Following the Rules Part V: Your Kid Is A Narc

There is a technician in the lab who is quintessentially German. She knows this, she is proud of it, but she feels the cultural differences between herself and the Mediterraneans with whom she works starkly. We speak often of the differences between our cultures over lunch, grinning at how differently we react to certain situations, but the other day she told us a story attempting to illustrate how, in this one respect, she and her husband defied their culture and were actually more similar to ours. Unwittingly, she actually demonstrated that the difference she referred to was greater than she had anticipated.

She has a three year old daughter, who is in nursery school. She told us how her teachers praised her to her father. “She is a model child”, they told him. “She follows every rule, and cares deeply about them. If she sees another child breaking a rule, she will scold him, and then call our attention to it, telling us immediately if one of her peers breaks a rule. You should be so proud to have such an obedient and well behaved child!” She told us how her husband was not so happy to hear this, and how funny it was that he did not find her behavior to be as praise-worthy as her culture deemed it to be. She laughed at how disappointed he was to have a daughter who would be so bossy.

I, and the Greek woman she told this story to, were unimpressed. “It’s not that she’s bossy”, we said, “it’s that she’s a narc. Your kid is a narc, and that is not good”.


This story took me back to when I was in first grade. My teacher had devised the concept of a “tattle toad”, to whom any child who had an urge to tattle could go to instead of her. I provided the toad, a stuffed frog dressed in a prince outfit. As I felt a certain responsibility for having brought in the toad, compounded with the fact that I was subconsciously copying my Mother’s habit of giving advice to anyone who would listen, I had taken it upon myself to provide a “voice” to the tattle toad. Whenever I saw someone approach it, I would crouch behind it, respond to the “tattle” with some well-meaning advice on how to diffuse whatever situation had brought the child to it.

My teacher immediately scolded me harshly for this. She seemed to be under the impression that I was being nosy. She told me that the other children’s problems were none of my business, that I was not to spy on them and listen to what they had to say about others, and that she did not want to hear me tattle to herself or anyone else about everyone else’s business or quarrels. I was shamed, as I had no way of explaining in my 6-year old’s way that it was never my intention to tell anyone what the children told the toad, that I merely thought that telling an inanimate object about your problems wasn’t going to do anything to resolve them, that I had thought that by providing the toad it was my responsibility to give advice and make my peers feel better, that I did not intend to judge anyone or break anyone’s confidence. I stayed away from the toad after that.

In my culture, tattling was neither praised nor encouraged. The mere fact that my first grade teacher saw fit to invent the “tattle toad” is a clear indication of this. She was clearly sick and tired of having children come to her and tattle on their classmates. That is not to say that they wanted children to break the rules. Rather, if you saw a peer break the rules, you were supposed to explain to them why the rule existed and why they should follow it, but running for a teacher was supposed to be reserved for serious things, like potentially dangerous behavior. Tattling was seen as little better than backstabbing, like a lack of loyalty, and a hindrance to forming bonds and ties with your peers. If a child went to a teacher, or a parent, to tell them that so and so was breaking the rule, the adult would usually have a mixed response: an acknowledgement that so and so should follow the rules, yes, but you going behind so and so’s back to tell me is also not right. You should go and tell so and so not to break the rule, and why. If so and so doesn’t listen, or does something that could get them hurt, or hurts you, then come and tell me.

Before I heard our technician’s story, I had no idea that there existed a culture in which not only was the “don’t tattle on your friends” speech not given, but one in which tattling on a rule breaker would actually get praise. She, also, told the story as if every nursery school in the world would be pleased and praise a tattling child. She did not know that she was actually highlighting another big cultural difference between us. As she had never heard the “don’t tattle on your friends” speech, and was merely content with being quietly disappointed that her daughter was a tattle-tale, we outlined it briefly for her.

“Don’t shame her, but don’t let her be a narc either”, we told her. “If you want her to make friends, try to talk her out of it. Nobody likes the narc”.



  1. Rob Grigjanis says

    Do Northern Italians (Piedmont, Lombardy, etc) generally identify as culturally Mediterranean? Are they perceived as such by other Italians?

  2. NYC atheist says

    It’s mixed over here in the states. With my mother being only second generation born here, with very strong Italian heritage, we were encouraged not to ‘be a rat.’ If we ratted on each other both the rule breaker and the rat got the same punishment. I’m the same with my kids. I want them united, even if it means against me.

