Unit 1 Love
A Kiss for Kate
Every afternoon when I came on duty as the evening nurse, I would walk the halls of the nursing home, pausing at each door to chat and observe. Often, Kate and Chris, their big scrapbooks in their laps, would be reminiscing over the photos. Proudly, Kate showed me pictures of bygone years: Chris—tall, blond, handsome; Kate pretty, dark-haired, laughing. Two young lovers smiling through the passing seasons. How lovely they looked now, sitting there, the light shining on their white heads, their time-wrinkled faces smiling at the memories of the years, caught and held forever in the scrapbooks.
How little the young know of loving, I'd think. How foolish to think they have a monopoly on such a precious commodity. The old know what loving truly means; the young can only guess.
Kate and Chris were always together—in the dining room, the lounge, strolling around the big porches and lawns, always holding hands. As we staff members ate our evening meal, sometimes Kate and Chris would walk slowly by the dining-room doors. Then conversation would turn to a discussion of the couple's love and devotion, and what would happen when one of them died. We knew Chris was the strong one, and Kate was dependent upon him.
How would Kate function if Chris were to die first? We often wondered.
Bedtime followed a ritual. When I brought the evening medication, Kate would be sitting in her chair, in nightgown and slippers, awaiting my arrival. Under the watchful eyes of Chris and myself, Kate would take her pill, then carefully Chris would help her from the chair to the bed and tuck the covers in around her frail body.
Observing this act of love, I would think for the thousandth time, good heavens, why don't nursing homes have double beds for married couples? All their lives they have slept together, but in a nursing home, they're expected to sleep in single beds. Overnight they're deprived of a comfort of a lifetime.
How very foolish such policies are, I would think as I watched Chris reach up and turn off the light above Kate's bed. Then tenderly he would bend, and they would kiss gently. Chris would pat her cheek, and both would smile. He would pull up the side rail on her bed, and only then would he turn and accept his own medication. As I walked into the hall, I could hear Chris say, "Good night, Kate," and her returning voice, "Good-night, Chris," while the space of an entire room separated their two beds.
I had been off duty two days and when I returned, the first news I heard was, "Chris died yesterday morning."
"A heart attack. It happened quickly."
I went into Kate's room. She sat in her chair, motionless, hands in her lap, staring. Taking her hands in mine, I said, "Kate, it's Phyllis."
Her eyes never shifted; she only stared. I placed my hand under her chin and slowly turned her head so she had to look at me.
"Kate, I just found out about Chris. I'm so sorry.
At the word "Chris", her eyes came back to life. She looked at me, puzzled, as though wondering how I had suddenly appeared. "Kate, it's me, Phyllis. I'm so sorry about Chris."
Recognition and sadness flooded her face. Tears welled up and slid down her cheeks. "Chris is gone," she whispered.
"I know," I said. "I know."
We pampered Kate for a while, letting her eat in her room, surrounding her with special attention. Then gradually the staff worked her back into the old schedule. Often, as I went past her room, I would observe Kate sitting in her chair, scrapbooks on her lap, gazing sadly at pictures of Chris.
Bedtime was the worst part of the day for Kate. Although she was allowed to move from her bed to Chris's bed, and although the staff chatted and laughed with her as they tucked her in for the night, still Kate remained silent and sadly withdrawn. Passing her room an hour after she had been tucked in, I'd find her wide awake, staring at the ceiling.
The weeks passed, and bedtime wasn't any better. She seemed so restless, so insecure. Why? I wondered. Why this time of day more than the other hours?
Then one night as I walked into her room, only to find the same wide-awake Kate, I said impulsively, "Kate, could it be you miss your good-night kiss?" Bending down, I kissed her wrinkled cheek.
It was as though I had opened the floodgates. Tears ran down her face; her hands gripped mine. "Chris always kissed me good-night," she cried.
"I know," I whispered.
"I miss him so, all those years he kissed me good-night." She paused while I wiped the tears. "I just can't seem to go to sleep without his kiss."
She looked up at me, her eyes full of tears. "Oh, thank you for giving me a kiss."
A small smile turned up the corners of her mouth. "You know," she said confidentially, "Chris used to sing me a song.
"Yes,"—her white head nodded—"and I lie here at night and think about it."
"How did it go?"
