Sunday, November 21, 2010

This Thursday is Thanksgiving in America. It is a day when we give thanks to God and to each other for the blessings we've had throughout the year. Thanksgiving is a day when we focus on the positive, what we *do* have, not what we don't have.

Most people on Thanksgiving have a huge dinner with family and loved ones. The dinner usually includes a roast turkey, although in some areas of the country it has become popular to deep fry the turkey in peanut oil in a large deep fryer. A deep fried 20 lb turkey is a sight to behold and is delicious in every way, but it is also what we in America jokingly call "A heart attack waiting to happen." What that means is that deep fried turkey fried in peanut oil is not a "light, healthy" snack--it's not good for your heart or for your arteries.

But on Thanksgiving we don't worry so much about things like that. We feast on turkey, cranberry relish, gravy, mashed potatoes, bread stuffing, pudding, pumpkin pie, cranberry bread, green beans, leek soup. Even vegetarians have a Thanksgiving feast, often choosing to eat what is called a Tofurky.

If you are invited to a holiday dinner and are Hindu or other vegetarian, it is certainly appropriate to let your host know beforehand. Most hosts will be accommodating. You might want to bring a bottle of wine, or failing that, sparkling apple cider if you don't touch alcohol.

And of course, don't forget, if you have any questions about American culture or wish to book ESL or Accent Reduction lessons, feel free to give me a call at (732) 492-5360.

I've begun offering intensive 7-10 day courses for people looking to improve their accent or English skills or sell themselves in a job or school interview. I know how hard it can be to wonder if your preparations are right and to wish you had a native speaker to correct issues *before* you went on the interview. I can be your native speaker. See my website or contact me for details.

'Til next time, take care, this is your friendly neighborhood ESL and Accent Reduction tutor, signing off! Goodbye.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

These fine fall days...

Days like today are days when Americans will go to church in the morning, rake leaves all day, and then settle into the easy chair with a six pack of beer and watch the football games. Some people will throw chicken or pork chops or a steak or two on the grill, to get in one last short barbecue before the weather turns bitter, bitter cold and the snow comes. It won't be long now, and we know it.

Children sometimes earn money by hiring themselves out to neighbors on days like this--to give the car one last hand wash or to rake the leaves or what have you. If someone comes by your door and you have some small chore they could do, you could turn it over to them and lay in your hammock and read while they work. It's not uncommon for 10-13 year olds to earn a little extra cash this way, or to try to. Remember that the job they do will not be professional, but you should encourage them to do a good job.

Expected rates for jobs like this are perhaps $10-15 per child for a small chore like raking a small yard or washing a compact car or sedan and doing the windows. Mowing the lawn also costs about this much or perhaps a little more for a larger yard. If you live in a neighborhood with half acre lots and you need the weeds whipped and the edges done, this will cost about $35, but this kind of work is generally sought by older teenagers, not younger ones, because it involves handling a weed wacker and an edger.

If you pay less, you will be thought of as "chintzy"--someone who doesn't value hard work because he isn't willing to pay for it. You needn't go overboard, but do remember that $5 buys almost nothing in this country. It's not unreasonable to pay an unskilled laborer $15 for an hour and a half of work.

On the other hand, there are kids whose manners are poor and who feel "entitled" and who will want ridiculous amounts of money, like $50 to mow your lawn. It's best to agree on a price before the job is done and what's to be done. It's similar to managing people at work: You lay out the task and the parts of the task and explain the rewards.

But there's a cultural element here also: Americans will tend to want to encourage kids who do show an interest in this sort of thing, because we say they have what is called "gumption"--a kind of get up and go, a desire to improve their lot in life. This is a very American idea and we encourage it.

It's not unusual for a kid to come by with his own mower and gas and tools; if he does, you'll want to pay him a little bit more due to the convenience he's providing you with; gasoline is not cheap and he probably has to know a thing or two about keeping his small engines running.

However, not all people will come with rakes or mowers of their own; it's not unusual for you to be expected to provide.

And of course, if the whole thing makes you uncomfortable, all you have to do is smile and say that you don't have any work available today. The kids don't care, they are working the neighborhood and will simply move on to the next door.

I hope I've explained this interesting quirk of American culture and how to handle it. Remember that I'm talking about kids, not adults. In this modern world, unfortunately, if an adult comes to your house looking for work, the safest thing to do is turn him down politely.

And remember if you have any questions about American culture, or you want to take a free short phone consult or schedule a free trial ESL or Accent Reduction lesson, feel free to give me a call at (732) 492-5360.

Also, I'd love it if you'd out my American Idiom of the Day page on twitter or my facebook page. 'Til next time, this is David Berlin, signing off! Goodbye!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Today, Thursday November 11th, is Veterans Day in America. Today we honor the veterans who have served in our wars. We lay wreaths and flowers at graves and monuments. If I can I will get a couple of photos of the wreaths laid in my town and post them here.

Most of us, on this one day, put our politics aside--whether we agree with each other politically or not, we feel that it is important to honor the people who served in our wars and our battles. This isn't really a festive day for us; we tend to spend time remembering the horror and wastefulness of war. It's more solemn; you would never wish someone a "Happy Veteran's Day" for instance.

Sometimes people with relatives who have served or died in America's armed conflicts (or veterans who have past service themselves) will take off work to attend reunions with their military units or to visit the graves of loved ones. It's not really considered polite to offer ideas or theories about America's foreign policies. It's a requiem for the dead and injured and those who have served more than it is for the policy makers who directed them.

There are many veterans in this country--most of them are from our wars in Viet Nam and things that happened afterwards--Grenada, Beirut, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait. Some veterans fought in Korea and occasionally there are people who fought in World War II or even World War I, although very, very few of these folks are left.

My point is, you never know when talking to someone if they are a vet themselves or if they have friends or relatives who are. It's a good day to keep politics out of your conversation.

You might have noticed that my last couple of blog posts have dealt with points of American culture. In the next blog post, I promise there will be a podcast. Until then, this is your friendly neighborhood ESL and Accent Reduction tutor, signing off! Goodbye.