Continuing with our celebration of Natalie’s book, today we are going to talk about multicultural experiences.
It seemed appropriate that I write this post for three reasons: 1. I’ve been married for twenty-four years to a person of Japanese descent, 2. I’ve raised two hapa children (hapa is slang among American Japanese for ½ Japanese kids. It used to be derogatory, but today’s hapa wear their identity with pride.) and 3. my family (especially my daughter), has traveled quite a bit.
Multicultural experiences are common for Americans today, but not always easy. Which is why FLYING THE DRAGON is a wonderful contribution to modern kid lit. It is full of wonderful moments that show both sides of the experience, and can give kids an understanding of what it is like to be in a new land.
But where does that leave all us grown-ups, that didn’t have this awesome book when we were growing up? How are WE going to survive in this increasingly multicultural world?
FEAR NOT, MONOCULTURAL READER! Today’s post will give you everything you need to become a great world traveler and welcomer of world travelers in your community. Today I give you:
TEN ESSENTIAL TIPS TO MULTICULTURAL LIVING, AT HOME AND ABROAD! (The Asian edition)
1. Don’t worry about making mistakes while speaking a foreign language. Rest assured your errors will be amusing (to someone.)
My son tells me that before his first trip to Japan I told him, “You are going to make a total fool of yourself anyway, so you might as well just go for it!” I don’t remember saying that, but I still think it’s good advice. True, like Hiroshi telling his teacher “that totally sucks!” your mistake will probably be somewhat inappropriate, but eventually most everyone will be amused. For example, in my first Japanese class, a male student announced to the class, “Watashi no chichi wa okii des.” Literally, this means “My father is big.” However, okii (big) is not typically used to describe a person, and chichi (the informal word for father) is sometimes a slang term for breasts. So really, he said, “my breasts are big.”
See how funny that is? And how inappropriate? And what a good laugh everyone had? So go on. Go for it. Speak the language. The locals will appreciate you for trying, and you might give them the best laugh they’ve had all week.
2. Try everything. The food, the activities, the possibly dangerous forms of transportation. Everything. Because that is how you grow and learn, as Skye learns when she eats a strange food that turns out to taste good. (But don’t be like Skye and give up when you find out what’s in it.)
To get you started with the “try anything” tip, here’s a lesson in eating with chopsticks:
Still struggling? Then here’s a nifty trick. Bring a rubber band to the Japanese restaurant (or to Japan. Whichever). Then roll up the wrapping paper off the chopsticks, wedge it between them, and rubber band the back end of the chopsticks together. Now you have a spring loaded, fail safe chopstick eating machine, that only requires one quick pinch to close on a tasty morsel.
3. It’s okay for people to make jokes about their own ethnicity, but don’t get into the habit of cracking those jokes yourself if you are outside that ethnicity. My kids love to joke about Asian stereotypes, and I’ve joined them in that around the house. DON’T GO THERE! Because eventually, you will say something inappropriate in the wrong company. And it won’t be as amusing as that foreign language goof was. I can assure you of this as the “outside” ethnic member of my family. Enough said.
4. White rice goes with everything. Trust me, if you are going to get yourself into a multicultural, Asian-oriented relationship, this is a fact of life you may have to accept. What do we eat white rice with in the Mobley-Tanaka household, you ask? Stir fry, teriyaki dishes, sea food, eggs, hotdogs, barbeque, Thanksgiving dinner, corned beef and cabbage, omelets, stew. Get the picture? Buy it in the 20 pound bags at the Asian market. It’s cheaper, and tastes better, and you’re going to need that much.
5. When speaking to someone who speaks very little English, talking louder won’t help. My daughter assures me this is an error that is mostly American in nature. Having lived in both Spain and Japan, she did not encounter this problem with those speaking to her, nor did I encounter it living in El Salvador. I’m not sure why so many English speakers think this will work–maybe English is the only language out there that gets clearer as it gets louder? Or maybe not.
6. Talking louder won’t help, but talking slower will. Obviously. If traveling to Mexico, learn the phrase, “Mas despacio, por favor.” (Slower please.) In Japan, say “Mo ichido, onegiashimasu.” (One more time, please.) Believe me, these are two of my most used phrases while speaking a foreign language.
7. When going into a new culture, learn a little native etiquette. Skye and Hiroshi had to learn many things by making mistakes, and you will too, but the basics politeness are possible for everyone. Don’t do as my son’s American room-mate did in Japan, walking in the front door, and wiping his feet on the artistic tatami mat there. Take your shoes off and step onto it in your socks. If only he had known, that expensive tatami mat would be looking much nicer today!
8. Offer a few “comforts from home” to new arrivals from other countries. There are things that will be familiar, at least somewhat. If you want to make sushi for them, give me a call and I can teach you how, but if not, I can give you the number of a good restaurant that does take-out (as Skye’s mom so cleverly does on the first night of her Japanese relatives’ visit.) Even little things will make them feel more comfortable in their transition.
9. Getting lost in a foreign city where you don’t speak the language can be a wonderful adventure. And if you survive, it will be the highlight of your trip. (Don’t try this one in Mexico City, Calcutta, East L.A., Tehran, etc. But you should be fine in Japan.)
10. Read FLYING THE DRAGON, either before or after you travel! Because you will LOVE all the cultural missteps Skye and Hiroshi make, and what they learn from it. And you might just pick up a few more useful pointers along the way.
Ready and eager to be multicultural now? Great! Just reply to this post for a chance to win this set of authentic* chopsticks!
* the chopsticks are authentic, but we have customized the number of them for this prize. Things never come in sets of four in Japan. Odd numbers are considered more lucky in general, and four is particularly unlucky, because the word shi, which means four, also means death. But we’re going to give you four anyway if you reply to this post! Tell us, what are some of your fun (or embarrassing) cultural missteps?