Kate smiled, held my hand and cleared her throat. Then her voice, small with age but still melodious, lifted softly in song:
So kiss me, my sweet, and so let us part.
And when I grow too old to dream,
That kiss will live in my heart.
Benefits from Pets
Recently, a number of US newspapers carried a very small article entitled "Things You Can Learn from Your Dog". The article listed seven things done regularly by pet dogs which could be helpful to pet owners if they themselves did them. These things are: 1) When your loved one comes home, run to greet him. 2) Eat with pleasure. 3) When it's hot, drink lots of water. 4) Take naps. 5) Don't bite, just growl. 6) When you want something badly, dig for it. 7) Give unconditional love.
There are many people who would like to insist that only human beings are capable of feeling the emotion of love. However, there are many more people, usually pet owners, who feel that they not only love their pets, but that their pets love them in return. This is only one, but a very important, benefit of owning a pet. All of us want to enjoy good health. Thousands of articles are written in newspapers and magazines giving advice of all types as to what people should be doing if they wish to improve their chances of having good health. Most often this advice includes suggestions that we should eat right, exercise, take vitamins and get a pet. Why get a pet? Because more and more studies are showing that people who have pets are healthier, both physically and mentally, than those who don't. Right now more than half of the households in the United States have a companion animal. That includes 51 million dogs, 56 million cats, 45 million birds, and other small animals.
Besides the obvious things, like being cute, interesting to watch, and a lot of fun, pets do more for us than we often realize. If you now have or have ever had a pet, you know how wonderful it is to have someone there for you, no matter how you look, how you are dressed, or what you are doing. Pets love you unconditionally and don't require brilliant conversation. A simple "good boy" and a pat on the head or scratch under the chin is enough for them. They will find ways to let you know their appreciation of your praise, whether it is by wagging their tails, rubbing against you, purring, or simply looking at you with adoring eyes.
People who own pets often remark on what good company they are and what fun they have together. Pet experts and researchers identify many other additional benefits that come with pet ownership or interaction. In addition to those mentioned thus far, pets ease stress and anxiety, aid relaxation, provide a sense of security, and are a great diversion from troubles. One medical study showed that people's blood pressure would fall when they stroked their pets.
Pets are increasingly being used in therapy for the elderly and those who have Alzheimer's disease or physical disabilities. One lady in Tucson, Arizona, shares her lovely little dog with many elderly nursing home residents. She takes her dog there at least once or twice a week and allows the elderly people to hold and pat her little dog. They eagerly await its arrival and always ask when she and her dog will be back. She is just one of hundreds of people who share their pets with the old and lonely. And then, of course, there are
countless stories of dogs trained to aid blind, deaf, or wheel-chair bound individuals, often allowing them to live independently when otherwise this would not be possible. The love between these people and their four-footed friends is touching. Even brushing or patting a dog is great physical therapy, and we all know the benefits of walking, which is something a dog needs too.
James Herriot, a country veterinarian in England, has been a very popular writer in the English-speaking world. He has written a number of books and stories about pet owners and their pets. Many of his stories tell of the love between them as well as the benefits that owners and pets derive from each other. Part of his great popularity as a writer comes from the fact that people who love pets like to read about and identify with other pet lovers.
A Good Heart to Lean On
More than I realized, Dad has helped me keep my balance.
When I was growing up, I was embarrassed to be seen with my father. He was severely crippled and very short, and when we would walk together, his hand on my arm for balance, people would stare. I would be ashamed of the unwanted attention. If he ever noticed or was bothered, he never let on.
It was difficult to coordinate our steps—his halting, mine impatient—and because of that, we didn't say much as we went along. But as we started out, he always said, "You set the pace. I will try to adjust to you.
Our usual walk was to or from the subway, which was how he got to work. He went to work sick, and despite nasty weather. He almost never missed a day, and would make it to the office even if others could not. It was a matter of pride for him.
When snow or ice was on the ground, it was impossible for him to walk, even with help. At such times my sisters or I would pull him through the streets of Brooklyn, N.Y., on a child's sleigh to the subway entrance. Once there, he would cling to the handrail until he reached the lower steps that the warmer tunnel air kept ice-free. In Manhattan the subway station was the basement of his office building, and he would not have to go outside again until we met him in Brooklyn on his way home.
