Rattawut Lapcharoensap, At the café lovely, in Sightseeing, 2005
A month before for my birthday, Anek had taken me to the new American fast-food place at Sogo Mall. I was happy that day. I had dreamed all week of hamburgers and french fries and a nice cold soda and the air-conditioning of the place. During the ride to the mall, my arms wrapped around my brother's waist, the motorcycle sputtering under us, I imagined sitting at one of those shiny plastic tables across from my brother. We'd be pals. After all, it was my birthday − he had to grant me that. We would look like those university students I had seen through the floor-to-ceiling windows, the ones who laughed and sipped at their sodas. Afterward, we would walk into the summer sun with soft-serve sundaes, my brother's arm around my shoulder.
The place was packed, full of students and families clamoring for a taste of American fast food. All around us, people hungrily devoured their meals. I could smell beef cooking on the grill, hear peanut oil bubbling in the deep fryers. I stared at the illuminated menu above the counter.
"What should I get, Anek?"
"Don't worry, kid. I know just what you'd like."
We waited in line, ordered at the counter, took our tray to an empty booth. Anek said he wasn't hungry, but I knew he had only enough money to order for me: a small burger and some fries. I decided not to ask him about it. I wasn't going to piss him off, what with it being my birthday and what with people being so touchy about money ever since Pa died. As we walked to the booth, I told Anek we could share the meal, I probably wouldn't be able to finish it all myself anyway.
Even though he had been telling me all month about how delicious and great the place was, my brother looked a little uncomfortable. He kept glancing around nervously. It occurred to me then that it was probably his first time there as well. We had on our best clothes that day − Anek in his blue jeans and white polo shirt, me in my khakis and red button-down − but even then I knew our clothes couldn't compare to the other kids' clothes.
Their clothes had been bought in the mall; ours had been bought at the weekend bazaar and were cheap imitations of what they wore.
Anek stared across the table at me. He smiled. He tousled my hair.
'Happy birthday, kid. Eat up.'
I unwrapped the burger. I peeked under the bun at the gray meat, the limp green pickles, the swirl of yellow mustard and red ketchup. Anek stared out the window at the road in front of the mall. For some reason, I suddenly felt like I should eat as quickly as possible so we could get the hell out of there. I didn't feel so excited any more. And I noticed that the place smelled strange − a scent I'd never encountered before − a bit rancid, like palaa fish left too long in the sun. Later, I would find out it was cheese.
Firoozeh Dumas, Funny in Farsi, 2003
Moving to America was both exciting and frightening, but we found great comfort in knowing my father spoke English. Having spent years regaling us with stories about his graduate years in America, he had left us with the distinct impression that America was his second home. My mother and I planned to stick close to him, letting him guide us through the exotic American landscape that he knew so well. We counted on him not only to translate the language but also to translate the culture, to be a link to the most foreign of lands. He was to be our own private Rosetta stone1.
Once we reached America, we wondered whether perhaps my father had confused his life in America with someone else's. Judging from the bewildered looks of store cashiers, gas station attendants, and waiters, my father spoke a version of English not yet shared with the rest of America. His attempts to find a "vater closet" in a department store would usually lead us to the drinking fountain or the home furnishings section. Asking my father to ask a waitress the definition of "sloppy Joe" or "Tater Tots" was no problem. His translations, however, were highly suspect. Waitresses would spend several minutes responding to my father's questions, and these responses, in turn, would be translated as "She doesn't know." Thanks to my father's translations, we stayed away from hot dogs, catfish, and hush puppies2, and no amount of caviar in the sea would have convinced us to try mud pie.
We wondered how my father had managed to spend several years attending school in America yet remain utterly befuddled by Americans. We soon discovered that his college years had been mainly spent at the library, where he had managed to avoid contact with all Americans except his engineering professors. As long as the conversation was limited to vectors, surface tension, and fluid mechanics, my father was Fred Astaire3 with words. But one step outside the scintillating world of petroleum engineering and he had two left tongues.
1 Rosetta stone: a stone that helped understanding Egyptian hieroglyphs
2 Hush puppies: fried food
3 Fred Astaire: an American musical dancer (1899 − 1987)
Identify the main characters and say how they are related.
What do you learn about the main characters' family situation and its consequence ?
"I was happy that day." Find two elements showing this day is special for the narrator. Explain.
What words best define their relationship?
Now focus on the place in Document 1. How had they imagined it?
Did it match reality?
How do they feel once there?
"I could smell beef cooking on the grill, hear peanut oil bubbling in the deep fryers." How does the author make the reader share the narrator's experience?
Read the last paragraph again. How does the narrator's mood evolve? The author's style illustrates this change. Give one technique and find a quote.
"Having spent years regaling us with stories about his graduate years in America, he had left us with the distinct impression that America was his second home." Who do the underlined pronouns refer to?
Read the first paragraph again and explain the family situation.
Which member of the family has an important role to play in this situation? Explain what role.
"My father spoke a version of English not yet shared with the rest of America." Explain the quote.
Explain the differences and similarities in the way both narrators have access to American culture.
What can the reader perceive about American culture in both documents?