Cultural differences, customs/rituals, health, hygiene

Bottom’s Up!

 

Coveted roll of toilet paper during the Covid-19 Pandemic. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2020.

 

What’s with all the toilet paper hoarding here in the U.S.? Does it seem strange to you? Truthfully, tell me how many rolls do you have in reserve?

Toilet paper has become such a treasured item, that when my Passover Seder meal was delivered from the Alevy Chabad Jewish Center here in Las Cruces, they also brought a cellophane-wrapped TP roll as a bonus.

I can’t say for sure, but in my memory when I was a child I used an outhouse while staying at my paternal grandparents’ cabin near Carbon Canyon in Southern California. I can’t remember what we used to clean ourselves afterward, but in stories and in films it seemed that it was either magazine or newspaper pages.

Sharon Hudgins, in a letter to the New Yorker, recalls teaching in post-Soviet Russian during the 1990s. At her university, there was no toilet paper at all. Instead they used pages from old textbooks on Marxism-Leninism.

I’ve read numerous articles about why we hoard toilet paper, and the one that resonates most with me is that we are attempting to exert control over our lives at a time when deadly circumstances are beyond our control.

Much of our TP panic is culturally motivated. There are other parts of the world where toilet paper is not the preferred method of cleaning one’s bum.

Multi-functional watering can for those who prefer water for after- toilet cleansing.  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2020.

 

While living in Southern California, I used to visit some Iranian Muslim friends. I noted a watering can in each bathroom. They informed me that in Iran, most homes had bidets because they believe that water is the most hygienic way to clean one’s self. Since most American bathrooms lack bidets, having a watering can nearby can simulate the effect.

Water is the preferred cleansing method in many parts of Asia, India, Islamic Middle East, and Europe. In Italy, in 1975, a hygiene law stated: “For each accommodation, at least one bathroom must be equipped with the following sanitary facilities: toilet, bidet, bath or shower, washbasin.

During this pandemic crisis, some Americans have reconsidered that if they had bidets, they wouldn’t have to depend so much on toilet paper.

According to an article in the Guardian, if Americans gave up toilet paper, they could keep 15m trees from being turned into pulp every year. Manufacturing a roll of toilet paper requires 37 gallons a roll. Bidets save both trees and water, using only one-eighth a gallon per flush.

Jason Ojalvo, CEO of Tushy, a bidet company founded in 2015, claims that in the first week of March, 2020, sales doubled, then two days later sales tripled; then it was 10 times the normal sales. A few days after that, business peaked at a million-dollar sales per day.

Visitors to Japan marvel at their toilets. They have heated seats; posterior and front washes; adjustable water temperature; nozzle sterilization; adjustable water pressure; air deodorizer; white noise, even classical music to mask natural sounds; automatic lids and seats that lift up and down; with additional features of self-flushing; self-cleaning; warm dry air or air conditioning for hot days.

The newest trend has a small water basin located on top of the tank cover. After toileting, people wash their hands, then flush the used water from the basin that then drains into the tank and into the bowl.

 

Before flushing, user washes hands in basin attached to water tank.

 

So how much will one of these fancy toilets cost? Fifty K more or less. I’m afraid that’s not within my budget, but I can dream, can’t I?

 

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who would love to have one of those fancy Japanese toilets.

 

norinedresser.org

 

Cultural differences, racism

Here We Go Again (unfortunately)!

 

Chinese American pin to refute Japanese ancestry and avoid assault during WWII. Pin owned by George Tom. © Copyright IHSF, Las Cruces, NM, 2020.

 

A Facebook post tells of a hospital patient who refuses to be examined by an Asian doctor. Prior to that, a different post tells of a Chinese international student at UNM in Albuquerque, who was distraught when going to his dorm room. Pranksters had draped his door with plastic and a sign, “Quarantine. Keep Out.” The student didn’t find it funny. He felt threatened.

For weeks, we have seen photos of empty Chinese restaurants whose patrons fear feasting there because of the Covid-19 Virus. And up to now, Americans have always savored Chinese food.

