Japanese culture

lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer

Posted on June 24, 2009. Filed under: American culture, chinese culture, education, Japanese culture | Tags: , , , , , , |

I see it coming, like a runaway train, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. The day after tomorrow school is over.  The kids will be home for the summer.

One of my kids’ favorite summer activities is  sitting on the floor behind my chair while I’m working, and fighting.  Another favorite activity is opening the refrigerator.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, Americans go to school about 180 days a year.  We have more days off than in school. Other countries, of course, think this is ridiculous. European and Asian kids spend more hours each day in school. Many attend school Saturdays. They have fewer vacations.  If a foreign school has 15 days more each year (from K-12), that equals another 180 days of study, or another entire school year.

I’ve met many Japanese and Chinese expats who are amazed to see how little homework their children get in the US schools. Many teachers give 10 minutes homework per grade (1st grade:10 min, 2nd grade:20 min), so by 6th grade students have 1 hour homework. American kids are asked to focus less time, and in one study gave up on tasks faster than their Asian counterparts who focused on solving the problem for a longer time.

And why do American high school kids finish class by 2:00  in the afternoon? What are they doing the rest of the day and who is around to supervise them?

US kids get 10 weeks vacation from school during the summer. Since we no longer need the children to harvest the fields, they should be sent back to the classroom. 4 weeks vacation seems generous. As an American,  I don’t think cramming kids all day, every day is a good idea. I value free time for kids  creativity, self discovery and social development.  But the summer vacation is archaic. The teacher’s union, probably the biggest block to a longer school year, needs to realize 183 days a year won’t cut it today in a global economy.

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Where do you draw the line?

Posted on January 30, 2009. Filed under: Asian culture, cross cultural conflict, education, family, Japanese culture | Tags: , , , , , |

We all know about “when in Rome, do as the Romans do”.  Culturally sensitive people will try to fit in and not offend members of the culture they are visiting. For me, this included wearing long sleeves and long pants in Malaysia, even when it was hot, hot, hot. I’d rather be too hot than insulting. I wasn’t comfortable, but it was something I would put up with.

But where do you draw the line? When do you say, no, I can’t abide by that part of your culture. It goes against my deepest beliefs, and I just won’t do it.

I was delivering a workshop on Communication Strategies for Asians Doing Busines in the US, and we were discussing the importance of selling yourself in American culture. You need to be comfortable, I pointed out, discussing your strengths without self-deprecation. What’s great about you? Speak up. In US business culture, it’s not bragging if it is an honest assessment of yourself presented in the proper context. (for example, a job interview or request for a raise)  You need to know your strengths and be able to talk about them openly and with conviction.

This trait is so valued, I said, that school children are taught about it in the context of developing self esteem. I then showed them a worksheet my daughter had in school.  It was a fill in the blanks worksheet:

The best thing about me is _________

I’m really good at ___________

I’m proud that I can ____________.

and so on.

One Japanese gentleman in the workshop, who had been sent by his company for a 3-year rotation in the US, said that his daughter had brought home a similar worksheet from her school. He and his wife were so upset, that  soon after they pulled her from the school and put her in a Japanese school instead. His explanation was this: He didn’t want his daughter (who was 6) to develop these types of American values. At first, he thought it would be a great opportunity for her to attend an American school, perfect her English skills and learn about a new culture. But he worried that when they returned to Japan when she was 9 that she would bring these values back with her. She would face all sorts of problems. These were not the values he wanted for his daughter.  Talking about how great you were is where he drew the line.

Learn more about navigating the American school system here.

Have you ever been in an intercultural situation where you said, no, I can’t support that.  This goes too much against my beliefs. What happened to make you draw the line?

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English: the amazing flexi-bendy language

Posted on January 3, 2009. Filed under: American culture, French culture, Japanese culture, language |

American English, like America itself, is always welcoming the new. It is a flexible and creative language, open to new words and new word forms.  It’s the language that brought you Frienamy (the friend who turned out to be an enemy), ginormous (giganitc and enormous) and Chindia (China and India), to mention a few. Each year, Mirriam-Webster dictionary selects a new “word of the year” to add to our ever expanding lexicon.

I was reading TIME magazine end of year List Issue (Americans love lists, but that’s another posting), which of course, always includes the top 10 buzzwords of the year. I knew most (like “staycation” and “puma”) and had to look up a few (apparently “nuke the fridge”  is the new “jump the shark”).  

Playing with language is fun for Americans. Not so for other cultures. The French, for example, take their language extremely seriously. The Académie Française, founded in 1635, is the guardian of the language. They will not let you just bring any old word into the French language. Changes in usage, vocabulary or grammar have to be discussed, debated and approved.

The Japanese are also wary of foreign or new words. The Japanese have 3 wrting systems: Kanji,  Hiragana  and Katakana. Katakana is used for  words adopted from foreign languages. The Japanese will use these words, but they are clearly marked as foreign because they are written in katakana.

English not only creates new words and word forms, but happily blends languages as well. Anyone who lives in New York City is fairly familiar with Spanglish.  Everyone is welcome to create blends that reflects their cultures and languages, like when I tell my (Jewish/Dominican) daughter “Ay! Que shaina punim tu tienes! ”   

As I have said and will say again (and again), language and culture can’t be separated. American English is like America: open, creative, often valuing the new over the traditional. The French view foreign and new words as questionable: Do they meet our cultural standards? And, with the Japanese, you can join the language but you will always be marked (through katakana) as an outsider.

Some linguistic conservatives, it’s true, don’t like all this blending, creating and mixing.  I love it.

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