My milkshakes bring all the boys to the yard

I have to try and be conscious of cultural differences when I’m teaching. There are some times when young kids will freak out if they think they see an iPhone in my pocket and they get all excited because it’s like some symbol of wealth. Just bringing a few stuffed toys to school caused one student to ask me “Are you rich ?” simply because I bought a new stuffed toy that week. But then there’s other times where I am the one who feels poor. In class last night I was getting a girl to draw Hello Kitty on the board and the rest of the class were having trouble guessing what it was, so I pulled out my phone because it has a Hello Kitty sticker on it. Mine is just a cheap Android phone, but it looks just like a Samsung Galaxy Note. Immediately after showing the class the sticker, one of the older students pulled out a real Galaxy Note and took a photo of me. I was like “Da fuck ? That 16 year old has a Galaxy Note… in Vietnam. He must have a rich family”. Suddenly I felt poor.

But there’s also cultural differences such as the importance of birthdays. In Vietnam, you do not get a year older on your birthday. Everyone’s age increases on the same day – the lunar new year, and on that day, you get “lucky money” from your family. Your actual birthday is not always such a big affair. It gets celebrated, and you will probably get a dinner in your honour and maybe a cake, and you might get gifts depending on how modern your family is.

But in class I have to remember that even my public school students do not always come from rich families. They are not necessarily going to get iPhones and Playstations for Christmas, so I have to be careful when I talk about such things. It would be very rude to assume that any given student might get a playstation or an xbox for their birthday because the response could quite likely be “We are poor. I will be lucky if I get new shoes for my birthday”.

But sometimes you don’t see the cultural differences coming. Last night, while practicing English with some students I made some comment or joke about milkshakes and it went straight over their heads. I said “You know… milk shake ?” but they all shook their heads. I described it. “You know.. Ice cream… kem ? and milk.. sua ? Maybe strawberry… dau”. Everyone shook their head and looked puzzled.

In the back of my mind something said “Asians are mostly lactose intolerant. They don’t drink milk therefore milkshakes are not part of their diet”. But I was still lost at sea, trying to grasp the concept that there were kids in the world who didn’t know what a strawberry milkshake was.

Sometimes life’s different. Sometimes you don’t grow up with strawberry milkshakes. Sometimes you do. Depends where you’re from. Sorry Kelis, but your milkshakes won’t bring all the boys to the yard… not in Vietnam.

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