Did you know that Americans were first introduced to Chinese food during the 1849 California Gold Rush? That’s because many Chinese came over to participate in searching for gold.

Today there are over 50,000 Chinese restaurants in the U.S. and their appeal, in good part, rests on the large portions and generally inexpensive prices. Still, when I first tasted this delectable food as a child during the 1930s, I was hesitant already having heard the rumor about the unexpected finger found in the chop suey. That was a not-too-subtle attempt at looking down at the Chinese.

Irrational beliefs rise to the surface when panic sets in, and our culture has long been leery of Asians and their cultures. Most of you are probably too young to remember the anti-Asian sentiments of the last century when Chinese and Japanese were referred to as “The Yellow Peril.”

Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Anti-Asian sentiments in Los Angeles soared. Most non-Asians couldn’t distinguish between Chinese, Japanese, or Korean residents. Los Angeles Chinese, fearful of being mistaken for Japanese, placed “Chinese American” stickers on their cars or wore ”Chinese American” pins or “ABCD” (American Born Chinese Descent) pins to stave off dirty looks or worse from suspicious Angelenos. Even Life Magazine, probably the most significant disseminator of public information at the time, was caught up in this preoccupation with distinguishing between different Asian populations. They published an article, “How to Tell Japs from the Chinese.

To demonstrate patriotism to the USA, Chinese American men in Los Angeles, awaiting induction into the regular military branches or unable to serve because of age or physical disabilities, created a special unit of the California State Military Reserve that they dubbed the “Chinese Militia.”

Another pin worn by Chinese Americans to avoid assault during WWII by those thinking they were Japanese. ABCD means American Born Chinese Descent. Pin owned by George Tom. © Copyright IHSF, Las Cruces, NM, 2020.

 

Although this home guard branch of service was short- lived, they designed a shoulder patch and pin to wear on their uniforms. The designs were based on Sun Yat-sen’s famous Three Principles or San Min Chu I, incorporating Chinese symbols of blue sky, white sun, golden pagoda, and the color red.

 

Shoulder patch and pin worn by members of the Chinese Militia. Courtesy of George Tom. © Copyright IHSF, Las Cruces, NM, 2020.

 

Parades were one of the most important activities of the Chinese Militia. When they marched, the Chinese American community always clapped and cheered them on, and the non-Chinese community enthusiastically received them, as well.

 

Judging by current behavior and the xenophobic commentaries posted on social media, we haven’t learned anything from past experiences about our irrational fear of Eastern cultures and the virus and China. Unfortunately, bigotry thrives. And we have no available badges to wear that identify us as non-threats to public health:  “Free From Symptoms;“ “Never been to Wuhan;” “I haven’t visited Italy in 20 years.” “I Just Took a Purell Bath.”

Even though ugly memes come to mind during this pandemic, please make a strong effort not to pin it on any race or religion. Help your neighbors, and last but not least, “Stop Hoarding Toilet Paper!”

 

 

Folklorist Norine Dresser witnessed extreme anti-Japanese racism during WWII when her Japanese classmates were whisked away and placed in Internment camps. Those were ugly times. Let’s not have history repeat itself.

http://norinedresser.org

celebrations, Cultural differences, holidays, intermarriage

Holiday Mix and Match

A Christmas/Hanukkah sweater, sold by ModernTribe.com., reflects the commonality and celebration of intermarriage.

 

Offbeat holiday custom combos make me chuckle.

 

A clever depiction of a Hanukkah menorah made up of sushi.

 

First is the Hanukkah menorah made out of sushi. So what’s wrong with that? As long as the fish fit the regulations of being kosher and there’s no shellfish, it’s technically okay. Chenchi Schmukler, the rabbi’s wife at the Alevy Chabad Center in Las Cruces, occasionally includes homemade sushi at her marvelous meals. But sushi with latkes (the traditional Hanukkah fare)?  I don’t think so.

 

Halloween decorations hung on a Christmas Tree in a chain of Japanese stores called Tokyo Hands.