When I think of it now, I marvel at how much courage it must have taken for a grown man to subject himself to such indignity and stress. And I marvel at how he did it—without bitterness or complaint.
He never talked about himself as an object of pity, nor did he show any envy of the more fortunate or able. What he looked for in others was a "good heart", and if he found one, the owner was good enough for him.
Now that I am older, I believe that is a proper standard by which to judge people, even though I still don't know precisely what a "good heart" is. But I know the times I don't have one myself.
Unable to engage in many activities, my father still tried to participate in some way. When a local baseball team found itself without a manager, he kept it going. He was a knowledgeable baseball fan and often took me to Ebbets Field to see the Brooklyn Dodgers play. He liked to go to dances and parties, where he could have a good time just sitting and watching.
On one memorable occasion a fight broke out at a beach party, with everyone punching and shoving. He wasn't content to sit and watch, but he couldn't stand unaided on the soft sand. In frustration he began to shout, "I'll fight anyone who will sit down with me! I'll fight anyone who will sit down with me!"
Nobody did. But the next day people kidded him by saying it was the first time any fighter was urged to take a dive, even before the bout began.
I now know he participated in some things vicariously through me, his only son. When I played ball (poorly), he "played" too. When I joined the Navy, he "joined" too. And when I came home on leave, he saw to it that I visited his office. Introducing me, he was really saying, "This is my son, but it is also me, and I could have done this, too, if things had been different." Those words were never said aloud.
He has been gone many years now, but I think of him often. I wonder if he sensed my reluctance to be seen with him during our walks. If he did, I am sorry I never told him how sorry I was, how unworthy I was, how I regretted it. I think of him when I complain about trifles, when I am envious of another's good fortune, when I don't have a "good heart". 13 At such times I put my hand on his arm to regain my balance, and say, "You set the pace. I will try to adjust to you."
Unit 2 Psychology in Our Daily Life
The Psychology of Money
Are you a compulsive spender, or do you hold on to your money as long as possible? Are you a bargain hunter? Would you rather use charge accounts than pay cash? Your answers to these questions will reflect your personality. According to psychologists, our individual money habits not only show our beliefs and values, but can also stem from past problems.
Experts in psychology believe that for many people, money is an important symbol of strength and influence. Husbands who complain about their wives' spending habits may be afraid that they are losing power in their marriage. Wives, on the other hand, may waste huge amounts of money because they are angry at their husbands. In addition, many people consider money a symbol of love. They spend it on their family and friends to express love, or they buy themselves expensive presents because they need love.
People can be addicted to different things—for example, alcohol, drugs, certain foods, or even television. People who have such an addiction are compulsive; that is, they have a very powerful psychological need that they feel they must satisfy. According to psychologists, many people are compulsive spenders; they feel that they must spend money. This compulsion, like most others, is irrational—impossible to explain reasonably. For compulsive spenders who buy on credit, charge accounts are even more exciting than money. In other words, compulsive spenders feel that with credit, they can do anything. Their pleasure in spending enormous amounts is actually greater than the pleasure that they get from the things they buy.
There is even a special psychology of bargain hunting. To save money, of course, most people look for sales, low prices, and discounts. Compulsive bargain hunters, however, often buy things that they don't need just because they are cheap. They want to believe that they are helping their budgets, but they are really playing an exciting game: when they can buy something for less than other people, they feel that they are winning. Most people, experts claim, have two reasons for their behavior: a good reason for the things that they do and the real reason.
It is not only scientists, of course, who understand the psychology of spending habits, but also business people. Stores, companies, and advertisers use psychology to increase business: they consider people's needs for love, power, or influence, their basic values, their beliefs and opinions, and so on in their advertising and sales methods.
Psychologists often use a method called "behavior therapy" to help individuals solve their personality problems. In the same way, they can help people who feel that they have problems with money: they give them "assignments". If a person buys something in every store that he enters, for instance, a therapist might teach him self-discipline in this way: on the first day of his therapy, he must go into a store, stay five minutes, and then leave. On the second day, he should stay for ten minutes and try something on. On the third day, he stays for fifteen minutes, asks the salesclerk a question, but does not buy anything. Soon he will learn that nothing bad will happen to him if he doesn't buy anything, and he can solve the problem of his compulsive buying.
