Americans are Bad at Setting an Example

Oops! That’s quite a statement! Let me explain.

“You’re setting a bad example.”

Photograph of European DON’T WALK traffic signal

Years ago, on a visit to Belgium, we went for a stroll in the city (Antwerp) with my mom and dad. At a corner, the walk sign was red, but there were no cars, so after stopping to make sure, I stepped onto the street. My mom immediately pulled me back, and my dad tutted.  But it’s not like Belgians are sticklers for the traffic rules, and we jaywalk all the time!

My mom pointed to the other side of the street: waiting at the curb stood a family with two small kids.

“You’re setting a bad example.”

When the light turned green and we crossed, I apologized to the parents. They nodded forgiveness, this once.

Here in America

Photograph of American DON’T WALK traffic signal

I think back to this event almost every day, when walking here, in America, around Coolidge Corner. Amie walks now – she doesn’t like the stroller much anymore. At the corners I go down on one knee  and point to the light, drawing her attention to the signal, and explain what it means. It is very obvious what I am doing, yet as we’re engaged in this (possibly lifesaving) didactic exercise, tons of others – adults, adults with children – walk past us…

“You’re setting a bad example!”

Can the Americans who are reading this explain this to me? Was it like this when you were kids? Do you think this kind of disregard ( (I mean specifically to do with the WALK sign) is, somehow, a meaningful part of the culture? Is it just inattention? Does it tell you something about how you regard children? Any thoughts would be helpful to me, because I just can’t figure it out.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *