and my friends.

Here in Switzerland, the scene is very much the same, although overall the Swiss are a more restrained people than North Americans and it shows in their youngsters.

There is another constant at work in this. The popularity of Bringing Up Bebe shows that not only the French are concerned about how to raise children, but that as a society, North Americans are, too. Otherwise, Druckerman’s book would never have made it to the New York Times bestseller list.