Act like an American

Recently, to review our unit on the US in my Survey of English speaking countries course, I put the students in groups and had them act out different situations based on what they’ve learned from different sections of the textbook. Most of their knowledge came from the textbook, or bits and pieces from American TV or movies. The skits were pretty good, but there were many factual errors that were distinctly (and hilariously) un-American. Usually it was something small that the students had no way of knowing. Many times it reminded me of how very different life is in China and in America. Here are some tidbits that made me laugh.

Unlike China, where single-family houses are a rarity and living in the city center is preferable, we discussed how it’s common for people in the States to live in their own house with a yard outside the city. In one skit, set in the suburbs, neighbors greet each other by saying hello, which echoed across the (very exaggerated) distance between their houses.

Another thing the textbook mentioned about the suburbs was that people have to drive a lot to get around, so they usually go to the grocery store and stock up on staples by buying in bulk. One student drove to the grocery store and bought “20 boxes of milk.” (Fresh milk is hard to come by in China. Instead, UHT milk is usually sold, unrefrigerated on supermarket shelves in boxes or thick plastic pouches.) Many Chinese think that Americans loooove dairy products, so I love that the student chose to stock up in milk, which is one of the only things that Americans buy one at a time!

After getting in an argument about race (pretty much a Rosa Parks reenactment), one student called the police by dialing 110 (the Chinese number for the cops isn’t 911!)

A mother picked up her daughter from kindergarten and then took her to the public library (because the book mentioned that even small towns have a public library that serves a variety of purposes). Then she told her daughter to study and said that she’d pick her up at 9:00 pm. A kindergartner?!?! I don’t know if this says much about Chinese culture, I think it just reflects poorly on the group’s scriptwriting abilities. But it made me laugh 🙂

In a skit explaining the process of presidential elections and the republican and democratic nominees, one candidate stepped up to the podium with a dramatic fall and exclaimed “Oh! F***!” Then he brushed himself off and continued his race for the presidency. (Many students try to use slang or swear words in skits because they are proud to show they know how to use non-classroom terminology, and because I think they watch too many r-rated movies?!?)

In another election skit, the two candidates each gave their speeches, one promising “homosexual rights,” the other promising “to give poor people money”. Afterwards, excited voters waving their ballots ran up to the candidate of their choice and personally handed them their vote. The process of voting is still not really understood in Communist China…

Likewise, praying before a meal is not practiced here. So I had a good laugh when students asked me “how to pray” before indulging in their Thanksgiving feast.

In a scene about celebrating Christmas, a man saw a beggar on the street and gave him a Christmas tree. (I guess that’s the spirit of the season, right?!?)

In another Christmas skit, Santa knocked on the house’s door to give a little kid his present. The idea of an imaginary fat man sliding down a chimney doesn’t translate very well.

The semester is rapidly coming to an end. Just four more weeks of classes, then two weeks of exams. There is some light at the end of the tunnel! (And plenty more opportunities to have a rip roarin’ good time in class.)

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5 thoughts on “Act like an American

  1. Too funny! This reminds me of some cultural differences when living in Germany, but yours are so much… more. For example, what do they think is the capital of the US? A lot of Europeans thought it was New York City.

  2. There are so many moments in class that make me take a step back and realize that I’M IN CHINA! I think my students are aware that D.C. is the capital of the US, but they aren’t familiar with many states. They are, however, familiar with NBA team names/cities!

  3. This is great! I should have done something like this. Did you ever play them American music?

  4. Kimberly — I’m not yet a true “regular” but Aunt Jane added you to my bookmarks bar so I’m more likely to stay current. Your students may have been thinking of the Perkins’ family when they bought dairy in bulk: we visited Sam’s Club today and purchased 8 gallons of skim milk!!

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