How to Jump Queue Fury
If you find yourself waiting in a long queue at an airport or bus terminus this holiday, will you try to analyse what it is about queuing that makes you angry? Or will you just get angry with the nearest official?
Professor Richard Larson, an electrical engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, hates queuing but rather than tear his hair out, he decided to study the subject. His first finding, which backs up earlier work at the US National Science Foundation, was that the degree of annoyance was not directly related to the time. He cites an experiment at Houston airport where passengers had to walk for one minute from the plane to the baggage reclaim and then wait a further seven minutes to collect their luggage. Complaints were frequent, especially from those who had spent seven minutes watching passengers with just hand baggage get out immediately.
The airport authorities decided to lengthen the walk from the aircraft, so that instead of a one-minute fast walk, the passengers spent six minutes walking. When they finally arrived at the baggage reclaim, the
delay was then only two minutes. The extra walk extended the delay by five minutes for those carrying only hand baggage, but passenger complaints dropped almost to zero.
The reason? Larson suggests that it all has to do with what he calls "social justice". If people see others taking a short cut, they will find the wait unbearable. So in the case of the airport, it was preferable to delay everyone.
Another aspect Larson studied was the observation that people get more fed up if they are not told what is going on. Passengers told that there will be a half-hour delay are less unhappy than those left waiting even twenty minutes without an explanation.
But even knowing how long we have to wait isn't the whole answer. We must also believe that everything is being done to minimize our delay. Larson cites the example of two neighbouring American banks. One was highly computerised and served a customer, on average, every 30 seconds. The other bank was less automated and took twice as long. But because the tellers at the second bank looked extremely busy, customers believed the service was faster and many transferred their accounts to the slower bank. Ultimately, the latter had to introduce time-wasting ways of appearing more dynamic.
First I read about a study in Meriden, Connecticut, which indicated that talking to yourself is a perfectly good way of getting comfort during a difficult time. Then I saw an item about research at Yale demonstrating that stress seems to be reduced in some people by exposing them to the aromas of certain desserts. Then I started talking to myself about desserts with aromas I find soothing. Then I felt a lot better. Isn't science grand?
I didn't feel perfect. One thing that was bothering me was that the ten most popular methods of comforting yourself listed in the Meriden study didn't mention sniffing desserts, even though Yale, where all the sniffing research was going on, is only about twenty miles down the road. Does this mean that some of these scientists are so busy talking to themselves that they don't talk to each other? It got me so upset that I went to the back door of a baker in our neighborhood to sniff the aroma of chocolate chip cookies. I was talking to myself the whole time, of course.
"What the Yale people think," I said to myself, "is that a person is soothed by the smell of, say, chocolate chip cookies because it brings back pleasant memories, like the memory of his mother baking chocolate chip cookies."
"What if his mother always burned the chocolate chip cookies?" I replied.
"Are you talking about my mother?"
"Whose mother do you think I'm talking about?" I said. "We're the only ones here."
"Were those cookies burnt?"
"What do you think all that black stuff was?"
"I thought that was the chocolate chips."
"No, she always forgot the chocolate chips."
I wasn't finding the conversation very comforting at all. I don't like to hear anyone make light of my mother's chocolate chip cookies, even me. I must have raised my voice, because the next thing I knew, the baker had come out to see what was going on.
Even though the Meriden study had shown that being with someone else was the most comforting thing of all—it finished ahead of listening to music and even watching TV—I saw right away that being with the baker wasn't going to be much more comforting than talking to myself. He said, "Are you crazy?"
I told him that I was engaging in two therapies that had been scientifically proven effective: sniffing chocolate chip cookies and talking to myself. He told me that I owed him two dollars and fifty cents. "For sniffing, we charge a buck and a quarter a dozen." he explained.
"How do you know I sniffed two dozen?" I asked.
"I just know it." he said.
I told him that according to the research done at Yale, certain odors caused the brain to produce alpha waves, which are associated with relaxation. I told him that in my case the odor of chocolate chip cookies—particularly slightly burnt chocolate chip cookies—was such an odor. I told him that he ought to be proud to confirm the scientific research done at one of the great universities of the English-speaking world. That alone, I told him, ought to be payment enough for whatever small part of the aroma of his chocolate chip cookies I had used up with my sniffing.
