Category Archives: American Culture

“Marrying Out”

National Geographic this month has a short article on “Marrying Out” as part of their continuing series on population. It briefly highlights that marriage demographics are changing in the US (using Barak Obama as an example– when his mother married in the early ’60s only 1 in 1,000 marriages were between someone of African descent and a Caucasian, however now it is 1 in 60).

[Nat Geo article pdf]

The article visually represents different spouse pairings, and explains that black women are least likely to intermarry while Asian men are second least likely. (hmmmm!)

The information is based on a report by the Pew Research Center by the same name with the tag line, “One-in-Seven New US Marriages is Interracial or Interethnic.” I haven’t had the chance to read the report yet, but I thought I would share.

It’s kind of reassuring. I started this blog because sometimes I felt like I was the only one who had cross-cultural issues. Sometimes when I talk to my family, they make me feel like the only one in the world who wants a bi-cultural household, or wants to organize two weddings to highlight different cultural traditions, or wants to learn another language– but you know, we are not alone. And it feels good.

Black? White? Asian? More Young Americans Choose All of the Above

I can’t pass up reposting another article I just saw on Facebook–

The New York Times today had an article on the growing population of young Americans of “mixed-race.” The article focuses on how mixed-heritage is no longer something to shy away from.

“I think it’s really important to acknowledge who you are and everything that makes you that,” said Ms. Wood, the 19-year-old vice president of the [University of Maryland “Multiracial and Biracial Student Association”]. “If someone tries to call me black I say, ‘yes — and white.’ People have the right not to acknowledge everything, but don’t do it because society tells you that you can’t.”

The article notes that 1 in 7 marriages in the US is between partners of a different race or ethnicity according to 2008-2009 data from the Pew Research Center. In July I’ll be part of that statistic, and eventually my children will as well.

The article was an interesting look into the identity issues of biracial/multiracial Americans, and I thought other readers might enjoy. To view the full text click HERE.

Annual AmericaNepali Christmas Party

You can read about last year’s party HERE.

Saturday night P and I pulled off our 4th annual Christmas party, and although the prep was a bit exhausting, I think it was one of our best! In total there were 32 people in our apartment, some of whom didn’t leave until nearly 2am! :)

The general structure for our party starts with wild cookie baking the night or two before the actual event. I always get over zealous in the cookie making department, and generally fall a bit short of my ultimate cookie goal, but this year I think we did a pretty good job. Out of the 10 batches of cookies I hoped to make, we finished 9, and without realizing it each of the 9 cookies hit a different flavor—we had lemon, coconut, chocolate peppermint, raspberry jam, cinnamon, peanut butter, Irish soda bread, orange cranberry, and ginger molasses!

My "Cinammon Polar Bear" Cookies.... one of the 9 types made for the party

On Saturday the party started around 7 with a round of appetizers and drinks. I debated  up until the last minute  (literally 6 hours before the event when we finally went grocery shopping), whether to have Nepali or American food. In the past my middle sister K has attended and she would bake the Turkey while I would make a Thanksgiving style meal, but the past two years she hasn’t been able to come. Last year I fell back on our old staples of Nepali food because it is so much easier to cook South Asian food in bulk. Yet since the party was in honor of the American side of our household I really wanted to make American food.

Alas, we eventually we settled on a combo–American appetizers: raw veggies and dip, chips and salsa, cheese and crackers; some American entrées: Roasted veggies with garlic and rosemary, sautéed brussel sprouts; some Nepali entrées: two types of chicken curry (drumsticks and chopped meat), cauliflower curry, rice, and kwanti (bean soup); and a random entrée: a recipe inspired by AS—ham, feta and orzo salad. Lastly the dessert was purely American—9 different types of Christmas cookies!

Our Irish friend brought “Christmas crackers” for everyone. Crackers are a tradition in Ireland and England, and they were a great idea for the party. The crackers look a bit like empty toilet paper tubes wrapped in shiny paper. Inside the tubes are paper crowns, silly novelty items, and jokes. You pull the cracker with a friend, with one person holding one end of the wrapping, and the other holding the opposite. When you both pull, the cracker makes a “pop” noise and the gifts fall out. For the rest of the night most of our guests were wearing colorful paper crowns which definitely added to the festivity of the evening!

