Sunday, April 29, 2012
Cultural Differences: What's For Dinner?
(Apologies to those of you who already read the abbreviated version of this incident on FaceBook, but this was such a great illustration of the type of life I live these days that I just couldn't help blogging about it.)
Regular readers know that I teach English a few days a week to kindergarteners at an international school here in Seoul. My students, for the most part, are a highly-sophisticated, well-traveled group from many nationalities and ethnicities, most of whom are bi- or trilingual in languages that include German, Korean, English, Chinese, French, and a number of other Western and Asian languages.
While kids are just kids, no matter what their cultures, one of the things I've found fascinating is what they like to eat. (I've posted before about the popularity of gim -thin seasoned sheets of pressed seaweed- with the kindergarten set in Korea.) At our particular school, the children bring breakfast with them and sit around the table in the morning munching on whatever their Mamas have packed for them. On any given day, you may find any of the following being eaten: soft pretzel with cheese; fresh fruit and yogurt; a sandwich of rye bread and cold cuts; or raw cabbage and cucumbers. This last entree is most fascinating to me, especially since I know without a shadow of a doubt that, when my own children were that age, they would have viewed a breakfast of raw cabbage and cucumber as an attempt to poison them - or, at the very least, a cruel and unusual punishment.
I've mentioned before that roasted silkworm pupae are a popular street food here, which may seem inconceivable to Westerners, but, in all fairness - coming, as I do, from the land that gave you the Big Mac and the Twinkie - I am in no position to judge anyone's gustatory preferences. All of this simply to illustrate the (rather obvious fact) that taste in food is whatever you become accustomed to. In my opinion, if you get nothing else out of living abroad besides that simple concept, you have made enormous strides towards global peace and universal understanding.
It is with this point in mind that I provide you with the following vignette from my daily life, (which is nothing if not occasionally surreal) keeping in mind that English is not necessarily the first language of any of my students.
Scene: Kindergarten playground: the sandbox. Children are scattered variously throughout, busily occupied with building castles, digging enormous holes, flinging sand at each other, and - the favorite game with a certain group of little girls these days - playing at 'restaurant.' This game consists of filling a bucket with sand and any other items the child can find lying about in the playground, such as leaves, pebbles, grass, or juniper berries. Once the entree has been concocted, the second stage of the game involves summoning the nearest adult customer to come to the 'restaurant' and 'eat' it. A little girl I will call 'Anne' has just completed a culinary masterpiece consisting of sand and several pieces of bark scalped off a nearby evergreen tree and is hollering frantically at me to come sample it.
Anne: Frau AsiaVu! Frau AsiaVu! Come to my restaurant! I've cooked something for you!
MsCaroline: (scooping sand and debris out of bucket, waving it in proximity of mouth, and making enthusiastic smacking noises) Mmmmm! This is delicious, Anne! What is it?
Anne: (smugly): It's meat.
MsCaroline: (continuing to pantomime hearty consumption) Meat? Really? What kind?
Anne: (blankly) What means 'what kind'?
MsCaroline: I mean, what sort of meat is it ? Is it pork, or is it beef?
Anne: (the light now dawning, searching for word) Ohhhh.... It is horse.