Intonation, stress, and my Godiva chocolates

Posted on May 10, 2009. Filed under: American culture, celebrations, language, nonverbal communication | Tags: , , , , , |

I was woken up this morning with a lovely breakfast in bed for Mother’s Day. Actually, I had been up for about 10 minutes, and really wanted to pee and brush my teeth, but I thought it best to fake sleeping until I heard the rattle of the breakfast tray being carried down the hall by my beloved children, so as not to ruin their “surprise”.

One of my presents was a box of Godiva truffles,  which, by the way, I plan to finish before the end of the day. As I opened them, I saw Carlita looking longingly at the box.

“Would you like one?” I asked, with rising intonation, typical of a question asked in English. She smiled and took the coconut cream.

I looked at my husband. “Would YOU like one?” I asked, stressing the word you, because he doesn’t really eat sweets, and I wasn’t expecting that he would take it. ” Maybe later” he said.

Finally, I looked at Calvin, my teenage son who is capable of  inhaling the entire refrigerator at one sitting. “Would you like ONE?” I asked, stressing the word one, to let him know this was my candy, and I wasn’t giving it all away.

I had asked 3 people the same question, but each time it carried a very different meaning. Stress and intonation in English carry the bulk of the message, which is why English language learners often miss the subtle nuances in conversation. They tend to focus on the vocabulary and grammar. As native speakers, we all understood the differences in meaning  without an overt explanation. They also understood, without overt explanation, that they’d better not touch the raspberry dark chocolate one.

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Family, friends and the open invitation

Posted on March 1, 2009. Filed under: American culture, celebrations, cross cultural, cross cultural miscommunication, family, hispanic culture, time | Tags: , , , , , |

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that my husband is Dominican. I’m very familiar with Hispanic culture, although understanding it doesn’t always make it easier to put up with things that really go against my American ways.

The whole time thing makes me nuts. For Americans, time controls the event. Events have a starting time and and ending time, and often these are scheduled in advance.  For Hispanics, the event controls time.  Yes, I know the dinner invitation said 7:30, but my wife always takes forever getting ready, and then a good friend called whom I haven’t spoken to in a while, then I felt like taking a nap, and that’s why I’m here at 10:15. Oh, and by the way, I brought my cousin, his son and a friend they had visiting from back home.

At first, I used to get angry. What’s so hard about being here on time? Why can’t you at least give me the heads up that you want to bring extra people? To be fair though, I’m sure my Dominican friends and family thought I was insane when I said my daughter’s birthday party was from 1:30-3:00 (she was 5).

So now I just enjoy the role of Gringa Fria when it suits me. I’m THE AMERICAN WIFE. If you don’t confirm with at least 24 hours notice, I’m counting you out. If I’m expecting 6, I cook for 6. Even if 11 show up. You can share.

Maybe that’s why our house isn’t the most popular place for Dominican get togethers….

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Posted on January 1, 2009. Filed under: celebrations |

Do you know someone who speaks another language? Here’s how to wish them a happy new year!

1. Arabic: Kul ‘aam u antum  salimoun

2. Chinese: Xin Nian Hao

3. Czechoslavakia: Scastny Novy Rok

4. Dutch: Gullukkig Niuw Jaar

5. Finnish: Onnellista Uutta Vuotta

6. French: Bonne Annee

7. German: Prosit Neujahr

8. Greek: Eftecheezmaenos o Kaenooryos hronos

9. Hebrew: L’Shannah Tovah Tikatevu

10. Hindi: Niya Saa Moobaarak


12. Italian: Buon Capodanno

13. Japanese: Akemashite omedeto u gozaimasu

14. Laotian: Sabai dee pee mai

15. Polish: Szczesliwego Nowego Roku

16. Portuguese: Feliz Ano Novo

17. Russian: S Novim Godom

18. Spanish: Feliz Ano Neuvo

19. Turkish: Mutlu Yıllar

20. Vietnamese: Cung-Chuc Tan Xuan


Although most NYers would like to believe it, not everyone around the world is waiting for the ball to drop in Times Square.

Here are 10 ways the new year is celebrated around the world. Try one next year!

  1. Spain: eat 12 grapes at the stroke of midnight
  2. Denmark: at midnight, stand on a chair and jump off
  3. Columbia: wear red or yellow underwear for good luck
  4. Finland: drop molten tin into water. The resulting shape will forcast the next year.
  5. China: scare away bad spirits with dragon dances, lion dances and plenty of fire crackers
  6. Japan: strike a temple bell 108 times to curb 108 desires that torment humankind
  7. Denmark: throw old dishes at friends’ and loved one’s houses
  8. Peru: burning elaborate effigies of notable people from the previous year
  9. Scotland: first footer- the first person who steps into your house in the new year will set your luck for the next year. Traditionally the best “first footers” are considered tall, black-haired men bearing gifts
  10. Norway: prepare rice pudding with one whole almond mixed in. Whoever gets the lucky almond will have wealth and luck in the New Year

How do you celebrate the New Year?

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