The next phase of the party was “Yankee Swap.” I think this game can be played by a variety of rules and can go by different names (“White Elephant” is one) but the way we generally play is that people buy a gift that’s usually around $5—the gifts can be humorous and silly, or they can be regular gifts. I write out numbers on little slips of paper for everyone participating and people pull the numbers ouf of a hat so the distribution is random. All the wrapped gifts are put under the Christmas tree before we start. The first person to go can choose any gift from the tree and unwraps it. The second person to go does the same, but has the option to swap with person 1 if they choose. The third person then goes and so on, with each person successively able to swap their gift with anything else that has already been opened (so it is better to get a higher number rather than lower with the exception of person 1). Depending on the gifts available, sometimes a person might wind up with several different gifts due to swapping, but ultimately ends up with one. The last person to go is “number 1” and they can choose to swap any gift from all that have been opened in the entire game.

The group was split this year, with several people giving silly gifts—an orgasmic sound making bottle opener, an “over the hill” themed piggy bank, a candy bra, etc– and many giving more “regular” gifts like tea, coffee mugs, chocolates, etc. The most famous gift of the night was the candy bra, which was swapped around a few times to the cheers of “Candy bra! Candy bra!” Merry Christmas, eh?

The remainder of the night was filled with eating, and more eating, and even more eating, as well as lots of drinking, conversation, Christmas carols and fun.

So whether or not you celebrate the holidays, we wish you season’s greetings from AmericaNepali and a Happy New Year!

PS- anyone have a good Christmas cookie recipe? Wanna swap recipes?

The Differences between White American and South Asian Parents

I know that a lot of readers of this blog probably troll a lot of the same material that I do, so perhaps this is redundant, but I thought it was a nice post and wanted to give it an extra shout out.

Sara at A Little of That, Too was responding to Casey at White Girl in a Sari‘s post about “Being Accepted by Family in an Intercultural Relationship.” Sara had quite a bit to say, and it sparked another post back on her page, and I found her comparison nicely laid out. From what I have gleamed, Sara is also a phd student in psychology– which I think helps with her analysis!

If you have time I recommend checking out the post: “White American and South Asian Parents.”

Being Good at Christmas Time

There was a funny post today highlighted on the WordPress homepage called, “Why it’s a bad idea to peek at your presents” and I thought it was time for a confessional post about my own childhood Christmas curiosities, and—er—lack of patience? Too bad I didn’t have a character like the “Dad” in this post to “teach me a lesson,” I had to teach it to myself.

I promise, I don’t do this anymore, but for a few years in my pre-teen days, I fancied myself something of a Christmas-present-secret-agent. I was getting old enough to know the truth about “Santa” and savvy enough to know my parents had to hide those gifts somewhere, and I loved to find them before Christmas and figure out what they were.

It started in the first year or two with the family gifts that began to appear under the Christmas tree in mid-December. Instead of buying gifts for parents and sisters, then hiding the wrapped gifts until Christmas Eve, we would wrap them and put them under the tree shortly after purchasing them. It made the living room all the more “Christmasy” to have a few scatter presents there.

I somehow got the idea that I could get a good sense of  what the present inside the wrapping paper was if I scratched a bit of a hole underneath a gift tag or bow. Between present size, shape, sound (if shaken) and a tiny peep hole peek under the wrapping paper, I could make a pretty good educated guess. No one discovered my “wrapping peep holes” so I felt pretty daring.

The following year I decided to take it a step further, and when no one was around I thought I could sneak a gift to the bathroom, delicately peel off the scotch tape and open the whole edge of a present and see a majority of the box underneath. This gave me an even better idea of what gifts were—but I found that peeling off the tape sometimes ripped the wrapping paper, or pulled off some of the paper design, and the tape wasn’t all that sticky again afterwards—too much chance for discovery!

The year after that I got really bold. I figured that my parents hid the majority of “Santa” gifts in the attic, which was tough to get into when people were around. It was one of those attics that unfolded from the ceiling, you had to pull a draw string to open the wooden “door” and a collapsible set of “stairs” descended to help you climb up into the attic space. The “door” was part of my parents’ bedroom ceiling, and the collapsible “stairs” creaked to high heaven when you pulled them down and straightened them out. No chance of sneaking up there when others were around.

So I hatched a plan—fake sick, stay home from school alone, and spend the day exploring the attic space and checking out the gifts—remember, I fancied myself a secret agent, I was bubbling with anticipation!

Not to mention, my dad had lent me an old rubber stamp making kit that came with an x-acto knife. Due to the tape stickiness issues of the previous year, I theorized I could easily unwrap the attic stash by surgically slicing the scotch tape along the edges of the wrapping paper, unwrap the entire gift, check it out, then refold the paper along the same edges and apply a second layer of tape directly over the tape I had sliced. Presto, who would know?

