Tag Archives: culture

Food and drink

Why Didn’t They Offer Me Food or Drink?

As an international visitor to the U.S., do you ever wonder, “Why didn’t my host offer me food or drink?” I think many Internationals find it astonishing (maybe even rude) when they visit an American home or business and aren’t offered food or drink. For these dear friends, let me say that many native-born Americans don’t grow up with your hospitality norms. I know that I grew up offering visitors a place to sit, but I wasn’t expected to offer a drink or snack.
I didn’t experience the “food and drink” type of hospitality until I met my first international friend. When I entered her home, I received a drink almost immediately and food quickly followed. I considered it a nice change, but not something that I expected.
After many years of walking alongside international students and families, I now know that serving food and drink to guests is the norm in many countries. In fact, some of my friends expect me to eat a complete meal while I’m at their house, with multiple servings. As an American, this takes some adjustment because our mealtimes aren’t always on the same schedule. If I eat lunch at home at 1 p.m., I may not be able to eat a whole meal again at 2 or 3 p.m.!
Nevertheless, I’ve grown to like my friends’ amazing hospitality, and I try to imitate them to the the best of my ability. Although I rarely cook a full meal when others come to my house, I offer a drink and snack. Of course, the snack may not be much if I’m unprepared, lol. Believer it or not, remembering to keep food around for guests isn’t an easy habit to develop if you didn’t grow up doing it.
Easy or not, hospitality centered around food and drink is fully biblical. Because of my international friends, I now understand my own Scriptures better. Stories like Abraham inviting the three strangers into his home (Genesis 18) and Martha’s frustration with Mary (Luke 10) are stories centered around hospitality. Even Jesus’ last time with the disciples before he died was centered around food and hospitality (John 13). I completely missed this aspect of the stories before becoming accustomed to abundant hospitality! 
Because of my background, I doubt that I’ll ever feel disrespected if someone forgets to offer me food or drink when I visit. However, I want those who visit our house to be glad they came and feel welcomed. For some, this means offering food and drink, and that’s terrific. It helps me practice my “abundant hospitality” skills.
Meet you at the door with a glass of water and some chips!
Photo by Vanderdecken, via Wikimedia Commons


When Did Thanksgiving Begin? It’s Complicated!

The first “Thanksgiving” was a 3-day harvest festival celebrated by the original English colonists in 1621. After enduring a terrible sea voyage, brutal winter, and multiple deadly diseases, the remaining colonists were thankful that they had survived! Indeed, they wouldn’t have survived a second year if the Wampanoag Indians, whom they invited to the festivities, had been unfriendly. Instead, these Native Americans taught the colonists how to grow corn, extract maple syrup, and, basically, survive in this “new world.” Sadly, the peaceful co-existence between the colonists and Native Americans only lasted one generation (which is a long story for another day).

Over time, various states held festivities and a few of the early presidents, including George Washington, proclaimed national thanksgivings. However, the national holiday we know as Thanksgiving didn’t exist until 200 years after the original one. And it came into existence because of a very determined woman who campaigned 36 years to make it happen!

In 1827 Sarah Josepha Hale, a well-known magazine editor, began petitioning politicians and writing articles to encourage adding Thanksgiving as a national holiday. In 1863, during the middle of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln finally declared two holidays, one in August as a memorial to the Gettysburg Battle and one in November as a general giving of thanks.

Nevertheless, until 1941 the President of the U.S. determined the day to be honored as Thanksgiving each year. Customarily, the fourth Thursday of November was chosen, in keeping with Lincoln’s original November celebration. However, in 1939 F.D. Roosevelt moved the holiday up a week to encourage more shopping (obviously, shopping and Thanksgiving were already closely linked). The American public had a fit over the change! Two years later, Congress passed a bill setting the fourth Thursday of November as the official day of American Thanksgiving.

Nowadays, Thanksgiving evolves around food, family and friends, football…and shopping! Although the foods and activities have greatly changed (watch the video below to see what I didn’t mention), it is still a time to give God thanks for all of our blessings and to enjoy the people that are dear to us. For those reasons, Thanksgiving is one of my favorite American holidays!


Do You Have Too Much Optimism?

“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond to it.” Lou Holtz, retired American football player

This was the answer to a cryptogram puzzle that I once completed. My first reaction was, “Yes, that’s probably true!” and my second was, “That is SUCH an American statement!”

Americans, on the whole, are an optimistic people. One thing many of us like to say is, “If life hands you lemons, make lemonade!” We BELIEVE in the power of positive thinking. Our bookstores are filled with self-help books like “The How of Happiness,” “Learned Optimism,” and “Creating Optimism.” 

Once upon a time, I couldn’t imagine anything wrong with that viewpoint. After all, some studies show that people who are optimistic have longer, healthier lives. That’s good, right?!

