I finally got around to watching the 2010 documentary “Babies” that follows the first year of life of one baby each in San Francisco, Tokyo, rural Mongolia, and rural Namibia. There’s no narration. It’s like a greatest hits collection of home movies, if they were all beautifully lit.
Babies are pretty much the same (cute) everywhere, so the main interest is looking at the four different environments from a baby’s point of view.
Mongolia looks like the most fun of the four places to be a baby. The Mongolian baby lives in a nicely furnished yurt on a ranch on the steppe, with lots of fancy carpets indoors and endless grass outdoors, like the Teletubbies set. It’s a good place to fall down, which you do a lot when you are a baby. Plus, there are a huge number of animals around to look at (watch the trailer embedded above to the end), and he has an older brother to poke him and otherwise make life more interesting. Life is pretty similar for the Tokyo and San Francisco babies of yuppie couples, who are only children. Lots of polished hardwood floors, and only a cat for animal company. The yuppie parents constantly point out interesting things to their babies and talk to them about it to get them ready for their SATs in 17 years. For example, the Tokyo mom belongs to a baby group with other mothers of only children. They all push their strollers to the zoo and helpfully point out to their babies the tiger, which terrifies the morsel-sized infants. The Namibian baby has lots of siblings and cousins around — there are, evidently, a lot of babies in Namibia — but the whole places is dirt. The women usually sit on pieces of cloth on the dirt, but they just let the babies crawl around in the dirt. The menfolk are never around. Are they all working in mines sending home paychecks or are they drinking at the shebeen?
Just as you would expect from that popular Hart and Risley study about how professional parents speak 427 million words to their children by age 1 or whatever, while underclass parents can barely be motivated to say “Shut up” to their kids, the Namibian women don’t seem to have much to say to their children.