  3. sonofrojblake says

    Nobody likes the narc

    And yet the German culture praises and celebrates it. So this “truism” is immediately shown up as false.

    What’s true is nobody from the more… morally flexible cultures of southern Europe likes a narc. Y’know – the cultures that gave us the Mafia, and omerta. The people who don’t like a narc are the people who have something to hide.

        • says

          I’m not a dude.
          But I’m German. Chris describes ONE interaction in which somebody praised a tattler and then incorrectly extrapolated to “all German culture”, something you wholeheartedly believe, over the comments of the German person in the discussion (me) saying that this is hardly a common thing in Germany.
          Can you stereotype a bit more?

          • sonofrojblake says

            Wikipedia has the definition of “dude” as “American English slang term for an individual”. If you’re not an individual, fine, but I’m unsure of how to correctly address a hive mind, so please forgive me.

            Don’t tell me what I “wholeheartedly believe”. You don’t know.

            And if you have a problem with the stereotyping, it’s not with me. I was pointing up the contradiction within the original post (“Germans like a narc” vs. “nobody likes a narc”). If you don’t like one of the propositions on one side of that contradiction, take it up with the person who wrote it, not me. Oh, you did. Why are we still talking?

          • sonofrojblake says

            Ah, I understand now. You’re one of those people… the type who insist that words mean what you personally say they mean and nothing else, in the teeth of evidence and usage. I can also see why you think that it’s me that came up with the idea that German culture praises tattling, since that precise wording didn’t appear in the original post – just twice with slightly different wording. Isn’t communication fun?

    • NYC atheist says

      So, when I refuse to let a cop search me without a warrant or probable cause it must be because I have something to hide? I don’t like that the NSA can do warrantless searches of my Internet and phone records it must be because I have something to hide? I wouldn’t like a houseguest poking around my underwear drawer, must be hiding something, right?

      I seriously despise the whole ‘the innocent have nothing to fear’ mindset that your comment comes from.

      • sonofrojblake says

        That whooshing sound was the point going over your head.

        Again – did you even read the post? It’s not about warrantless searches or the lack of probable cause. It’s about whether when a citizen sees something unlawful going on whether they’re socialised to report it or keep it secret. Personally I’d prefer to live in a culture which respects and rewards tattling. The alternative – where my neighbours will walk on by while burglars empty my house because they (my neighbours) don’t want to be thought of as “narcs” is intolerable. That way lies the rule of the gangster.

        • NYC atheist says

          No, the point was fully understood and rejected. It’s degrees of the same thing. I mistrust authority and mistrust snitches more. Yes, call the cops about burglary, but shut your mouth about Jay walking or pretry much anything where nobody is put in danger.

          And your subtle racism is noted.

          • sonofrojblake says

            Yes, call the cops about burglary, but shut your mouth about Jay walking or pretry much anything where nobody is put in danger.

            And make the judgement yourself, on a case by case basis, and don’t bother yourself paying attention to bureaucratic distractions like, y’know, laws and stuff. Those were probably made by people with privilege, after all, so just ignore them. Literal anarchy, in other words. Good idea.

    • thoughtsofcrys says

      Nah, I’m sticking with that truism. Just because the women who ran the day care center praised her for it, doesn’t mean her peers appreciate being tattled on. I would be very surprised if the other kids were like “yay! You told on me for breaking a rule and got me into trouble! What a great kid let’s be friends!”

      • sonofrojblake says

        I’ve no doubt her peers didn’t appreciate being tattled on. People do hate being caught. It’s their reaction to being caught which is indicative of their character. Some people, on being caught, will hold up their hand, say mea culpa, and resolve not to break the rules again. Others will hold up their hand, say “it wasn’t me”, and resolve not to get caught breaking the rules again. Which are you?

      • Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought says

        Yeah… I don’t entirely agree with this. Really, it depends on the rule. Children should learn that some rule breaking is worse than other, and not that “tattling” is always wrong. There’s tattling because another kid took the crayon you intended to use and then there’s “tattling” because one kid is hitting another when adults aren’t looking. There’s tattling over your coworker being 5 minutes late to work and then there’s “tattling” over your coworker sexually harassing people.

        It doesn’t seem like the approach you favour makes any kind of distinction. Just because peers won’t appreciate being reported/tattled on doesn’t mean it was the wrong thing to do.

