Cultural differences are tricky little buggers. They catch you at the strangest moments.
An internet friend has just moved to Singapore and is tweeting/blogging about her experiences apartment hunting. Her most recent comment was her dismay that there was no hot water in the kitchens.
Which led me to all the cultural differences I’ve stumbled across here in Singapore, regarding water…hot and cold.
As KJ noted, hot water in the kitchen is uncommon. Uncommon to the point where I’m certain I’ve never seen it. To an American, this is unfathomable (I’m not going to say Westerner as I don’t have enough global experience to speak on a larger scale). We have this deep cultural belief that hot water is NECESSARY to clean things. Especially dishes.
It’s not my field of history, but I’m willing to make a bet that the obsession with hot water is a post WW2 change in our culture. That was the point that more people could afford nicer homes and luxuries like in-home washing machines and dryers. With the push to move women out of the workforce (they’d entered it in unprecedented numbers to replace men who were at war), there was also a renewed emphasis on the home and keeping it clean. Germs were a relatively new discovery in that era, and a national obsession with beating germs began. With television came commercials touting cleaning products. And there was a cultural moment where women (white, middle class women specifically) often subjugated their own ambition and desires and were told that fulfillment lay in a clean home. This was all coming after a period of great deprivation (the Great Depression of the 30’s) and war (the early 40’s) so in some ways, the obsession with modern clean homes was a rejection of the negativity that came before it.
Today Americans are big believers in the cleaning power of hot water, the disinfecting power of bleach/anti-bacterial cleaning products, and all manner of product to help us kill the germs.
If I ever washed dishes using just cold water, my grandmother would have told me that they weren’t clean. And after years of that…I, like many (most?) Americans have internalized that.
I never even asked if the kitchens had hot water in Singapore. I assumed it would be true. So I was shocked to learn that they didn’t.
In our home, B heats water in the electric tea kettle to do dishes. She thinks we’re a bit crazy, but she indulges us.
My most recent cultural “huh?” moment surrounds warm water. At snack time at E’s school they give the kids some cereal, a bit of fruit, and a cup with water in it. I picked up the cup to hand it to Elanor and was shocked that it was warm.
“Do you know it’s warm water?” I asked the teacher, concerned.
She looked at me like I was a bit dim. “Of course.”
Which was when I remembered something. That many Asian cultures believe that warm water is better for you–that it’s better for the digestive system, if I recall correctly.
Americans are all about the freezing cold water. It would never occur to me to give E warm water.
The next time we went to school, I had a sippy of cool juice that I offered E instead of the warm water…assuming, stupidly, that since I wouldn’t want to drink warm water that neither would she. She refused her juice in favor of the warm water.
As I noted, Americans love freezing cold water. When I order water in a Western restaurant I usually get ice water, no problem. When I’m not in a Western restaurant I often forget to be specific, and it takes a few tries/extra communication to get what I want. I occasionally get a look that communicates quite clearly that I’m a crazy ang moh to want such a silly thing to drink. Don’t I know it’s not as good for me as warm/hot water would be?
What has been your strangest experience with water while traveling or living abroad?