Where I live we approach unknown babies as we would an unfamiliar dog. As you don’t touch a dog you don’t know, you don’t touch someone else’s baby without asking. In many cultures, you definitely don’t approach a dog you don’t know, but babies are fair game! Last month the locals in San Felipe, Mexico continually stopped us on the street to stroke our infant daughter’s cheek or grasp her little hand. She responded with glee at the attention. We find her equally charming, so we understand their desire to interact with her. They didn’t ask, but we didn’t mind.
While enroute to Malawi a couple years ago, we had a two-day layover in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Our oldest daughter was just learning to walk and held my fingers as she cruised the airport terminal. She entered one sparsely-whared shop where the attendant sat behind the counter, obviously bored out of her mind. As we passed through the doorway, the woman stood up from her stool and held out her arms to hold the baby. I passed the baby over the counter as she began to cuddle and kiss her. Baby and lady were equally delighted. After a few minutes, we bid farewell and made our way back to a cafe table. My Ethiopian colleague commented that he was impressed we would allow the woman to hold our child. Most foreigners would not do that.
People want to interact with a baby’s innocence and vitality. Eventually a baby will develop a culturally-based personal space bubble and an aversion to everything unfamiliar. But for now, we’re happy when our babies bring joy to a stranger who, to the baby, may not seem strange at all.