Saturday, November 26, 2005

Happy Times Together

Over this holiday weekend, most Americans are focusing on two things: family and food. I’ve been looking for the right moment to share two fantastic Chinese views of American family time and American food, both encountered in Chinese-produced textbooks, and I’ve decided this is it. You can use your recent Thanksgiving experiences to judge their accuracy.

A Chinese View of American Family Life

(A dialogue from A Practical Course of English Phonetics, one of the textbooks Mark uses in his English pronunciation classes. Presented in full and precisely as it is in the text.)

“Happy Times Together I”

JP: In our family we often have good, happy times together. Sometimes the happy times are with the whole family and sometimes they are with the children.
DP: By doing so, we create a large back account of good memories. We arrange good memories for our family. Excuse me, Jennifer, I’m going to prepare cheese sandwiches for you.

JW: Thank you. Jim, what do you usually do to have happy times together?

JP: Well…, sometimes we go on short hikes, sometimes we go boating or swimming. Very often we just stay home together reading classic literature like Tom Sawyer.

JW: Do you often go on a trip?

JP: Yes, we often go on special little trips. Deidra and I also have special times alone for a weekend and let Brooke and Brittany have their own ways. It is very important in helping the children mature.

JW: So you keep your love for each other alive and let the children to be individual and independent.

JP: Yes, that is a part of solid family life.

A Chinese View on American Cuisine

(Excerpts from Chinese Listening Skills, the textbook for my Chinese listening class. Translated from the Chinese.)

In America, food is very casual. Although there are enough American restaurant names to cover the entire Earth, other than McDonalds, who can say what kind of food is distinctly American? Besides California Beef Noodle restaurant*, there are no restaurants with an American flavor.
Americans aren’t very particular about what they eat. For breakfast, Americans can eat whatever they want: if they want to eat cereal with banana slices and raisins, or if they want to eat buttered bread and a fried egg, who will know? As long as they fill their stomachs, they’re fine.

When Americans come to a Chinese restaurant, every person in the family orders the same one dish. They only talk about the atmosphere of the restaurant, the romance of it, and they don’t care about whether the chef is skilled or not.

The meal that takes Americans the most time to prepare is probably dinner, although you can’t say that it makes people too busy. For example, everyone buys pre-packaged food from the supermarket. Vegetables and meat are already fully cooked or half cooked when you buy them. You don’t have to prepare many dishes for dinner, either. The dinner you see most often is: a small bowl of soup, a main dish, something sweet, fruit and coffee or tea. The soup is usually canned soup to which you add a few spices that you like; the main dish is usually fried rice. You don’t have to spend time cooking the fruit and sweets. You can cook ring the dinner bell after 30 minutes. And this is the most complicated meal. Bachelors are even more casual. They can eat hamburgers and sandwiches every day without ever getting sick of them.

With the time they don’t spend on food, Americans can relax their pace of life—time that could be spent on household chores is instead spent on exercise.

Mark and I had happy Thanksgiving times together this Friday, instead of Thursday, and made a fantastic Mexican meal instead of Tofurkey, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie (or fried rice and canned soup). I hope that, no matter what you ate, or where, all of you and your families had the happiest of happy times together, too.

* Lost as I was in class? Apparently this was a Chinese chain restaurant once very popular in Beijing. What do they serve? California beef noodles, of course.