"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Friday, November 30, 2012

November Books

These books on Europe make me want to go back. I've never been to France or Italy. Maybe 2013 will be the year to visit one or the other, hmmm?  At least I can visit them in books.  Seriously, when I read books I often feel I'm there. Especially when places, people and food are described in such detail as this first one.

On Rue Tatin: Living and Cooking in a French Town by Susan Herrman Loomis -- An American couple moves to France, buys a house (a really cool house from the sound of it) and fixes it up.  But this is also about a lady who writes books on cooking. So this book is a nice mix of life in France with talk of French people, French quirks, fixing up an old French house, French cooking, buying school supplies for her son, her son's school experience, buying a stove and visiting Paris (and more).  Curious what the house looks like?  Here's a slideshow and article about it.

I enjoyed the bit on "tuyau," a system "vaguely comparable to bypassing authorities." It ranges from being part of a group who orders, say, wine in order to get a discount from the vintner to things which seem much more like cheating. But it's the way of life there - and a way to bypass the very high taxes in France. Apparently, it's just part of the culture.  (see pg. 76)

Other interesting bits:

The time the author held a dinner party and invited all sorts of friends only later to be called by her best French friend informing her that that particular grouping would never happen if a French person were planning the invitation list. Why? French friend's husband is a centrist politician whereas teachers - of whom the author invited a couple - were known to be left of the left and the two always felt so much at odds with the other, they didn't mix! (pg. 125)

French teachers yell at their students, and parents in general yell at their children more. In fact the author had a hard time coming to grips with French parenting styles: leaving their children in their bedrooms to cry it out and so forth

The French simply didn't understand the reason for baby showers in the American sense.  Apparently if you are middle class or lower, you got a sum from the government to purchase needed baby items. 

At Any Price by Patricia Roush -- an American woman works to get her daughters back after her Saudi ex-husband takes them from the United States to Saudi Arabia; this book disgusted me on so many levels

Out of the Garden: Women Writers of the Bible  by various authors (nearly thirty) -- see more in this post and this one on Hannah

Amarcord by Marcella Hazan  -- "the remarkable life story of the woman who started out teaching science in a small town in Italy, but ended up teaching Americans how to cook Italian" -- Actually Marcella seemed to teach not just Americans, but people from all over the world how to cook Italian food. I enjoyed reading Marcella's story of growing up in Italy and later her life in the United States and abroad.

Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James W. Loewen -- the author discusses the biased slant of most of our high school textbooks and gives us a fuller picture of Columbus, the first Thanksgiving, racism, the war in Vietnam, and more.

"History is not a set of fact but a series of arguments, issues, and controversies."  (pg. 41)

"Columbus is not a hero in Mexico, even though Mexico is much more Spanish in culture than the United States and might be expected to take pride in this hero of Spanish history.  Why not?  Because Mexico is also much more Indian than the United States, and Mexicans perceive Columbus as white and European.  'No sensible Indian person,' wrote George P. Horse Capture, 'can celebrate the arrival of Columbus.'  Cherishing Columbus is a characteristic of white history, not American history."  (pg. 64)

"It is painful to advert to these things. But our forefathers, though wise, pious, and sincere, were nevertheless, in respect to Christian charity, under a cloud; and, in history, truth should be held sacred, at whatever cost . . . especially against the narrow and futile patriotism, which, instead of pressing forward in pursuit of truth, takes pride in walking backwards to cover the slightest nakedness of our forefathers." —COL. THOMAS ASPINWALL  (pg. 70)

see more quotes and commentary in this post

Monday, November 26, 2012

On America and Textbooks

So I have a friend from school who is now an assistant professor at one of the UNC schools. Her field is Social Studies, and she recommended a book she knew I'd enjoy, Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen. I found it at my local library and have been posting bits from it on Facebook the last several days.

