Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Random Tuesday: My Racist Theories, Food, TV

After you read this, go to The Un Mom and get random

I'm playing the Random Tuesday Thoughts game again, because, really, what's more random than a Tuesday?  Its only distinction is that it's often the night when Guero-Americanos all over the world enjoy tacos from a kit while hollering gleefully at one another, "Pass the Old El Paso!"  In my house, though, we do it a little differently.  On Tuesdays, Dr. Mom works at a clinic in a neighborhood that is predominately Mexican-American.  (When the receptionists ask her patients which doctor they have, they answer, "La Chinita"--"The Little Chinese Girl" in English.)  There's a tamale cart outside her clinic, so she usually brings a bag of them home for lunch (the clinic is three minutes from our house).  That's our twist on taco Tuesday.  But today we're having leftover rice for lunch because we went to the Vietnamese market on Saturday and got coconuts and chrysanthemum greens (I totally just spelled chrysanthemum correctly on the first try!).  We stick the coconuts (young ones that come with the hairy outer skin already removed) in the fridge and then when they are chilled pierce them with a chopstick and a hammer, stick a straw in the hole, and suck down the delicious nectar.   Dr. Mom cooked up the greens last night with some pork, chicken broth, and fish sauce to make a wonderful, simple dish that looks like it should be good for you because it's mostly green.  In Vietnamese (at least the variation my wife's family speaks at home) there's no real name for different meals--they are all just called "rice."  It just occurred to me that that might be one of the reasons that her mom is always cooking a meal at any time of day.  If they had the concept of breakfast, lunch, and dinner, maybe they would only eat 3 meals a day.  Seriously--her mom keeps cooking as long as anyone else in the house is conscious.  Also in Vietnamese, there are no verb tenses or conjugations.  I have a theory about that too.  Vietnamese people are notorious for being late: we had to send out two sets of invitations to our wedding--one set to the non-Vietnamese guests with the actual start time; and one set to the Vietnamese guests (all 350 or so) with a start time half an hour earlier.  The concept of time is not emphasized in their language, so it is similarly disregarded in their lives.  Further confirmation of this theory (completely anecdotal of course) is that Vietnamese people who grow up speaking English don't have this lateness problem, by and large.  What is emphasized in Vietnamese is personal status.  Whereas the verb system is simple, the pronouns are incredibly complicated.  It's not just a matter of "he," "she," "you," etc.  Before using a pronoun, you have to analyze your relationship to the person you are addressing or talking about and then chose the appropriate tag.  If you botch this up, you will very likely offend someone.  If I want to ask if someone drank my beer, it might literally translate to, "Uncle-who-is-older-than-my-father drink beer of me in past, no?"  And if he's younger than my father, I would have to use a different pronoun.  My simplistic (yet absolutely accurate, I'm sure) theory on this is that the linguistic focus on hierarchy encourages a tendency toward honoring and (the sometimes ugly flip side) seeking social status.  Don't even get me started on the tonal system in Vietnamese.  It's the main reason I only know how to say like ten things in the language after twenty years of being with my wife.

I started out thinking I was going to write about TV in this post.  Specifically, my wife's new interest in "Dancing with the Stars" and "The Biggest Loser."  Since we haven't had TV for ten years, every time we're exposed to it, we're like creatures from outer space trying to make sense of this fascinating artifact and what it says about the society that generated it.  So Dr. Mom has been watching these shows on the internets, and I have been looking over her shoulder.  Then we have these discussions about this crazy new thing called "reality TV."  Our big revelation last night was that the element that motivates both viewers and participants (in different ways) is humiliation.  We should be freakin' media analysts. 


  1. It is interesting how some languages do not have tenses and as a result (usually), less concern with time. I feel I should I have born in one of these cultures.

    I knew you should have been a media critic after your insightful critique of Maxim.

  2. That was really interesting. I didn't know all that about Vietnamese people. Thanks for sharing it!

  3. I like your style and don't know how you found my site, but I'm glad it led me here. Woot!

  4. On the life/linguistics correlation: maybe this is why "might could" is a common phrase in East Tennessee: Nobody (and I include myself here) is mentally organized enough to firmly commit to anything.

  5. Kathy--no problem!

    Julie--I think I got to your site through Un Mom, but there may have been some other steps in between. Who knows. But thanks for stopping by!

  6. Trout--

    The good ol' double subjunctive. Ain't nothin' more noncommittal.

  7. This post is incredibly offensive. Not because of all the ethic generalizations, but because you think you can impart relevant media commentary without having a TV. I mean, it's like joining an Asian Mommies group while being neither Asian nor mom.

    -Jack Donaghy (I spelled my last name right on the first try!)

  8. Hmm...I really enjoyed reading this, but I don't know about your theory of lack of verb tenses equaling disregard for time. I lived in Korea for 6 years, and they have verb tenses, but they also have what's known as "Korea time" which is anywhere from a half hour to an hour later than the time we anal Americans expect them to show up. This was also the case when I lived in the Marshall Islands and experienced "Marshallese time". So my theory is that Americans are anal, and the rest of the world is laid-back. ;P This is also the reason why as you said, the Vietnamese who grew up speaking English (in America) are also time-bound anal retentives like the rest of us Americans.

  9. I might agree with this latest anonymous post. Italians also have verb tenses and little regard for time. For example, my boyfriend always says he's going to have a drink with friends and he'll be home "fra un po'" (in a bit), which actually means anywhere from 4-8 hours later.
    I don't know if anal is the right word for Americans though. I opt for efficiency. Attention to schedules allows you to do more things with your time. But after living in Italy almost a year I realized that efficiency is not as exciting and satisfying for everyone as it is for me.

  10. Anonymous #1--I don't have to take that kind of crap from a fictional character! Especially a drunken Mick!

    Anonymous #2 and Anisa--Thanks a lot for destroying my pet theory. It was so elegant and seductive and now it's ruined. What if I refine it a bit? Vietnamese people are genetically prone to efficiency, but hobbled by a language that has no regard for time; whereas Italians, Marshallese, and Koreans are just born lazy. Does that work?

  11. Whoa, whoa, whoa. You take that back or I will nuke your ass.

    -Kim Jong Il

  12. I have found that Southerners also operate with this theory of time, although their pronouns are not nearly as interesting.

  13. "Vietnamese people are genetically prone to efficiency, but hobbled by a language that has no regard for time; whereas Italians, Marshallese, and Koreans are just born lazy."

    Works for me, but my Korean husband now wants to kick your ass. Haha!

  14. CF Mama--

    Southerners are much luckier than the rest of us because they have a 2nd person plural pronoun: y'all. (I know, Trout--that's y'uns in E. Tenn.)


    Great. I just hope my theory is correct, and he never gets around to it. Or at least he's two hours late.


Don't hold back.


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