He thought about it for a moment. Then he said, "Take a walk, buddy."
I was happy to. As it happens, going for a walk finished tenth in the Meriden study, just behind recalling pleasant memories. Naturally, I talked to myself on the way.
"Maybe I can find some place to smell what the Yale people call 'spiced apple'," I said to myself. "They found that the smell of spiced apple is so effective that with some people it can stop panic attacks.
"But I don't know what spiced apple smells like," I replied. "Spiced with what?"
That was bothering me enough that my walk wasn't actually very soothing. I thought about bolstering it with some of the other activities on the list, but reading or watching TV seemed impractical. Prayer was also on the list, but praying for the aroma of spiced apple seemed ridiculous.
I walked faster and faster. It occurred to me that I might be getting a panic attack. Desperately I tried to recall some pleasant memories. I recalled the time before I knew about the Meriden list, when I talked to myself only in private. I recalled the time before I knew about the Yale research and didn't have to worry about finding any spiced apple. Then I felt a lot better. I didn't feel perfect, but you can't always feel perfect.
Is There a Doctor in the Body?
When you go to the doctor, you like to come away with a prescription. It makes you feel better to know you will get some medicine. But the doctor knows that medicine is not always needed. Sometimes all a sick person needs is some reassurance that all will be well. In such cases the doctor may prescribe a placebo.
A placebo is a sugar pill, a harmless shot, or an empty capsule. Even though they have no medicine in them, these things seem to make people well. The patient thinks it is medicine and begins to get better. How does this happen?
The study of the placebo opens up new knowledge about the way the human body can heal itself. It is as if there was a doctor in each of us. The "doctor" will heal the body for us if we let it.
But it is not yet known just how the placebo works to heal the body. Some people say it works because the human mind fools itself. These people say that if the mind is fooled into thinking it got medicine, then it will act as if it did, and the body will feel better.
Other people say this is not so. They say that the placebo makes the wish to get better become reality. The placebo will not work if the patient knows it is a placebo. This shows that the body is not fooled by it. It seems that if patients think they have been given medicine, they will have hope. They feel that they are getting some help. This gives them a stronger will to get better, and that is what helps to heal them.
Placebos do not always work. The success of this treatment seems to rest a lot with the relationship between the patient and the doctor. If the patient has a lot of trust in the doctor and if the doctor really wants to help the patient, then the placebo is more likely to work. So in a way, the doctor is the most powerful placebo of all.
An example of the doctor's role in making the placebo work can be seen in this study. Some patients with bleeding ulcers were put in two groups. The first group were told by a doctor that they had been given a new drug which, it was hoped, would give them some relief. The second group were told by a nurse that they had been given a new drug but that not much was known about how it would work. As a result, 70 percent of the people in the first group got much better. Only 25 percent of the people in the second group got better. And both groups had in fact been given the same thing—a placebo.
The placebo has been found to work with a lot of different cases. It helps such things as seasickness, coughs, colds, and even pain after an operation. And there was an experiment done to see if a placebo could help old people stay healthy and live longer.
The test was done in Romania with 150 people over the age of 60. They were put in three groups with 50 people in each group. The first group were given nothing at all. The second group were given a placebo. The third group were given a real drug and told that it would help with the problems of old age. (In fact, it was not a drug for old age at all.) The three groups were studied for many years. The first group showed no changes from the way old people in that village had always been. The second group (with the placebo) had much better health and a lower death rate. The third group (with the real drug) showed much the same results as the group that took the placebo.
A placebo can also have bad effects. If patients expect a bad reaction to medicine, then they will also show a bad reaction to the placebo. This would seem to show that a lot of how you react to medicine is in your mind rather than in your body. Some doctors still think that if the placebo can have bad effects it should never be used. They think there is still not enough known about it.
And yet, the use of the placebo has been well known for hundreds of years in other countries. Tribal doctors in some African countries have known for a long time that patients will get better if they think they are going to. Many of the "treatments" they use do not seem able to make a sick person better, and yet such treatments work.
The strange power of the placebo does seem to suggest that the human mind is stronger than we think it is. There are people who say you can heal your body by using your mind. And the interesting thing is that even people who swear this is not possible have been healed by a placebo.
