Plane Tales

March 11, 2012

Recently, when I took a flight (or rather multiple flights) from India to the United States, I went via Vienna. This was the first time I’d be touching Austria, and I was even travelling with Austrian Airlines for much of it, so I was super excited! Can’t say the experience was especially great or rewarding….but thats a relatively boring story…

Anyway, on my flight from Vienna to the US, I had my usual window seat and sitting beside me on the aisle seat was a 30-something Eastern European woman, travelling with her husband and two children who were across the aisle in the middle seats of the plane. Now the kids I guesstimate were in the pre-teen/teenage category – the younger girl probably about 11-12 years old and the older boy probably 13-14 years old. We took off at 10:30am EU time, so all the passengers were getting ready to catch up on a few hours of sleep – at least for the beginning of the journey. Even these kids were in their pajamas.

Before take off, I saw both were given their toothbrushes with a dabble of toothpaste on each. The parents were encouraging their kids to brush their teeth in their seats and swallow the toothpaste! The boy was slowly but surely doing that, but the girl was having quite the gag reflex at being forced to swallow the paste. To be honest, I don’t think I could stop staring…or mentally gagging either. Nothing stopped the kids from brushing their teeth before boarding or after the seat-belt sign went off. They could easily totter to the in-flight bathrooms to rinse out their mouths. So why go to the extreme of ingesting this fluoride-infused substance??? Needless to say that if this anecdote were about babies or young toddlers, I wouldn’t bat an eyelid, but the fact that older children were involved in this scene was uncomfortably bothersome.

While I was watching all of this transpire, I thought to myself – “it’s just you thinking too much, Manjree! Many people swallow while they’re brushing. You see it in films SOO much. So it isn’t weird, just different to how you were taught to brush your teeth”. Ethnocentrism 101. Isn’t that what we’d been taught in Anthropology, to question what we find different or unusual in behaviour of other human beings? So I put it down to European lifestyle habits and promptly took the thought out of mind. Then I came home and Google-d the topic – results showed that toothpaste should NOT be ingested or swallowed in high amounts because it can be harmful and even lethal to the person. However, if the toothpaste does not contain fluoride, then it may be safe to swallow. Wikipedia states:

“With the exception of toothpaste intended to be used on pets such as dogs and cats, and toothpaste used by astronauts, most toothpaste is not intended to be swallowed, and doing so may cause nausea or diarrhea.”

So now the question is – what does this tale say, or not say, about parenthood, European culture, or even ideas of health and safety in the ‘West’ today? Was my reaction or thoughts that derive from this incident ethnocentric or not?

I’ll let you be the judge of that and would love your comments on this post…


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