Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Same sky: Eating grapes in Japan

This post is all (or mostly) about eating grapes, and before I tell you why I'm thinking about that, I'd like you to think about how you would normally eat grapes. Done? Hold this thought, it will become important later.

Now, some background for this topic: over at the Nerd's Eye View blog at the moment, Pam's got an interesting post up about etiquette for travellers - and a very funny story about some Japanese visitors to her company in Austria, who were quite confused when all the employees started greeting each other with the word "Mahlzeit". Literally it means "meal time", and they commonly used it where I lived in southern Germany too, especially as a greeting in the middle of the day. The Japanese visitors in Pam's story heard this as "Mozart", which they thought was quite appropriate since they were in Salzburg, but more than a little strange!

Pam's current contest is about cultural misunderstandings, and I've had my fair share of them. My stomach will never forget the problem of counting in Slovakia, for example, where they hold up different fingers to me when counting, and I kept winding up with three hot dogs when I thought I'd ordered two.

Perhaps one of the funniest cultural clashes I remember was a really simple situation - probably because these are the times when you least expect some cultural clanger to happen. When I was living in Japan, the parents of one of my good friends invited me around to their house for dinner. It was a great meal of traditional Japanese foods, and then we all settled back to watch the video the parents had taken on their recent cruise in Europe. While we watched, there was a plate of grapes to nibble on for dessert.

Me with Nobuko, provider of grapes!
After an hour or so of footage of the cruise ship, short trips ashore and more footage of the ship, my friend's mother switched the light back on and started to clean up. When she got to the plate of grapes in front of me - now nearly empty - she paused. She looked at me, looked around on top of the table, and even looked under the table. I had no idea what she was doing.

Eventually, she asked me where the grape skins were. The grape skins? I'd eaten them, of course, although I had noticed they were a bit tougher and chewier than the grapes back home. She explained that I should have peeled the grapes before eating them. Now that was something I'd never thought of. Luckily, we all laughed about it, but I was always wary of Japanese grapes after that.


  1. Haha, cultural clashes are so fun. I mean, unless politics are involved.

    One Caucasian friend of mine told me a story about when he was teaching English in Japan.

    One night, he (an American) was having a dinner party with several Brits and Scots and Aussies. At one time, the conversation missed a beat because they all had different words for "paper towel" or "toilet paper" (I forget exactly which).

  2. Very true, Terry, even when people are supposedly speaking the same language! Americans often have a hard time understanding the Australian vocab (but we Aussies aren't too bad with American words because we see it all in the movies etc). Can lead to some hilarious misunderstandings!

  3. Hey, thanks for commenting on my article on Vagabondish!! I'm actually moving to perth next year. its one of my favorite cities.

  4. Its always funny discussing the little nuisances between cultures. A couple of my friends were telling me how the Australians would snicker at them when they would pronounce "Melbourne" differently and things like that. Good times.

  5. You are one cool lady. When in Arizona, jot me a line, because we know this State like the back of our hand. The not-so-touristy spots.

  6. That's such a funny story - there are so many ways of doing little things wrong when you travel.

    Hi From the Fibro.

  7. Visiting from the Fibro :) I don't think we ever ever ate grapes in Japan, we probably thought they were too expensive!

  8. Haha, you're right, it's always the simplest of things that we don't expect there to be a cultural clash over :)

  9. You'd need to get an Ancient Greek slave in to peel them for you, wouldn't you? When they talk about peeling grapes in relation to those times, I had no idea what they were on about. Now I do. Clearly they had something in common with Japanese grapes!

    Thanks for Rewinding at the Fibro.


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