In Spain, It Takes A Village To Babysit

Summer in Spain can be hot and oppressive. But at night, city parks and village squares come alive with people of all ages. For an American visitor, one of the most striking differences is how unconcerned parents seem in public about their children. There seems to be an unwritten rule that anyone near a parent shares responsibility for that person's children.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

On this summer day, we have a chance to think about American culture by looking at the way it differs with some places abroad. Like America, Spain has hot summers, but at night, when it's cooler, the village squares come alive and children roam free. Jerome Socolovsky sent an audio postcard from a village near Madrid.

JEROME SOCOLOVSKY: Miraflores de la Sierra is a typical Spanish village with old stone houses crowded onto streets and geraniums in pink, purple, and red spilling from the balconies. The village square or plaza is closed to traffic. So when the sun goes down and the mercury drops, it teams with life.

(Soundbite of crowd)

SOCOLOVSKY: The bars and cafes that ring the plaza have filled it with tables. Families stop here after their evening stroll, or paseo, for a glass of wine. Senior citizens meet and share gossip over a beer. Everyone seems to have bumped into someone they know. And even though it's 10:00 P.M., they're children everywhere. They're full of energy because many have had a siesta.

(Soundbite of children playing)

SOCOLOVSKY: They treat the plaza like their own backyard. Some weave in and out of tables playing hide and seek. Others are involved in a game of soccer between the newspaper stand and the tobacco shop.

(Soundbite of children)

SOCOLOVSKY: There seems to be an unwritten rule in Spain that anyone within a 30-foot radius of a parent shares responsibility for that person's children. Those who stray or get hurt are returned to their parents. In fact, siblings are often dressed identically to make the identification process easier. The 30-foot rule also applies to affection. For an American, it might feel like an intrusion if a neighbor, let alone a complete stranger, comes up and pinches your child's cheeks or smothers him in kisses and marvels at his looks.

Unidentified Woman: (Foreign language spoken)

SOCOLOVSKY: But here it's the custom to shower a bystander's kids with adoration. There have been high profile cases of missing children here in Spain, but the belief that everyone is collectively responsible for each other's offspring is still strong enough that parents can sit back with a drink and let theirs run riot on the village square until late in the night.

(Soundbite of children playing)

SOCOLOVSKY: For NPR News, I'm Jerome Socolovsky in Miraflores de la Sierra, Spain.

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