Stuff like this:

For all the talk about SC being for states' rights, did you realize they opposed states' rights when it came to free states not wanting to enforce the Fugitive Slave Clause? It was "an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery" which "led to a disregard of their obligations" that South Carolinians complained about. They wanted people in free states to capture and return slaves. How is that for imposing your will on states?  (pg. 139)

and this: 

Anyone surprised that when our nation had a chance to help the "second independent nation in the hemisphere" the President's status as slave owner (or not) seemed to determine whether or not we helped Haiti in its quest for freedom or funnel money to France as they continued dominating the small country? Washington and Jefferson - both slave owners - helped France suppress its slaves in Haiti. John Adams, a non slave owner, lent the Haitians support.   (pg. 150)

and this:

"Indian history is the antidote to the pious ethnocentrism of American exceptionalism, the notion that European Americans are God's chosen people.  Indian history reveals that the United States and its predecessor British colonies have wrought great harm in the world. We must not forget this - not to wallow in our wrongdoing, but to understand and to learn, that we might not wreak harm again. We must temper our national pride with critical self-knowledge...'The study of our contact with Indians, the envisioning of our dark American selves, can instill such a strengthening doubt.'  History through red eyes offers our children a deeper understanding than comes from encountering the past as a story of inevitable triumph of the good guys."  (pg. 134)

I've even read parts to Andrew, and he asked yesterday, "Does this guy say anything nice about America or does he hate it?"

Oy!  Apparently I was reading most of the negative things. Well to be sure, the book would likely be labeled "negative towards America" if one grew up on high school history textbooks which overwhelmingly seem to support America as the peace-loving hero of the world with very few flaws.  Andrew tends to view it that way. Or did. Maybe. I remember when I first met Samer and started learning about my country and telling Andrew this non-American point of view. He warned, "Don't let him turn you against America now!" 

Ah, my sweet, innocent Andrew. :)

Well, today I read this statement and it seemed perfect. 

"By taking the government's side, textbooks encourage students to conclude that criticism is incompatible with citizenship.  And by presenting government actions in a vacuum, rather than as responses to such institutions as multinational corporations and civil rights organizations, textbooks mystify the creative tension between the people and their leaders. All this encourages students to throw up their hands in the belief that the government determines everything anyway, so why bother, especially if its actions are usually so benign. Thus, our American history textbooks minimize the potential power of the people and, despite their best patriotic efforts, take a stance that is overtly antidemocratic."  (pg. 243)

It explains the apathy with voting among some groups, the lack of interest many take in politics, even that view that if you criticize the US, you are somehow less patriotic.  Funny how that works because many people criticize Presidential administrations when their party is not in power.  Yet, if you dare tell the truth about the US's involvement in assassinations or vote tampering or torture or unjust wars or even its origins where all men are created equal as long as you were white, it's somehow not very patriotic.

I have increasingly had my American bubble burst the last several years. I realize we aren't all that special. We are made up of men and women just as depraved - and just as good - as the rest of humanity. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Culture and Proper Manners

Ladies, did you grow up thinking properly-mannered men would open doors for you and allow you to proceed first from buildings and elevators?   Or did you conclude that this is traditional garbage that needs to go the way of thinking women are property of their husbands and fathers?

Just this week I finished a memoir, Amarcord, by an Italian lady Marcella Hazan who apparently is famous for writing cookbooks and teaching classical Italian cooking.  She tells of a visit to Japan in 1969 where she'd been "told of Japanese women's deference toward men, but my romantic Italian mentality, formed by tales of the age of chivalry and gallant knights, had refused to take it in."  Yet she saw it firsthand as her husband was served first in restaurants and where "waitresses fawned over Victor."  Even when she approached a door at the same time as a Japanese man, he "would rush past me to spare me the embarrassment of preceding him through it." 

Marcella remembers a time when she and her husband were in a hotel elevator in Tokyo, and "a big American man entered."  At the next floor two Japanese women in kimonos came in. Can you guess what happened when they reached the lobby?

"The Japanese women stood aside, with a smile and a hint of a bow, waiting for the man to exit first.  The tall American smiled back and waited for the ladies to go.  We were stuck in the back.  Nobody moved, the doors closed, and the elevator, with all its passengers still in place, rose to the uppermost floor again."

(pg. 118-119)

Marcella said she still giggles about this, and it is quite funny to visualize! 

So, culturally speaking, what is proper where you are from?  Do you tend to grab doors for ladies? Offer seats to older men and women? Defer to men?  What is proper where you live? It's good to know what is expected in other places so we won't all be riding the hotel elevator up and down all day, right?

Additional question: what is something you've had to do differently in another culture when you were visiting another country or even another group within your own country?  I remember when we went to Syria the only thing Samer told us not to do (because I asked about this prior to our traveling there) was not to offer to shake hands with guys (for me) or ladies (for Andrew) unless that person offered his/her hand first.