        • thoughtsofcrys says

          Except I did make that distinction, in the post. I said, quite clearly, that if the rule-breaker in question was behaving in a dangerous manner to themselves or towards others, that this is grounds for telling an adult. This includes hitting someone, playing on the train tracks, bullying and the like. In the adult world, sexual harassment would definitely apply.

          • Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought says

            I apologize, I read the post yesterday and then the comments today. Should have checked the post again before replying.

        • thoughtsofcrys says

          The distinction, really, comes down to this: why are you tattling? Is it because you are a stickler for the rules, and it annoys you when someone breaks them, and/or you want to see them get into trouble for it? That’s frowned upon. Or, rather, is it because you have a genuine concern for the health and safety of your peer (whether it be the actual rule-breaker, or someone else) and you need help because you can’t intervene or put a stop to the behavior on your own? That’s not frowned upon, that is encouraged.

          • says

            Which are, actually, the rule I grew up with, the rules I’m keeping and the rules most other people follow: If somebody is harming others, go tell an adult. If somebody is destroying something, go tell an adult. If somebody is trying to get their mate into trouble for chewing gum: Really?

            Of course there are people who will call the police on their neighbours for minor stuff. They’re generally not well liked.

  4. NYC atheist says

    @sonofrojblake @3:51am June 28
    That’s not anarchy, that’s discernment. Speaking of privilege, it’s also why you never call the cops on a black person in America unless you can live with them being shot.

    Also, anarchy over authoritarianism any day.

    • sonofrojblake says

      Making up your own version of the law as you go along is pretty much the definition of anarchy.

      And if you’re choosing anarchy over authoritarianism, you must be steeped in privilege and/or have a garage full of guns.

      • NYC atheist says

        Who’s making up their own version of anything? We all have to decide throughout our lives how to go about these things. I choose not to be a petty busybody sticking my nose into people’s affairs and expecting people to thank me and make a mea culpa for going over their heads.

        And way to ignore the point about not calling the cops on black people, that mustn’t fit cozily enough in your black and white morality.

        • sonofrojblake says

          You’re right, I ignored that point, but I’m privileged not to live in the US, so thankfully the question doesn’t arise. Black criminals in the UK don’t get a free pass.

      • Rob Grigjanis says


        Making up your own version of the law as you go along is pretty much the definition of anarchy.

        But societies do that anyway. Example: unlike more civilized countries like New Zealand, Canada has a law against distilling spirits without a license, even for your own consumption. But in practice, home distillers who don’t try to flog their product are given a pass. Anarchy reigns!

        Question: if you knew someone was smoking pot, and the law said they could get 10 years for it, would you turn ’em in?

        • sonofrojblake says

          The law (in the UK) does not say that. The law (in the UK) says up to 5 years for possession of marijuana, but police can (and usually do) issue a warning or on-the-spot fine.

          So on the basis of what the law actually is, rather than your hypothetical example – yes, absolutely I’d turn them in.

          If the law and its application was much more draconian – if I lived in the kind of shitty barbarian hellhole where it’s a reasonable possibility an innocent civilian will be shot by the police, for example – then yes, I’d have to consider not cooperating with the oppressing government. I’d also be making arrangements to get the fuck out of the country at the first opportunity, but your mileage may vary.

          • NYC atheist says

            And who draws the line for what is draconian? You? So you make up the law as you go along? But if I do it I’m like those morally lenient southern Europeans, not an upstanding Englishman, the only people who know right from wrong. Racist and hypocritical.

          • sonofrojblake says

            The comparison being drawn is between Italian and German culture. UK culture is neither here nor there. I referred to UK law because you asked what I’d do, and that’s the law that applies to me. If you’re trying to say there’s no difference between the Germans and the southern Europeans in this regard, I must assume you didn’t read the original post and, further, have never visited those places or met people from them. Racism doesn’t come into it either, because (a) race is a fiction anyway and (b) even if it wasn’t, we’re talking exclusively about white Europeans here.

  5. Rob Grigjanis says

    So on the basis of what the law actually is, rather than your hypothetical example – yes, absolutely I’d turn them in.

    Then you would comfortably meet my definition of tattling prissy fussbudget, at the very least. A las Barricadas!

    • Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought says

      I’m a bit more prissy, I think, than either Crys or you Rob, but I would definitely agree with you on this one.

      Now that I think about it, I do know a couple of people who smoke pot and I would never dream of reporting them. ( I was thinking about ordering a special cookie when one of them buys them next time, since I’ve never tried pot before)

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