Well, yes, BUT…did you know that too much optimism is seen as a negative trait by many other cultures? As Craig Storti says, “The deep faith Americans have that things will always work out and that nothing is impossible makes many non-Americans nervous, and likewise makes it difficult for them to entirely trust what Americans say” (Americans at Work, pg. 24). What we perceive as an upbeat attitude (“I think I can, I think I can”) is viewed as naivety by some and arrogance by others.

Does this mean that I think we should all become sourpusses? Heavens, no! The world definitely doesn’t need more frowns and sighs. However, I do think we need to realize that over-the-top optimism doesn’t appeal to everyone. Words that encourage one person might dissuade someone else. Actions that inspire me might make someone else doubtful. An increased understanding of our own culturally shaped worldview can help us respond to others in ways that THEY will appreciate and understand.

Now, get out there and “Be all that you can be” and “Just Do It!” After all, “practice makes perfect!”       

Photo by Theen Moy

driving license

A Driving License Is a MUST in the U.S.!

Recently, I helped an international friend study for her U.S. driving license. She passed both the written and driving portions her first time! I was so proud of her. But do you know what scared the dickens out of me? The fact that this friend had been driving here for over 10 years on her original country’s license because she was so afraid of the test! That is a HUGE no-no in the U.S. and can result in large penalties if caught. If you’re going to drive in the U.S., you MUST get your license!

For my friend, much of her fear was based on a language barrier. She didn’t feel comfortable taking the test in English and was afraid of trying. However, with one call to the licensing office, we found out that she could take the test in her native language. Problem solved!

For another friend who struggled with the test, the questions themselves were a problem. Thankfully, free, online testing tools (sometimes in your own language) can help if you need assistance reviewing the information for the test.

Before you feel like the licensing office is “out to get you,” you need to know that even those of us who are native-born must get a new license if we move from one state to another. When we move, we normally have 30 days to register and license our vehicle in the new state. If we do not do this in a timely manner, we are fined. (Yes, I speak from personal experience here. We paid $250 for not immediately doing this when we moved to a different state.) Then we still have to cover the cost of car inspections, registration, and licensing in that state! This fine doesn’t cover these costs.

As you can see, owning a motor vehicle in the U.S., carries a lot of responsibility. And, in case you don’t know, the U.S. takes its paperwork very seriously. So, please make sure that you get a driving license and file all of the necessary paperwork when you own and drive a car. You’ll save yourself a lot of time, expense, and hassle by taking care of these requirements right away!

P.S. As a side note, police officers in the U.S. CANNOT be bribed. In fact, you will be put in jail for trying to bribe an officer. Please don’t try to bribe your way out of a fine!
Photo by Loren Javier

Do YOU Understand Tipping?

Tipping in the U.S. can be confusing! This is especially true if you come from a country where tipping is discouraged or where a set service charge is normal. Oh, who am I kidding? Tipping in the U.S. confuses us all!

Here are just a few examples of how crazy it is! I go to a restaurant that is buffet style (meaning that I get my own food from a counter). However, a waitress brings my drinks and cleans my table when I leave. Do I tip her?

Or, I go to a restaurant and receive mediocre service. When I was growing up, poor service meant no tip! Now, tips are almost mandated so I think to myself, “Do I tip the waiter 15% because that’s the standard? Do I tip 10% to let him know that the service wasn’t good? Or do I tip 20% because I know he’s dependent upon this income and I want to be generous?” Decisions, decisions.

Or, what about the tip jar that has shown up almost everywhere! You find them at coffeehouses, pet groomers, ice cream shops, and even fast food joints (although they’re often used as charitable donations there). Our tipping frenzy has gotten out of control!

I don’t know about you, but I walk away from many of these instances feeling: 1) guilty (because I “should” have given more); 2) self-righteous (because I gave more than “deserved”); or 3) downright cheated (because, after all, what am I paying the company for if it isn’t for the service?). No matter what I do, the whole tipping thing never feels right! So, why do I do it? Why do Americans leave tips?!

Sadly, tipping is currently an integral part of our economic system. In fact, over 3% of our workforce is dependent (yes, dependent) on tips. Service workers often make less than minimum wage because their employers expect them to receive tips. Legally, an employer can pay a worker just $2.13/hour if the worker accepts tips. Although many consider this unethical, tipping will remain an expected part of receiving certain services as long as the law allows employers to underpay their employees.

So, to answer the question, Americans tip because we know that many of the people providing services NEED us to tip. The confusion comes in the wide variety of services we now receive plus our ignorance about who is underpaid and who isn’t. For instance, does the employer of the person scooping my ice cream REALLY expect me to tip them for doing their job?! I truly hope not because I haven’t succumbed to the social pressure to tip this person yet.
Sheala Vastbinder - TipsNow that you know why to tip, here’s an infographic from MintLife that tells you what to tip for specific services. Welcome to the wacky world of tipping in the U.S.! See you in the coffee line.

Photo by He Who Would Be Lost.