Cultural surprises

Sheila has been with us for over two weeks already but she continues to be amazed by something new almost every day. In her eyes, my kitchen is a magical place. Most of the small appliances and gadgets that we take for granted are brand new to her. Like most Chinese kitchens, the one in her parents’ home doesn’t have an oven let alone a toaster, a bread maker or a food processor. Her eyes nearly popped out of her head the first time she saw me using my electric knife!

It’s not only the appliances that surprise her, however. Most of our food is also new to her. Though she’s familiar with a lot of the ingredients, we cook them entirely differently and even I’ve been surprised at how many convenience foods I use. We tend to eat a healthy diet avoiding a lot of processed foods but I do depend on things like pancake mix that are completely foreign to her. Breakfast cereal is also something she’s never eaten before. So far, Harvest Crunch, a sweetened granola with coconut and almonds, is her favourite. She’s accustomed to a spicier diet than ours and the ketchup bottle has become her best friend. In fact, she’s dubbed herself a “ketchupholic”!

The rest of the house contained many surprises for her too. Not unexpectedly, even though I’d explained the bathroom to her the evening she arrived, it took a flooded floor to remind her that the shower curtain must be inside the tub when you take a shower! That’s a common blunder for Asians when they first arrive on our shores as an Asian bathroom is basically an oversized shower stall and bathtubs are not common in China.

Laundry brought more surprises. Though we had a fitted sheet on our bed in China, Sheila had never seen one until we stripped the beds to wash the sheets! She thought I must have sewn the elastic corners myself. (In case you were wondering, fitted sheets were actually invented by an African American lady named Bertha Berman in the 1950s.) The clothes dryer also fascinates her as clothing is hung to dry in China.

That brings me to a topic that has been a big surprise to Richard and I. When we lived in China, we were amazed to see people in the street wearing their pyjamas. What we didn’t realize until Sheila came to stay is that Chinese people wear their pyjamas whenever they’re at home! Sheila only dresses to go out and immediately changes back into pyjamas when she gets home. Of course, if you’re just stepping out to run a quick errand, why bother changing at all? Sheila has been out with me more than once now in her pjs and I finally understand why we saw people walking down Little Street dressed that way!

While we continue to learn much about Chinese life from Sheila, it’s definitely been fun looking at our own lives through the eyes of someone for whom almost everything is brand new!

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