The night before I was to put my plan into action I started turning on the theatrics… acting tired, rubbing my throat, complaining of achiness. I wanted to set the stage for a “I can’t go to school today mom, I’m feeling rotten” the next morning. And so it went—my sisters were herded out the door to the school bus, my mom left for work, and I stayed at home watching cartoons and sipping vegetable soup.

I waited an  hour or two, just to make sure that no one would come back and “surprise me” while I was frolicking in the attic. Once I felt confident the coast was clear I pulled on the string connected to the attic door, unfolded the creaky wooden ladder/stairs, grabbed the scotch tape and x-acto knife, and scurried up.

My suspicious were correct! The attic was brimming with brightly wrapped boxes of Christmas gifts, tucked amongst the rafters and pink insulation. I spent a good deal of time going through the piles to look for gifts, mindful to keep packages in the right “order” so as not to arouse suspicion. I unwrapped and rewrapped most of my gifts, and even some of my sisters’ gifts, just to see what was there. It was great fun, and once it was over, I felt a sense of pride that I was able to pull off this secret agent mission.

The rest of the day I was excited. I had this big secret. I knew my gifts, but my parents didn’t know I knew, and I knew my sisters’ gifts but they didn’t know I knew either.

However the excitement didn’t last long. After a day or two, I realized that knowing all the gifts kind of ruined the excitement and anticipation of Christmas day. There were no surprises to look forward to, no burning curiosity to keep you up at night wondering, no suspense. As the days ticked closer to Christmas Eve, I realized that by sneaking into the attic and covertly opening the gifts I essentially ruined half the fun of receiving gifts to begin with.

Christmas day I already knew how many gifts would be stacked in the living room. Of course it was nice to receive presents, but my enthusiasm was drained.

That was when I decided I wouldn’t look at presents beforehand again. I enjoyed the anticipation too much.

However somehow my family found out about my sleuthing, and I became notorious for checking out my gifts ahead of Christmas, even though I never did it again. They all expected it, and wouldn’t let me forget it. Even now my younger sister still brings it up.

So sometimes it’s better to be good at Christmas time… but to be safe, maybe parents out there should hide their scotch tape and x-acto knives.

My secret agent kit pretty much looked like this... perhaps I missed my true calling, as a surgeon!

Notes on the “White Wedding”

I mentioned in my post white wedding/red wedding that I was making a website with ceremony information and places to stay, etc, for our guests. In order to  help guests learn more about the different cultural traditions (hey, I’m an international educator at heart) I wanted to have a page on Nepali ceremonies and American ceremonies to give an idea of what to expect for people who haven’t attended one before.

Before sharing with friends and family, I wanted to run my information by you, dear readers, first. Have I added too little, too much? I’m I missing anything glaring? Does it sound okay or weird? Suggestions??

So first up, for your approval, is the posting for the “White Wedding…”

(Don’t worry, I won’t include the video– but amusingly enough the first 22 seconds of Idol’s song was the theme music for the Nepali news when P was in high school! Feel free to continue playing while reading the post for extra added effect… Okay, now on to the actual post–)

Notes on the “White Wedding”

The US houses many different cultures with varied rituals and traditions, and so it is hard to describe what a “typical” American wedding looks like. Contemporary weddings also incorporate new ideas and trends unique to a particular couple, so one wedding may look very different than another wedding of someone from a similar background.

However here are a few things to look for in our ceremony:

Before the Ceremony

-Wearing White: Brides generally wear white dresses (hence “white” wedding). Traditionally the color of the dress symbolized the purity of the bride. The groom is not allowed to see the bride before the wedding on their wedding day, and the dress is a surprise. Another tradition is that the bride wears “something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue”– the dress is often the “something new” while jewelry or other pieces of the bride’s attire might be “something old” or “something borrowed.”

-Bridal Party: Often the bride and groom have several family members and/or friends who “stand” with them as support during the wedding ceremony. They can be identified by the clothing they wear, which generally matches the color theme and style of the wedding. The female attendants are referred to as “bridesmaids” with the main attendant referred to as the “maid of honor,” and the male attendants are called “groomsmen” with the main attendant referred to as the “best man.” The bridal party walks in with the bride and groom at the start of the ceremony.

-Parents and grandparents of the bride and groom are recognized during the wedding by wearing a flower and processing down the aisle at the start of the ceremony. The father of the bride traditionally walks the bride down the aisle before “giving her away” to the groom at the start of the ceremony. Some cultures, such as in Jewish tradition, have both parents walk the bride down the aisle. Parents typically sit in the front row of seats, but do not stand with the bride and groom at the altar like the bridal party.

