A Pregnant American in Germany, part 6: Attitudes towards Pregnant Women

Last week, Drew and I traveled to Beijing, China.

At 7 and a half months pregnant, there was no hiding the fact that I was expecting.  As I walked down the aisle of the plane to my seat I could see people starring at my belly, probably thinking to themselves, “oh no- please don’t have that baby on this plane”. Trust me, I shared similar thoughts. But to be honest, the long flights and travel in general were just fine; and, aside from taking things a little slower than we normally would have, the fact that I was pregnant presented very few adjustments or problems to our travels.

Our experience in China, though, was a little more unique due to the fact that I was pregnant…

Everyone starred at us, and more specifically, at my belly. It drew attention to itself like it was on fire. People would smile and pat their belly as I passed in order to acknowledge our little girl on the way. Ladies, speaking only Chinese, ushered me to the front of the lines while waiting for the bathrooms. We felt like celebrities at times, and at others were a little overwhelmed by all the attention.

With all the attention I couldn’t help but thinking about the cultural differences that exist related to the treatment of pregnant ladies…

I’ve never been pregnant in the US, so I have no first hand experience. But from US websites that give advice about how to handle strangers touching your belly, to the comments American friends have made about how they loved being pregnant because everyone was so nice to them, I can only conclude that in the US, pregnant ladies are generally also treated well.

Now I will speak from my own experiences in Hannover.  I realize that these are just my observations and experiences and that others may have had other experiences being pregnant here. But here’s my take on the attitude toward pregnant ladies in Germany…

In short- Germany, has been a very different experience for me than China was.

I’ve never once had a stranger acknowledge my pregnant in Germany. Other than a couple friends, no one has touched the belly or even really looked at it. Not one stranger has offered a seat on the tram, held a door, or offered to help when I try to pick things up or carry groceries. In fact, it’s quite often that people will see me entering the tram, or a building and consciously turn their heads ignoring my presence so they don’t have to deal with me. I’ve been scolded at by the grocery store clerk for taking longer to pack my bags, yelled at my bikers who think I’m moving too slow, and have even been pushed out of the way physically by people on the street or on the tram. Yes, Germany is certainly no China when it comes to the treatment of pregnant ladies. In some ways, it’s not too bad- I’m not to fond of being the center of attention and it sure does help me blend in a little better, but on the other hand I think it is pretty ridiculous and somewhat dangerous at times. Knowingly pushing a pregnant lady on the tram so you can get by a little quicker or refusing to give up your seat and making the pregnant person stumble around on a moving tram? Really? It just seems rude and disrespectful sometimes.

I’m not always sure why these differences occur (although I do wonder and expect that the birth limits in China have something to do with it there), but they do. Add it to the list of cultural differences experienced to expats I guess. As a currently pregnant lady I can only encourage you to go the extra mile to treat pregnant ladies nicely. Being pregnant can be hard at times and it is very much appreciated when others treat you kindly.


Do you have any experiences or comments to share about the cultural differences related to the attitudes and treatment of pregnant ladies?

If so, I’d love to hear them!



10 Responses to “A Pregnant American in Germany, part 6: Attitudes towards Pregnant Women”

  1. Rich writes:

    Hey, Lisa,

    I have not been pregnant in China, Germnay, or the U.S. However, I was on crutches, which is not the same, but I’ll wager that they stand out just as much (if not more, when the pregnant person is wearing an overcoat), and they slowed me down more than pregnancy slowed Zena. Interestingly, I got these crutches (by spraining my ankle) about three days before flying to Boston. *Even while moving around with a backpack and a suitcase on my way to the airport*, the Swiss didn’t acknowledge what I was dealing with. I changed planes in Paris, and, whatever, I was just some dude. I got to Boston, known for its unfriendliness relative to the rest of the U.S. … and everyone was *so* friendly. I almost couldn’t look at a bus or subway car or tram (i.e., the green line) without people offering me their seats. People helped move my suitcase coming from the airport, and I seriously *never* had to stand, even at rush hour. And, interestingly, I was offered help by all sorts of different people. I mean, even semi-deadbeat-looking 20-something dudes were like, “Hey man, want my seat?” I was honestly taken aback by how much kinder people were in Boston relative to Zurich. Imagine if I had flown to a small town in the South!

    If I had to guess, the European take on all this is to treat everyone equally and act like no one is any different than anyone else. I remember learning in French class in seventh grade that the polite thing to do when someone sneezes is to ignore it and pretend that it never happened, because you wouldn’t want to call attention to what just happened. I can’t quote anything, but I have the general sense that a German woman (in Germany) said once that being pregnant doesn’t mean she’s an invalid and she could do anything that anyone else could do. Maybe Germans are trying to be respectful by not treating you like you’re less able to get around (seems odd, since you *are* less able to get around, if maybe only a little, but still, it’s not like you’re your normal self). But, their respect evidently cuts both ways — maybe they’re respectful, like they pretend you’re not different, and then they’re like, you’re not different, so stop taking so long bagging your groceries! Sounds crappy. And it’s awesome that the Chinese were so accommodating.

