Sunday, November 14, 2004

America's Favorite Cookie

Last week Dad mailed me a package with some nice goodies which included a package of Oreo cookies. I can get Oreos here without a problem, but only in smaller packages. I wasn't really sure how I was going to use up this larger one (which is "regular size" in the States), but I was just about to head into Nita JHS to help a couple of kids prepare for an English exam, so I brought the cookies with me.

As I was changing my shoes, three girls who were standing near the entrance greeted me. Their eyes fixed on the cookies. "Hungry?" they giggled. I'd half-forgotten what I was carrying, then realized they probably had never seen such a large package of Oreos before. So I asked if they wanted one. "Yes, please," they answered, after much giggling and glances between each other and the cookies. They gladly accepted a second cookie each, as well, just before I headed off to the teachers room.

Tane-sensei, with whom I was supposed to help the students studying for the exam, was on the phone in what seemed to be a very important phone call. She apologized non-verbally several times as I waited, but it didn't bother me much. There were still a few teachers around (it was after 5:30pm), so I offered them some cookies. "Itadakimasu," they said cheerfully, before eating them. Since I knew the cookies themselves weren't anything strange and wonderful, I showed off the English packaging. "America's Favorite Cookie," it proudly proclaimed. The back of the package showed pictures of other varieties of Oreo: mini Oreos, Double-Stuffed Oreos, peanut butter and chocolate Oreos, mint and creme Oreos, and all-chocolate Oreos. Mini Oreos they have here, but they were intrigued with the flavored ones, and quite amused that some Oreos have twice as much filling.

Tane finished her phone call, and we went to the conference room where the two students were waiting. "Should I bring the cookies?" I asked. "No," she said, "the students can't have snacks."


All I did with the students (both boys) was act like someone giving them an oral test. I showed them a picture with a paragraph related to the picture, and they read the paragraph aloud and then answered some questions about the paragraph and picture, and then some questions about themselves. It was pretty short. We (Tane and I) also told them how they could have improved their answers. The first boy did a good job; he answered all the questions quickly and correctly. The second one had a harder time with it.

When we returned to the teachers room, I offered Tane some cookies (she had declined earlier, wanting to wait until after the test preparation session). After eating them, she said, "I think these are better than Japanese Oreo cookies."
"What? They taste exactly the same."
But another teacher who had eaten some agreed, and they could not be swayed.

Later that night was the English conversation class (eikaiwa). I'd borrowed some "proverb cards" from Tane. They have, well, short proverbs and sayings on them, half on one side, and half on the other. Ones like, Accidents/ will happen, and Be faithful/ to yourself. She taught me how to use them to play a game, so that's pretty much all we did in eikaiwa. After the game, we discussed the proverbs (though I also handed out a sheet that had the Japanese translations of each proverb). I went down the list and explained in what circumstances we might use each one. I taught them a few others that weren't on the list, and they shared with me some Japanese proverbs that are similar to English ones. For example, the Japanese counterpart to Accidents will happen is roughly, The dog walks and gets hit by a stick.

"That's it?" I said. "Just, the dog is walking, and it gets hit by a stick?"
They laughed.

A couple of proverbs on the list I wasn't really familiar with. Take the lead, and you will win, for example. "The sentiment is certainly present in Western culture, I just haven't heard this particular saying." But I was puzzled by To lose is to win. "I'm not sure what's going on with that one," I said. Tane confirmed what I'd been thinking: "Maybe it is really Japanese."

I taught them, Fish and houseguests stink after three days. That might not have been such a good idea. One of them said, "I did a homestay in another country for two months."
"Um, homestay is different. The proverb means, like, if you show up at someone's door and say, 'Hi, I'm in town, can I stay in your house?' you shouldn't stay for more than three days." To make myself clear, I added, "If I invite you over to my house for ten days, then it's okay for you to stay ten days."

The woman (whose name I have forgotten) who lived for a few years in Canada and New Zealand brought up A rolling stone gathers no moss. "Yes," I said, "I know that one."
"But in Japanese, it has opposite meaning."
"Moss is a good thing, so we say, if you move around a lot, you will not grow moss."


Also, If you're in a hurry, don't take a shortcut. I forget whether this means that you shouldn't be in a hurry, or that you shouldn't take chances when you most want to.

The last one, they couldn't figure out how to translate properly. Taterumonowa oya demoutsukae. They said it had something to do with using your parents when they stand up. Literally, the phrase translates as stand-person parents even-if-use, but that wasn't helpful. "Maybe it's not a proverb," they said. But I was curious, and said I'd ask someone at the Mid-Year Conference. "Oh no, don't do that!" they said. "Don't worry," I assured them, "I won't name names."

So ask I did, and I think I got the real gist of it: You should use the person who stands even if he is your parent. One of the JTEs I talked to said she relates to the saying this way: "In the winter, Japanese homes have one warm room, and the rest of the house is cold. We don't want to leave the warm room to get anything, so if someone stands up to go to the kitchen, everyone else says, 'Oh, can you get this, too?' 'Can you get this, too?'"

I think I will write my own list of proverbs to use, since some of the ones on Tane's cards are not quite Western, or are worded differently. For instance, we say, Necessity is the mother of invention, but one of Tane's sets of cards says, Want is the mother of industry. Sure, maybe somewhere people say the latter, but I don't know it. Besides, there are a bunch more interesting ones that aren't included on the cards.

Can anyone suggest any? I've already started a list, but I'd appreciate some additions.
Comment away.


Jason H. said...

Em- I've got a whole list of about 40 or so that we got at the Karuta game workshop at the MYS.

Do you have a fax number? I could send em over tomorrow or the next day.

The "To lose is to win" one sounds very familiar. It's something like "Losing well is it's own best victory" or something like that.

here are some sites you can troll for more:

Kevin said...

Hi Emily,

Great don't know me,but I enjoy reading your blog. I find it very interesting. :)

"To lose is to win" is the asian counterpart to the western perception of the two states - winning and losing. Westerners tend to see these two states as diametric opposites, with a definite positive for winning and a definite negative for losing. It's why the phrase "It doesn't matter if you win or lose, it's how you play the game" is told repeatedly to children; to try and dispel the idea of losing being a bad thing.

Eastern/Asian culture looks at winning as good, and losing as good, because if you've lost, there is something you can still improve upon, and you woulnd't have learned that if you lost. In fact, you may also come across the phrase "Lose in order to win."

Anyway, keep up the good writing!

Emily Watkins said...

Ahh, I'd forgotten about that "it's how you play the game" one. I'll have to share that with them next time.

Kallese said...

If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen!
Crap or get off the pot.
Make a mountain out of a molehill.

Just a few I thought of.