Unit 3 Culture
Dining Customs in America
Every country has its own peculiar dining customs. Americans feel that the first rule of being a polite guest is to be on time. If a person is invited to dinner at six-thirty, the hostess expects him to be there at six-thirty or not more than a few minutes after. Because she usually does the cooking, she times the meal se that the hot rolls and the coffee and meat will be at their best at the time the guests come. If they are late, the food will not be so good, and the hostess will be disappointed. When the guest cannot come on time, he calls his host or hostess on the telephone, gives the reason, and tells at what time he can come. Depending on the situation, guests sometimes bring a box of candy or some flowers to give to the hostess as a sign of appreciation.
As guests continue to arrive, it is usually considered polite for the men in the group to stand when a woman enters the room and continue to stand until she is seated. However, most young people and some groups of older people that stress equality of the sexes no longer observe the custom. A visitor should be sensitive to each situation and follow the lead of the Americans present.
When the guests sit down at a dinner table, it is customary for the men to help the ladies by pushing their chairs under them. Some Americans no longer do this, so the visitor must notice what others do and do likewise. Until the meal is under way, if the dinner is in a private home, a guest may avoid embarrassment by leaving the talking to someone else. Some families have a habit of offering a prayer of thanks before they eat. Other families do not. If a prayer is offered, everyone sits quietly with bowed head until the prayer is over. If the family does not follow the custom, there is no pause in the conversation.
There is a difference between American and European customs in using the knife and fork. Europeans keep the knife in the right hand, the fork in the left. They use both hands in eating. Americans, on the contrary, use just one hand whenever possible and keep the other one on their lap. They constantly change their fork to the left hand when they have to cut meat. Between bites they put the fork on their plate while drinking coffee or buttering bread. Europeans are more apt to drink coffee after the meal and to keep their knife and fork in hand until they finish eating.
Since Americans often lay their silverware down during the meal, certain customs have developed. It is not considered good manners to leave a spoon in a soup bowl or coffee cup or any other dish. It is put where it will lie flat (a coffee spoon on the saucer, a soup spoon on the service plate beside the soup bowl, etc.) but not on the tablecloth. By doing this, one is less likely to knock the silverware onto the floor or spill the food. Another difference in custom is that Americans and Europeans use the side of the soupspoon, not the tip.
Americans do not use silverware for eating bread. They hold it in their fingers, usually breaking it first. Other things that Americans eat with their fingers are corn on the cob, celery, radishes, and olives. In America a person does not eat lettuce that way, nor pick up a soup bowl to drink what remains at the bottom.
If for any reason a guest has to leave the table during a meal, he or she should ask the hostess, "Would you please excuse me for a minute?" When the meal is finished, the guests put their napkins on the table and rise. Guests do not fold their napkins in the original folds unless they are houseguests and intend to stay for more than one meal.
Following dinner, guests usually stay for two or three hours, but the thoughtful person is careful not to overstay his or her welcome. The host and hostess may urge a guest to stay longer in order to be polite, but most dinner parties break up at about 11 o'clock.
As the guests leave, it is the custom to thank the hostess for a very pleasant evening. One may say anything that expresses appreciation. Common expressions are: "Good-bye. It was so nice of you to have me," or "Good-bye. It's been a thoroughly enjoyable evening," or "Thank you. I've had a very nice time." For larger favors than a dinner party, such as an overnight or weekend visit, it is customary to send a thank-you note.
Chinese and American Culture
Even body language has a cultural accent. Chinese stamp their feet to show anger; Americans interpret this as impatience. Chinese clap for themselves after a speech. Americans may see this as immodest. When giving or receiving a gift, Chinese use two hands to denote respect. Americans never even notice.
Americans may pat other adults on the head to show sympathy, affection or encouragement. This behavior could insult Chinese.
Americans point to their chest to signify "me", but think it is funny when Chinese point to their nose.
Even laughter has the potential either to communicate or miscommunicate.An American who fell off his bike was very angry when on-looking Chinese laughed at him. I myself was angered when my son fell down and bystanders laughed. But I learned later that their laughter conveyed sympathy or understanding, not ridicule. When East meets West, how often is offense taken when none is given?
American individualists value privacy and men always maintain a distance of 45-80 centimeters between them when they talk. To stand farther apart is inconvenient, to stand closer violates body space. And males rarely touch each other, except for a brief but firm handshake. They certainly never hold hands or sit with arms around one another.