One of his friends "complained" that I didn't shake his hand, and "blamed" Samer for this!  He taught us well!  :)

(So, I read a book about a lady famous for cooking and post about a cultural tidbit... you see what interests me.)

Friday, November 16, 2012

Opinions Wanted: American Involvement

My sister is taking an American culture something something class at the local community college. It's basically an online class of essays and papers. Her latest topic made me curious about your opinions because I've heard both sides. You don't have to write a paper, but which way do you tend to be and why?

I'd love to hear your opinion whether or not you are an American or have ever lived here. In fact, I'd enjoy the opinion of nonAmericans about this topic.

Here is what her teacher gave them ... 

"America should just forget the rest of the world. When we try to help, they take advantage of us. When we try to do what we have to in order to defend ourselves, we are viewed as evil. Well, if they don't appreciate us, fine. If they don't like us, fine. We should just stay at home, keep our money here, and if the rest of the world wants to go to heck in a hand basket, fine by me!" Either agree or disagree with this sentiment and defend your answer.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Breaking and Confirming Stereotypes

I can't even remember how we got on the subject now.  All I know is that Samer and I were talking the other day, and the subject of Americans came up.  Maybe we were talking about stereotypes because the next thing I know, I'm jotting down notes as he lists ways I broke his stereotype of people from the United States, and things I confirmed about it.

Oh, I may have mentioned Malik's post about differences in US thoughts of dogs compared to Arab Muslims' thoughts of dogs. And also Amber's comment about her thinking Southern culture was in some ways similar to Arab culture.  I think we were talking about those topics as they tend to be some of my favorite.

Anyway, here is what I noted:


* I am emotional, therefore, not the "cold Westerner" type he sees in Germany.

* I have a love for foreign stuff. I easily warm up to foreigners and am open to other points of view.

* I am not stubborn - meaning I am OK with changing my mind about things if I see that I've been wrong

* I am not brainwashed by the media

*  I don't watch a lot of TV, movies, and am not overly-concerned with following celebrities.

* I am not hardheaded re: US patriotism and foreign policy


* I am easy-going

* I am friendly

* I like jokes

* I have an American accent

I would qualify most of these because I am not always easy-going or friendly, and sometimes I am very much stubborn. But I am thankful that Samer sees me in a good light most days.

(Good thing this topic didn't come up the day I was ranting about Patricia Roush's daughters being stolen by her Saudi ex-husband because I wasn't very nice about men, Arabs, Muslims, the idea that children belong to their fathers, or mixed-cultural relationships that day.  Thankfully Samer is forgiving ... )

Have you ever had a foreign friend who shared how you either confirmed or broke stereotypes he or she had of people from the United States (or where ever you are from)? What was on your list?  What things do you believe most foreigners have right about your people? Wrong? 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

OT women: Hannah

I'm still reading the book I told you about in the last post, Out of the Garden: Women Writers of the Bible.   The latest discussions have been on Hannah. Remember the mother of Samuel?

There was something two or three writers mentioned about her prayer in the Temple.  What stands out to you about it? Do you remember anything you've been taught or deduced from it over the years?

I'm curious about your thoughts to see what stands out to you from this story - if anything.

From I Samuel 1,

There was a certain man from Ramathaim, a Zuphite[a] from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. He had two wives; one was called Hannah and the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none.
Year after year this man went up from his town to worship and sacrifice to the Lord Almighty at Shiloh, where Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli, were priests of the Lord. Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the Lord had closed her womb. Because the Lord had closed Hannah’s womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the Lord, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat. Her husband Elkanah would say to her, “Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?”
Once when they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh, Hannah stood up. Now Eli the priest was sitting on his chair by the doorpost of the Lord’s house. 10 In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly. 11 And she made a vow, saying, “Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.”
12 As she kept on praying to the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. 13 Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk 14 and said to her, “How long are you going to stay drunk? Put away your wine.”
15 “Not so, my lord,” Hannah replied, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord. 16 Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.”
17 Eli answered, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.”
18 She said, “May your servant find favor in your eyes.” Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast.
19 Early the next morning they arose and worshiped before the Lord and then went back to their home at Ramah. Elkanah made love to his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. 20 So in the course of time Hannah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel,[b] saying, “Because I asked the Lord for him.”