Ceremony

American wedding ceremonies can be either religious or secular and can be presided over by a member of the clergy or by a layperson. Religious ceremonies usually include readings from religious texts that are relevant to marriage and love, while secular ceremonies include readings of poems, passages from literature, or cultural blessings on marriage, home, and love.

A common element in weddings (both Christian religious and secular) is the “unity candle”– two smaller candles are lit by the parents of the bride and parents of the groom, the bride and groom then take their respective “family” candles and together light a larger candle to symbolically represent their “unity” as a new family. Other similar rituals include taking separate jars of sand and combining them into a larger vessel to symbolize the new family unit.

The pivotal moment in an American wedding is the recitation of the vows. The bride and groom make a list of promises to each other that they vow to keep until “death do [them] part.” These vows can either be written by the bride and groom or they can use standard vows. After the recitation of the vows the bride and groom exchange their wedding rings which symbolically unite the pair as man and wife.

At the end of the ceremony the officiant declares, “By the power invested in me by the state of _________, I now pronounce you man and wife, you may now kiss the bride.” The kiss concludes the ceremony, with the bride and groom officially married.

Reception

Immediately following the ceremony is a “cocktail hour” where drinks and appetizers are served. Typically during this time the families of the bride and groom take formal wedding photos.

Generally tables are assigned to the guests, and a seating chart is available for people to find their appropriate seats. After the cocktail hour guests are ushered to the main reception area to formally receive the bride and groom.

The reception begins when the bridal party and the bride and groom are introduced. This is sometimes followed by brief toasts given by the maid of honor and best man, and sometimes a parent or relative of the bride or groom. This is followed by the first dance of the evening reserved for the bride and groom to a song of their choosing. Occasionally a “father/daughter” dance for the bride and a “mother/son” dance for the groom are also organized.

After dinner the wedding cake is cut by the bride and groom and the first piece is shared between them before the rest of the cake is sliced and served.

The rest of the evening is filled with eating, drinking, dancing and fun.

(Tomorrow the “Red Wedding” installment…)

Stockings

My Irish friend encouraged me to write about this topic when he came over for dinner tonight. He helped me put up my Christmas tree on Saturday, and after he left I added the decorations, so tonight he was seeing my full Christmas set up.

Two of the new features to my Christmas decoration collection this year are two hand knitted Christmas stockings with P and my name on them. I explained to our friend that this makes P an “official” member of my family since now he has the official family stocking.

I don’t remember when the tradition started, but my paternal grandmother was an avid knitter. As each of her children married and each new grandchild was born one of their first Christmas gifts was a knitted stocking with the new family member’s name on it, which matched all the other stockings everyone else had. The uncles had a 2-dimensional Santa face, the aunts had a 2-dimensional Mrs. Claus, and all the cousins had small Santa faces with a 3-dimensional beard that puffed out with yarn.

As children we always had our stockings hung over the wood stove downstairs and received small gifts inside. We opened the stocking gifts first before opening the gifts from under the tree.

A few years ago my grandmother passed away, but before she did she gave the stocking pattern to my uncle who also likes knitting. When two of my older cousins married they received new “adult” Mrs. Claus stockings, and their husbands received Santa stockings with their names. When my eldest cousin had a kid the new baby also received a new 3-dimensional Santa stocking.

So I was excited last Christmas to receive our new stockings. I didn’t think we’d get them until we were married, but we have them now. So I guess P is officially part of the “club” now :) (see below).

Musings on Peanut Butter

Over the long weekend P, myself, R and S went on one of our road trips—this time to northern Maine, the farthest you can go north on the Eastern coast before you hit Canada. It was in this tiny hamlet that P and S, fresh from a landlocked mountainous country, started their American life at a rural state school near the ocean.

We connected with a few friends from their days “down east”—a professor, a classmate or two, and some local townsfolk friends. During our conversations, one story kept popping up, and of all things, it was about peanut butter. Mental note—blog about that.

So here I am, my post on peanut butter.

The first conversation started when our hosts asked what I wanted to pack for lunch since we were going to the Salmon Festival, and being a vegetarian, I wasn’t so interested in eating the local attraction of salmon-on-a-stick.

“Just give her a peanut butter and jelly sandwich,” S said, a hint of sarcasm in his voice, “She loooooves peanut butter and jelly.”

This snarky comment comes from the cross-country road trip the four of us went on in 2008. I was trying to think of easy foods to pack in case we were out on the road and hunger struck. What would any true-blooded American think of in such situations? Why the classic PB&J, of course!

