Innocents abroad: higher up the food chain: Are British children a public nuisa?nce

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Indy Lifestyle Online
UNITED STATES: Kids in America are simply higher up the food chain than their British counterparts when it comes to eating out. On paper, the rules are actually stricter. No one under 21 is allowed in a bar, but these laws do not usually apply to restaurants, where children range freely. Children control the purse-strings of the parents, so proprietors will bend over backwards to satisfy their every whim.

This created a generation of infant gourmets, who are as long on demands as they are short on manners. 'Please' has long been abandoned in favour of 'Get me . . .' or 'I'll take'. An eight-year-old was overheard on arrival in an eating house recently. 'What? No cinnamon cookies?' she demanded, hands plonked on her hips, 'What kind of place is this?'

SPAIN: You see children in Spanish restaurants long after midnight: infants asleep, their big siblings fidgeting for a sip of daddy's beer. There are no restrictions on children's presence in bars and restaurants. Maybe it's because of the unholy din in Spanish eateries, but children seem relatively well- behaved. As a Spanish friend put it: 'They are not liable to crawl all over the tables at a restaurant or chuck dollops of food at people.' They will also have learnt long since that they can't outshout mother, father, siblings, neighbours, dog and Dominican house-help.

JAPAN: Contrary to the image that prevails in the West, Japanese children can rival their Western cousins in exuberance, unruliness and a noisy lack of restraint. The self-effacing discipline that characterises Japanese tourists or businessmen comes later - childhood is a time of indulgence, and even violent tantrums are tolerated. Restaurants popular with families often come to resemble juvenile assault courses. Japanese mothers will allow children, particularly sons, to get away with almost anything, knowing that the rigorous school system will instil discipline later on. Above six, Japanese children are models of good behaviour. Below six, it's a battlefield.

SWEDEN: After the laissez- faire attitude of the Seventies when children ruled the roost, Swedish parents now expect better of their offspring. Little Bratssons these days display skills of orderliness and teamwork learned after years in state-run daghem, or creches.

These emphasise the good Swedish manners of waiting your turn and, most importantly, of sharing. Parents tend to be more conscious of these qualities than what spoon to use with soup.

It would be unheard of to restrict access for children. 'What do you mean?' asked a manageress of Stockholm's choicest establishment, Operakallaren. 'Of course children can come if accompanied by their guardian. Including to the bar.'

Pacifist Sweden was never big on smacking its children in the first place: that is why the smacking ban legislation went through with such ease. It is collective duty to society that keeps naughtiness in check.

FRANCE: French children are barely noticeable in many restaurants - perhaps because firm discipline, even in nursery schools, is still the rule.

When EuroDisney opened its doors outside Paris 18 months ago, advance staff over from the United States were impressed by the placid nature of French children who, unlike their American counterparts, would take Mickey Mouse at polite face value and not try to twist his ears or pull his tail.

ITALY: Children are part of the scene at cafes and restaurants from babyhood - and are much more likely to be encouraged to try a new kind of pasta than to be nagged about chewing with their mouths shut. No-one makes a big fuss about table manners.

Children can be found in restaurants until late, and if they run around and play they may be shushed occasionally but no-one tut-tuts or complains. 'Don't worry Signora, it's quite all right. We love children,' an apologising parent is more likely to be told.

HUNGARY: Children are welcome everywhere, and not just because in these recessionary times no manager can afford to turn business away. Hungary is one of the few countries in the world where the population is falling and children are worshipped wherever they go, however they behave and whatever they spend. They are brought up to be polite and well-behaved but, even if they're not, they open doors that remain locked for the childless. In Hungarian restaurants your child will not only be welcome: he will invariably be seized by a shrieking waitress, paraded around the kitchen, and invited to help himself to cakes.

(Photographs omitted)

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