When I was actively involved in the PTA, many parents asked me how to make rice balls. For any Japanese, this is a baffling question. How hard could it be to make a ball out of rice? Another Japanese parent wrote an illustrated recipe, thinking it would answer the question once and for all. But no.
It turns out all the American parents were using long-grain rice. If you are Japanese, “rice” is assumed to be short-grain. I have actually never seen long-grain rice in Japan. I’ve watched numerous YouTube videos of Japanese chefs making fried rice, and none of them used long grain, and they struggled to prevent the rice from sticking to each other.
The inverse is true for rice balls. Trying to make a ball out of long-grain rice would indeed be pretty hard. The problem for these American parents is that none of the supermarkets they frequent sell short-grain rice. You’d have to go to an Asian or Japanese grocery store.
What is interesting here is that it does not occur to Japanese parents to tell American parents to buy short-grain rice. And, it doesn’t occur to American parents to ask what kind of rice to get. Ironically, if the illustrated recipe included that critical piece of information, there would have been no need for the rest of the recipe.
Imagine what other misunderstandings exist between different cultures because we are blind to our own assumptions.
For instance, Americans assume specializing is how we gain authority. So, even high school students are pressured to figure out what they want to do for the rest of their lives.
Once, my wife saw a doctor for pain that ran from her shoulder to her wrist. He refused to comment about the pain in her shoulder because he was an elbow specialist. My American wife cried at the absurdity.
In Japan, employers don’t care much about what you studied in college because holistically seeing every problem is a sign of wisdom and maturity. My mom told me that to build a mountain high, you have to start wide. But as a student applying to college or a job in America, that’s not a good look. Unfortunately, in this world, less powerful people have to know the assumptions of more powerful people, but not vice versa.
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