In American culture, frequent, prolonged bodily contact between males suggests homosexuality. Chinese males not only touch each other but also hold hands—a practice that frightens Western males. Chinese often shake my hand and don't let go. They talk away contentedly, unaware of my discomfort as I struggle to free my hand!
Chinese and Americans may be different in many ways, but a comparison of some basic idioms shows that in some ways we think alike.
"Where there's smoke there's fire."
"Look before you leap."
"Where there's a will there's a way."
"At sixes and sevens."
"Birds of a feather flock together."
"Oil and water don't mix."
"Strike while the iron is hot."
"More haste, less speed."
"Out of sight, out of mind."
"All good things must come to an end."
"Great minds think alike."
"Too many cooks spoil the broth."
Both Chinese and Americans face life and death, love and hate, hope and fears work and play. All people's basic needs and philosophies are similar, even when their expression is clouded and confused by racial, cultural or political trappings. And it is these cultural common characteristics upon which we can build understanding, respect and communication.
If someone gave you a lily at any time other than Easter, you might be surprised because in our culture a lily is regarded as a symbol of death. Husbands here might feel hurt if some well-intentioned visitor gave their wives sexy undergarments. Those are just two examples of taboo gifts in America.
So it is with other cultures. 1 We can't possibly mention all of the taboos here—indeed, they probably are not all listed anywhere. However, the following list covers some key taboos:
The Japanese customarily wrap their gifts in paper, but they don't use white paper (color of death); they don't use bright colored paper; and they don't use bows.
Don't give four of anything to a Japanese or Korean; it is the "bad luck" number, like the number 13 in many cultures including the United States and England.
Don't give a clock to a Chinese; the word for clock in Chinese has a funeral connotation to it.
For someone from Hong Kong, giving two of something, or a pair, carries better luck than a single item.
Among Latin Americans, the gift of a knife or knives suggests the "cutting" of a relationship; yet this notion can be blunted by including a coin with the knives.
In the Middle East, a handkerchief suggests tears or parting, and therefore is inappropriate as a gift.
Flowers carry all kinds of symbolism: purple flowers are the flowers of death in Mexico and Brazil; the same with white flowers in Japan; and white chrysanthemums are the flower of death in many European countries. Also, it is considered bad luck in many European countries to present an even number of flowers. Therefore, always present an odd number (except 13, of course).
When you present flowers to a person from Germany, always unwrap the bouquet first.
Giving red roses in Germany signals that you have strong romantic interests. In fact, throughout history, the rose has signified "secrecy". Consider the Latin word sub rosa, meaning secret, and note that many confessional booths in Catholic churches have carvings of roses above the doors.
Giving a French person a gift of perfume is carrying the proverbial coals to Newcastle.
In the Middle East, any pictures of partially unclothed females (even of famous statues) or of pet animals, like dogs who are considered dirty and lowly, are inappropriate gifts.
In rank-conscious societies like Japan, be careful to present gifts in accordance with position and prestige. If several people are involved and you are uncertain about the hierarchy, give the group a joint gift (e. g., a silver tray, a carving, porcelain statue, fine molded glass).
Tone down corporate symbols on your gifts. Either make them very subtle or simply insert your business card with the gift.
Bridging Cultural Gaps Gracefully
Why is it that when you study a foreign language, you never learn the little phrases that let you slip into a culture without all your foreignness exposed? Every Chinese-language textbook starts out with the standard phrase for greeting people; but as an American, I constantly found myself tongue-tied when it came to seeing guests off at the door. An abrupt goodbye would not do, yet that was all I had ever learned from these books. So I would smile and nod, bowing like a Japanese and trying to find words that would smooth over the visitors' leaving and make them feel they would be welcome to come again. In my fluster, I often hid behind my Chinese husband's graciousness.
Then finally, listening to others, I began to pick up the phrases that eased relations and sent people off with a feeling of mission not only accomplished but surpassed.
Partings for the Chinese involve a certain amount of ritual and a great deal of oneupmanship. Although I'm not expected to observe or even know all the rules, as a foreigner, I've had to learn the expressions of politeness and protest that accompany a leave-taking.
