Monday, November 24, 2008

Strollers

I came back to the US exactly one week ago. Although I had been doing short stints coming back and forth to the US for about six months prior, nothing really prepared me for the inundation of reverse culturally shocking scenarios upon my homecoming. In fact, there were so many that I am starting a whole new topic on this particular subject.

American strollers are like the HUM-V’s of baby carriages. Now, perhaps I notice this because I have been spending a bit too much time in Noe Valley, the part of San Francisco that is nicknamed “stroller valley” due to its many young, yuppy families with an uncanny number of approximately 3 year-old kids. Regardless of why I’ve seen so many strollers, the number, sizes, complexity, and diversity of the vehicles has been a sight to behold.

I saw the jogging stroller with three large bicycle-like wheels, the turn-of-the-20th –century-styled stroller with a little cradle at the top of a very tall apparatus, the twin side-by-side exercise stroller with all-terrain wheels, another twin stroller bus-style with a front and back seat so large and cumbersome that it required a steering wheel for whoever was unlucky enough to push the thing.

I began to wonder, as I tripped over and staggered through a parking lot full of the multicolored and multi-themed parked and empty strollers at the entrance of the Noe Valley Farmer’s Market, what could this mean?

An idea: American consumerism has become so comprehensive that it even dominates the baby-stroller market. What was once a fairly straightforward product is now reflective of the complexity of owning a car. Strollers are a new way for individuals to prove to the outside world how they want to be seen. Parents are no longer just pushing their kid down the street, oh no, they are making a statement. I am not just a parent, I am an ATHLETE, I am RETRO, I am a BUS DRIVER, and on the side there happens to be this kid that is along for the ride.

So why is this shocking to me? Well, there’s China (where probably all these strollers are made, by the way), and when I walk down the street in China I think that I myself could use some all-terrain wheels at times. The sidewalks are downright dangerous – potholes, loose bricks, random poles, uneven cement, it’s tough to transport oneself, much less a kid, through the crowds, and considering the societal obsession with little babies, one would think that a highly diverse stroller market would exist there. It doesn’t.

People push the type of stroller I remember – the one with the little wheels, the type that can be folded up, that sometimes has a flap to protect the baby against too much sun or rain. The tried-and-true version is the way to go in China. Now, one could argue that a mature stroller market hasn’t developed in China because of lower incomes and a less prosperous society. Well, Chinese have more cash to spend than Americans right now, and they spend a much higher percentage on their children relative to their total income than Americans do. What I see here is that the strollers purchased by these Americans aren’t purchases for their children, but rather, for themselves. And if that’s the case, don’t expect Chinese parents to be buying anything of the like.

Meanwhile, I’ll enjoy the aesthetics of the Noe Valley stroller parade without complaint.

1 comment:

KC said...

This made me laugh! I'd heard about that kind of American stroller culture but have never seen it first-hand. Here in Italy it's not oo different: strollers are definitely an accessory- for the parents! (Sometimes I get the feeling that babies in posh strollers are looked upon by their parents as accessories too. I hope I'm wrong.) Anyway strollers are so inconvenient here because of how crowded everything is (ex. cars parked on sidewalks), stairs everywhere, unevenly paved streets, etc. Yet everyone has to have the latest and most fashionable stroller. It's silly. I prefer putting my daughter in a carrier most of the time.