C'est si bon!

Bonjour à tous! Je suis Vanessa, étudiante de 20 ans en France pour le moment. Je viens de Pékin, mais j'étudie à la fac à Chicago.

Hello! My name is Vanessa, a 20-year-old student in France for the moment. I come from Beijing, but I go to college in Chicago.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Grandmas, durians, and soy sauce everywhere: on cultural curiosity

Emilie made me sushi
Bonjour à tous!

For the past two evenings, I've had dinner at two different Arlesien families, and I gathered some highly intriguing observations and impressions. 

Let me start with what we had for dinner first: Sunday evening I had sushi made by the family's fifteen-year-old daughter Emilie, with quiche lorraine, something that cannot be more typically French, and ice cream, a worldwide favorite; yesterday evening I had omelette "done the French way," which really tasted astonishingly like the eggs cooked by my Chinese grandmother, along with fried spring rolls dipped in fish sauce and Japanese lettuce salad. 

I was amazed to find that these French people were bothered by mixing cuisines, which they totally did (and did it well!). And what was more surprising to me was how everyone just seemed to pull out these typically Asian ingredients or condiments such as seaweed, and soy sauce, from their kitchen pantries! I couldn't believe my eyes that these things were common items in the kitchen in French families! 

spring roll, Vietnamese fish sauce, Japanese salad
In contrast, from my four years of living in America, I find that it's extremely rare for non-Asian families to have Asian ingredients or condiments in their kitchens. The American families that I have had the chance to know more or less tend to stick to, for the lack of a less generalized term, the Occidental way of cooking. The only times they would venture out into the foreign, or what a lot of people consider as "exotic," cuisines, is when they eat out at restaurants.

French omelette that tasted Chinese
Throughout both dinners for the past two evenings, everyone asked so many questions about China, and none of those were questions that I was commonly asked about in the US, which are "Do you guys really eat dogs" and "What's your opinion on Taiwan/Tibet." (To which the answers are, "Yes, we do eat dogs in certain regions, but it's not the domestic pet dog kind of dog;" and "I think they are part of People's Republic of China.") At those dinners, the French families asked me about how Chinese people ate their food, "if there were many dishes and everyone shared," or if we ate desserts ("Not often; we tend to end meals with hot soup."). The grandma that cooked me the French omelette said that when she lived in Paris, she went to the Chinatown there very often, and loved buying Durian and silk pants there. What random yet so deeply culturally immersed actions! It amazed me how casually she talked about these things, how familiar and at ease she was with them, as if they are nothing to be surprised about. It made me realize that these people are truly curious about my culture, about where I come from, and about my life, not just about politics or stigmatized topics in Asia that are blown out of proportion over the news in America. 

I'm not saying either interest is wrong, I just personally appreciate more the genuine interest that the French exhibit toward my culture, their constant awe and wonder when I tell them some little thing that is so familiar to me in my life in China, and overall their generally open minds, their reservation of remarks or critiques. One perfect example to end this post: when I told one of the French families I dined at that in China people put tomatoes in one of the very common soups (西红柿鸡蛋汤, for those who speak Chinese or are familiar with this delicious dish), the hostess said "Oh that's bizarre!" But then quickly corrected herself and apologized to me, saying how she shouldn't have said that, and that it is only bizarre to her but not to people who are savvy about Chinese culture. It was a touching moment for me because I didn't take offense at all, but her apology just goes to show how much she, as one French person, keeps her mind open. 

Let's hope that more people worldwide can be like that.

Vanessa :]

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