    Also terrific that your little one has pictures of herself inside mama in front of major Chinese landmarks!

    hope you’re well,

  2. Blue Cakes Blogger writes:

    So interesting, thanks for sharing Rich!

  3. Reizhusten writes:

    Oh yes, China – the land of smiles, kids friendliness, empathy and oh so caring people:
    [link removed by administrator]

  4. Blue Cakes Blogger writes:

    Reizhusten- As I mentioned in this blog entry- I can only discuss and share what I have experienced myself. And my personal experience in China was pretty good overall. I’m sure others such as yourself may have different opinions, but this was the case for me. All the best, ~Lisa

  5. Liz Beckman writes:

    Hi Lisa,
    My name is Liz and I somehow came across your blog on my searches on expat info in Hannover, Germany. My husband just got a new job with a company in Hannover and we will be moving there by Feb 1, 2012. We are on assignment for 2.5 years and renting a home there. I am nervous- we don’t have kids but we were going to start trying when this job came along but I am thinking it will happen while we are in Hannover – it was nice to read your blog for a heads up on what that would be like. We are from Michigan and I have never lived more than 15 minutes from my parents so this is going to be a big change! It sounds like you go to church? I am a Christian and would love to know a good church to to….if you are open to finding me on facebook with my email I would be interested in asking you some more questions…your pics are cute…my husband and I went to China for our honeymoon..we loved it too! Thanks for sharing your experiences! Liz 🙂

  6. DrJerry writes:

    Sorry to hear about your hassles with rude Krauts. I am German and certainly am not disrespectful of pregnant women. In fact I accompanied a pregnant lady from Dubai to her all gyn appointments on the bus and always demanded that the disabled seat be vacated for her as required by law, and as a gentleman I of course help any lady in public, pregnant or not. The cultural difference you might not have realized is that one must ask for one’s privileges as a pregnant woman here. Many expectant motheres seem to be shy and do not flaunt their pregnancy as they do in USA.

    On the other hand becoming in parent in USA was a nightmare for us, when we live there: I was an expat in USA when my fiancee got pregnant and what a terrible hassle, humiliation and expense it was, even though we were both legal immigrants and working. The insurance, Blue Cross of Michigan did not pay a penny because she was pregnant when we married… We had to pay everything ourselves and the hospital (Mount Zion of Detroit) tried to inflate the bill by services never performed!

    Hope your baby has a responsible German father. If not, find a German man who will sign a “Vaterschaftserklärung” (paternity declaration). It’s done at the local Jugendamt (youth office) or Standesamt (family registrar), is free and quick. (If you do not know anybody, I know some reliable volunteers. If there is no known German father, the baby’s citizenship is in doubt. German citizenship is not determined by place of birth but by the nationality of the parents. So, without a German father you are likely to be deported after the birth.

    Don’t worry about schools, they are all excellent and FREE, all the way from 4 months small to the last post-doctorate degree (no age limit).

    Good luck to you and the babv!

  7. ahmed tharwat writes:

    interesting in Arab world, having a pregnant women walking in public is a rarity… either they stay home or their lose cloth dose the trick…

  8. Blue Cakes Blogger writes:

    “DrJerry”- Thanks for your comments. Sorry you had such a bad experience in the US. As I’ve never had a baby there I really can comment too much about that, but it sounds like the concerns were mainly for insurance reasons. The USA and Germany have very different insurance systems, which can be frustrating for expats (both ways) if you are used to things a certain way!
    My baby’s father (my wonderful husband of many years) is also American and our little girl is an American as well. As my husband is working in Germany and we both have valid visas / are here legally, there is no worry of deportation for us. The German authorities are fully aware of the arrival of our little one and we’ve had no problems that way. 🙂

  9. Baby mummy writes:

    I have been thinking of the cultural differences towards pregnant women too. I am Greek living in UK and I have been astounded by the different attitudes. Greeks treat me like I am made out of porcelain. They will go out of their way to make sure I am comfortable. Sometimes the attention is too much. Brits on the other hand are like the Germans. No acknowledgement, no help. My in laws who are Indian are a different story all together. No special treatment, no consideration. I don’t know if this is indicative of how Indians treat women but definitely gave me food for thought.

  10. Blue Cakes Blogger writes:

    Hi Baby mummy- interesting, thanks for sharing! 🙂

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