The Chinese feel they must see a guest off to the farthest feasible point—down a flight of stairs to the street below or perhaps all the way to the nearest bus stop. I've sometimes waited half an hour or more for my husband to return from seeing a guest off, since he's gone to the bus stop and waited for the next bus to arrive.
For a less important or perhaps a younger guest, he may simply say, "I won't see you off, all right?" And of course the guest assures him that he would never think of putting him to the trouble of seeing him off. "Don't see me off! Don't see me off!"
That's all very well, but when I'm the guest being seen off, my protests are always useless, and my hostess or host, or both, insists on seeing me down the stairs and well on my way, with our going through the "Don't bother to see me off" ritual at every landing. If I try to go fast to discourage them from following, they are simply put to the discomfort of having to flee after me. Better to accept the inevitable.
Besides, that's going against Chinese custom, because haste is to be avoided. What do you say when you part from someone? Not "farewell" or "Godspeed", but "Go slowly." To the Chinese it means "Take care" or "Watch your step" or some other such caution, but translated literally it means "Go slowly."
That same "slowly" is used in another polite expression used by the host at the end of a particularly large and delicious meal to assure his guests what a poor and inadequate host he has been.
American and Chinese cultures are at polar opposites. An American hostess, complimented for her cooking skills, is likely to say, "Oh, I'm so glad that you liked it. I cooked it especially for you." Not so a Chinese host or hostess (often the husband does the fancy cooking), who will instead apologize for giving you "nothing" even slightly edible and for not showing you enough honor by providing proper dishes.
The same rules hold true with regard to children. American parents speak proudly of their children's accomplishments, telling how Johnny made the school team or Jane made the honor roll. Not so Chinese parents, whose children, even if at the top of their class in school, are always so "naughty", never studying, never listening to their elders, and so forth.
The Chinese take pride in "modesty"; the Americans in "straightforwardness". That modesty has left many a Chinese hungry at an American table, for Chinese politeness calls for three refusals before one accepts an offer, and the American hosts take a "no" to mean "no", whether it's the first, second, or third time.
Recently, a member of a delegation sent to China by a large American corporation complained to me about how the Chinese had asked them three times if they would be willing to modify some proposal, and each time the Americans had said "no" clearly and definitely. My friend was angry because the Chinese had not taken their word the first time. I recognized the problem immediately and wondered why the Americans had not studied up on cultural differences before coming to China. It would have saved them a lot of confusion and frustration in their negotiations.
Once you've learned the signals and how to respond, life becomes much easier. When guests come, I know I should immediately ask if they' d like a cup of tea. They will respond, "Please don't bother," which is my signal to fetch tea.
Unit 4 Festival
The winter holiday season is the most festive time of the year in the United States. Students from elementary school through college have about two weeks' vacation, beginning shortly before Christmas and ending soon after New Year's Day. Many families go away for the holidays, but those who stay home have fun, too. There are many parties to celebrate the birth of Christ and the arrival of the New Year.
In America, the spirit of Christmas arrives about a month before the holiday itself. Late in November, street lights and store windows are decorated with the traditional Christmas colors of red and green. Santa Claus, shepherd and angel scenes appear in shop windows. Winter scenes with snowmen, sleighs, skaters, and skiers decorate cards and windows.
The manufacture and sale of Christmas items is big business. Stores depend on Christmas shoppers for about one-fourth of their annual sales. Smart shoppers buy their gifts far in advance, before the Christmas rush makes shopping a chore.
Although Americans enjoy the commercial friendliness of Christmas, the most beautiful and meaningful parts of the holiday occur at home. Many families gather around the tree and open their gifts. Then they sit down to enjoy a traditional Christmas dinner—turkey or ham, sweet potatoes, vegetables, and cranberry sauce. Dessert is usually fruit cake, plum pudding, or apple pie.
Most of the Christmas customs which Americans enjoy today are variations of traditions brought here by European immigrants. These are some of the most popular customs:
Exchanging Gifts. The first Christmas gifts were those that the Three Wise Men brought to the infant Jesus. In the United States, it is customary to exchange gifts with family members and close friends. Both children and adults get Christmas presents, although children usually get many more.
Receiving Toys from Santa Claus. Many American children believe that on Christmas Eve, Santa Claus, (a fat, cheerful man who wears a red suit, red hat, and long white beard) slides down their chimney