Perhaps my companions didn’t notice when I stuck the large jar of peanut butter in our shopping cart in California, but on day two, when I pulled it out of the trunk during a rest stop at the Grand Canyon and proposed a quick sandwich for lunch, I was met with three disappointed stares.

“Come on guys, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are quick, easy, and filling. What’s the problem?” I asked.

“Nepalese hate peanut butter!”

How can anyone hate peanut butter? I admit I’m not as crazy as some Americans, who could literally lick it off a spoon, but a peanut butter and jelly sandwich definitely hits the spot now and again.

“Give it a try, its good, and it will hold you over until dinner.”

Well—I was the only one eating PBJ’s the rest of the trip.

The next time over the weekend that I told the story we were having lunch with an older American couple. They were equally surprised (especially since they have a Thai daughter-in-law, who uses peanuts in all sorts of cooking).

“But you like peanuts?” asked the woman.

“Yeah” agreed R, S and P.

“So what is the difference? Peanut butter is basically crushed spreadable peanuts.”

Still no takers.

“But get this…” I added, “A few nights ago when it was too hot to cook in our apartment a group of us decided to make summer rolls including a Thai peanut sauce made from peanut butter, vinegar and sugar. P loved the sauce.”

“I didn’t know there was peanut butter in it at the time!” He defended himself.

“But you still liked it.” declared the friend.

“It was mixed with other things.” He said, and S concluded: “You’ll never get a Nepali to like peanut butter.”

Sigh. I know that peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are a pretty American thing. As a student living in the International  House, I proposed making PPJs for “American culture night” since they really resonate with me as a part of Americana childhood.

However, I don’t want to stereotype all Nepalis, because I hold out that there must be Nepali peanut butter lovers in the world, but I do offer a word of caution—don’t make PPJ’s for a road trip with Nepali friends and expect to be popular.

Musing on International Student Advising and Cultural Adjustment

As I’ve mentioned before, work has been a bit busy. I’m an international student advisor at a mid-sized science and engineering school in Massachusetts, and during the past two-three weeks all of our new students arrived.

I work with graduate and undergraduate students from all over the world, helping with immigration and tax questions, cultural adjustment concerns, and international programming as well as religious diversity programming. The beginning of the school year is the busiest—orientations and lots of questions from all our new students, organizing events and programs, registering all the students in various databases. This year we had our biggest international freshmen class in the history of the college, 115 students… with another 150+ new graduate students. That means our school has approximately 650+ internationals this year. That’s a lot of people (at least for a small office).

I really enjoy working with international students. I like being able to make connections and help them with their tough questions. Although I’m often critiqued by family for not being “American enough” I feel that working with international students reiterates how much I have to think about American culture. Especially with the new students, we need to be able to answer their questions– everything from what is involved in signing a lease and opening a bank account and getting a social security number to answering questions on US classroom culture, explaining local, regional and national history, and musings on why Americans call football soccer.

One of the most interesting sessions (in my opinion) that we have for new students is a program on cultural adjustment and the phases of cultural shock. As part of the program we show a 13 minute youtube video that was taped during a Columbia Business School graduate international orientation a few years ago. The Israeli student presenter does a wonderful job talking about his own experiences, and putting cultural adjustment into a perspective. So I wanted to share.

Part I:

Part II:

There are more parts but you can follow the links on youtube.

Working with the students reminds me that P and a lot of our close friends were (and some still are) international students, and I know I would want someone at their schools to take good care of them and help them with their questions. So I aim to help the best I can to be there for my students as well.

So I guess that is my way of saying, schools back in session!

High Context/Low Context Culture Clash in Diagrams

I received a funny email forward today, so I thought I’d share some of the diagrams with you.

The concept of “high context” and “low context” cultures was developed by British anthropologist Edward T Hall in his 1976 book Beyond Culture. His ideas were discussed at length in some of my international education classes, and it reminds me that when I look at something completely different than others around me, that there is an underlying concept as to why. The diagrams below actually highlight a lot of the sterotypical differences between cultures that are “high context” (generally speaking more “eastern” cultures) and “low context” (again, very generally speaking “western” cultures).

The email forward said:

The images below have been done by a Chinese artist (Liu Young), who studied in Germany. These images show his version of the differences between Western and Eastern cultures in a very simple way.

BLUE=WEST RED=EAST

Opinion


Way of Life


Puncuality


Contacts


Anger


Party


Three Meals a Day


Queue When Waiting

I particularly like the party one, as often larger gatherings tend to evolve into everyone sitting in a circle in the living room singing songs and dancing. I also like the food diagram, since there have been many a hot summer day when a salad would have sufficed for dinner but instead my friend AD couldn’t live without chicken chili ;)