In respectful societies, the intimate, but abominable activity of changing diapers is performed discretely, in the privacy of a restroom stall, a special room, or another place where no outsider would be exposed to its nauseating smell or germs. Respectful and responsible parents plan their outings accordingly, as to limit the necessity of doing it outside of their home.
In kid-obsessed America, parents not only change diapers in public, in the plain view and to the disgust of other customers, but they seem especially likely to do it around food: on restaurant and cafe tables, on park tables commonly used by nearby office employees to eat lunch on, in airport food courts, on counters, or in grocery store shopping carts.
The first time I have seen (and especially smelled) changing a diaper in public was in an upscale department store’s restroom, where a changing table was located in plain view of other users of the said facility, without a stall. I was nauseated all day long after this experience. In the months to come, I learned that installing baby changing stations without stalls is a common practice of American businesses oblivious to the disgust of other customers using the same restroom. I was shocked! I do my business discretely and respectfully in private in a stall designated for it. Baby poop does not smell like roses either, and its place should be in a stall as well. However, the worst was only about to come. In the restrooms, there is at least no food.
I was left speechless when I first saw a woman changing a baby on a table in a restaurant in Manhattan. Luckily, I was not inside; I was just walking by, looking into display windows with my usual curiosity. The people inside did not react, neither did the staff watching the show from a distance from which it was impossible to miss. The other customers’ faces did not look too pleased, on some of them I could actually see disgust, but they did nothing. There was another lesson for me to learn later on: that people are too afraid to point out the rudeness, harassed into silence by parents’ hostility when their unacceptable behavior does get pointed out.
Overall, I saw diaper changing on tables or a parent putting a kid wearing a diaper only (no pants) on a counter where food is served, around twenty times. Manhattan is not the only place where I saw it, and white, wealthy people (assuming by their dress) are not the only violators, although they slightly prevail in number over people of all other ethnicities and income ranges in the multiple states that I saw this happen. Nobody ever protested. When I told my non-American friends about it, they were outraged and most of them said they would never visit this unsanitary country.
The most shocking fact is that it happens also in those places where you could get to only by car, which means all customers have a vehicle to do it in, yet they choose to disrespect other patrons and expose them to a health hazard. Also, it mostly happens in entertainment places like cafes or restaurants where people go for pleasure rather than for a life saving service, which means disrespectful people with little kids have no emergency to stay in these places, and if they do, they must respect other patrons.
A recent (a few weeks ago) situation of changing a diaper at a cafe is also a good example. A woman was changing a kid in the dining area. The staff, instead of strictly requiring this couple to leave immediately, gave them a rag to clean up but let them stay. The kid’s father became aggressive and the police had to be called. The media covered the case widely but no article ever mentioned whether any of the other customers left offended, which leads me to believe that, as usual, they stayed and did nothing. The management totally failed in handling the problem. They apologized to the violator couple instead apologizing publicly to other customers that were exposed to this disgusting show. I was astonished to read the comments under the articles: the overwhelming majority of them came from people disgusted by the idea of changing diapers in a dining area, many of them parents of young children who declared that they would never do that. Why don’t they then protest when something that unacceptable happens?
Another problem is kids in diapers (the idea of not putting pants on a kid taken to a public place is disgusting by itself and hot weather is not an excuse) in grocery stores’ shopping carts. A surprise can fall out of the diaper at any moment and the scientists verified that in way too many cases it indeed does. According to the research done by the University of Arizona, fecal bacteria were found in 72% of the carts. Pictures of people changing diapers in shopping carts can be found online. Other customers are clearly disgusted by this habit, yet they prefer to take a picture and post it in the Internet rather than bring the problem to the attention of the store management and require them to remove the parent as well as to report a health hazard to proper authorities. The stores do not clean the carts. They offer disinfectant wipes as an excuse, thus, implicitly telling their customers: be our free cleaners, wipe other people’s kids’ fecal matter. This is simply unacceptable.
I have never seen this kind of parents’ behavior in any other country, not even in those countries where most people use public transportation, thus have no car to change the baby in. They simply plan their outings between changing needs, leave the kid at home or in day care, or invite their friends home instead of going to a cafe. In America, where most people go everywhere by car, it is unacceptable that changing diapers around food happens. No changing table at a restaurant is a poor excuse; parents should call in advance and check whether the venue offers the facility or not. They should also stop their entitlement approach and remember that changing stations are offered by businesses as a courtesy, not a must. If it is not available, that means the business caters more to adult clientele and this choice should be respected.
Changing diapers around food as well as installing changing stations without stalls should be illegal. It is a serious health hazard. There should be high fines imposed for it on both the parents and the companies on whose premises this happens. Businesses should remove unsanitary people with unsanitary kids as a minimum care for their customers’ health, and as a minimum of respect for them.
The most appalling point of this story is that people are disgusted by the practice of changing diapers around food, yet they give the unspoken permission to do it by not protesting whenever they find themselves around it. If you do not protest, you are contributing to this unacceptable behavior. You should reprimand the restaurant or cafe management, strictly require them to remove the violating parent and inform them that you will never spend money there again. There is nothing that hurts the businesses more then losing profit, and treating your credit card as your voter’s card is the best you can do.
Also, report a health hazard to proper authorities. They differ from state to state. The office can be located under either health, business, or agriculture departments. The easiest way to find them is to Google: “how to report unsanitary conditions + your state”. They often have easy to fill online report forms, or special phone numbers for reporting. Do not forget that someone’s health may depend on your report.
Do not shy away, do not let belligerent parents harass you into silence, do not fall into unjustified guilt. You are not doing anything wrong: it is the parent who is the wrongdoer. Protesting against or reporting changing diapers around food is no different than reporting theft – it is your clear “no” said to wrongdoing. Do not give your unspoken permission for unsanitary and inconsiderate behavior in public places.