 

Another comical example comes from a Japanese store display last September. Some might call this “cultural appropriation,” insinuating that one should stick with one’s own ethnic/religious customs. Yet, in a way, it’s flattering that someone in the Japanese corporate world wanted to emulate American culture. However, next time they need to do their homework more carefully.

 

The Japanese seem fascinated with Christmas and call it  “kurisumasu.” For decades I heard stories about their nailing a Santa Claus to a cross for Christmas, despite it seeming more Easter-like. After finding this bizarre image online, I was disappointed to learn that it had been photoshopped. Snopes.com confirmed that there was no truth to this event. Even though it’s not valid, I include the photo because it’s such a startling image.

Fake photo of Santa Claus being crucified in Japan.

 

Then there are strange and incongruous mixtures here in the U.S. during the Christmas/Hanukkah season. I remember my own childhood conflicts being Jewish at Christmas time. I felt deprived without a Christmas tree  and the imagined fun being had by my Christian classmates.

ModernTribe.com targets Jewish shoppers and seems to have inventory addressed to this cultural conflict. They sell a Chrismukkah Stocking to be hung over the fireplace and filled with presents. The only difference is that instead of Christmas images on the stocking, the images are apropos of Hanukkah.

Chrismukkah stocking hung on the fireplace with care, from ModernTribe.com

 

They also sell what seems like a more tongue-in-cheek yarmulke (skull cap) trimmed in red and white Santa Claus colors and called a Yamaclaus. Listen to the company’s description:

  Why settle with one holiday, when you can crash them all? If you’re a lonely Jew on Christmas, a half-breed interfaith, or a gentile celebrating one of those eight crazy nights, with Yam Waclaus you’re automatically an honorary believer. If you’re feeling extra goyish, spread the love of Chrismukkah – the hybrid holiday where flaunting your Yamaclaus is your religious right.

Yamaclaus sold by ModernTribe.com. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2018.

 

The above examples reveal that strict cultural rules about holiday celebrations are becoming less rigid, in great part due to globalization and growing intermarriage. Whether one approves or not, it is a reality.

 

My late husband, Harold, once accompanied me to a workshop devoted to interfaith issues. The leader broke us up into small groups and later when we all came back together, Harold whispered to me, “We don’t have any intermarriage in our family, do we?”

Highly amused, I answered, “Well, you have a Vietnamese sister-in-law, a Black nephew, a half-Iranian Muslim granddaughter, a Mexican American son-in-law, and an Italian American daughter –in-law, but other than that, no.”

What was so beautiful about Harold’s question was that he thought of these family members as JUST FAMILY; he didn’t see any ethnic or religious labels separating us from each other.

Three cheers for Harold! If only the rest of our world could see things the same way.

 

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who is very proud of her interfaith family and the cultural riches they bring to one another.

 

https://norinedresser.org

Visit Gallery of Folklore & Popular Culture

Cultural differences, folklore, music, radio

What’s Happening? ¿Que´Tal?

Norine recording programs for KTAL-LP, Las Cruces Community Radio. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser Photo Collection, 2017.

 

Since October, 2017, I have been producing a program, “Your Multicultural Minute,” that airs on KTAL-LP radio station, here in Las Cruces, NM, 101.5 on the FM dial. My two-minute shows come on three times a week, twice a day. The programs present anecdotes about how we miscommunicate based on cultural differences.

Two minutes isn’t very long and actually, the narrative lasts only one minute with a half-minute intro featuring my son, Mark Dresser’s playing an original tune, and a half-minute closing with my final words over his fading tune.

I have had a great time creating these programs. I think you will appreciate listening, too. For the moment, the station has been only live streaming with archiving to take place at a later time. For this reason, I am giving you an opportunity to hear several of the programs that have already aired. So far, I have produced 30 shows that automatically air Monday, Wednesday, Friday at 7:58 a.m. and 2:57 p.m. Below find links so that you may enjoy them, too (she says modestly).

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who never tires of learning about cultural differences that cause miscommunication. If you have an example you would like to share, please contact her at norinedresser@yahoo.com

Check out her Gallery of Folklore and Popular Culture: http://flpcgallery.org