Tag Archives: culture

“Thanks!”

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Drawing of a coffee cup with curly steam and hearts coming out of it

Some people say that Americans say “thanks” or “thank you” too much. It’s true that we say it a lot. (If you don’t, you may sound rude.)

Today I went to a cafe for breakfast. I said “thanks” so many times that I started to think “This is weird!”

Cafe worker: “Here’s your membership card back.”

Me: “Thanks.”

Cafe worker: “Here’s your change.”

Me: “Thanks.”

Cafe worker: “Here’s a coffee cup for you.”

Me: “Thanks.”

Cafe worker: “Your sandwich will be right up.”

Me: “…Thanks.”

 

This is too much, right? But I couldn’t think of anything else to say. (Well, culture is culture.)

Practice Listening and More with Music

Hi! This is just a quick post. I’ve just started a new job, and I’m very busy. (I’ve promised you posts on Facebook and more. Those posts are coming, I promise!)

Right now, I want to tell you about a free site called Lyrics Training. At Lyrics Training, you can watch a music video with English words. At the same time, the words are shown under the video — but some of the words are missing! You need to type in the words while the song plays. There are harder and easier levels, and you can find old and new songs. If you like music, it’s a good way to improve your listening.

Remember that song lyrics often have strange or poetic words and grammar. Still, they’re fun and a nice way to enjoy learning English.

What is Facebook For?

Readable Blog

For me and most of my friends, Facebook is a good way to connect with our real-life friends and family. Unlike Twitter, the people that we are “friends” with on Facebook are usually people that we know well. We also use Facebook to become “fans” (or “like”) the pages of businesses that we use a lot, brands that we like, media such as newspapers and TV stations, celebrities, local government and nonprofit groups, publishers and educational organizations, school and alumni groups, and so on.

The updates from our friends’ personal accounts and the photos and articles from the organizations’ pages are all shown in the same area, called the News Feed, when I log in. (Normal users have Facebook accounts; businesses and so on have Facebook pages. I, the woman writing this blog, have a Facebook account under my name, but there’s also a Facebook page called Readable Blog.)

I use updates from the Facebook pages two ways: First, I read and enjoy the updates myself. I get more information this way than on Twitter, since it’s not limited to 140 characters. I can watch videos or look at photos from inside Facebook. Some Facebook pages also have contests and coupons. (There are games and apps, too, but I don’t usually do those.) I comment on some of the interesting things. I also click “like” on stories, photos, and videos that are interesting and useful to me.

Second, when I see something that I think my Facebook friends would also like, I click “share.” This means that my Facebook friends will see it, too. They can comment on it, “like” it, and share it, too. Unlike Twitter, when my friends comment on it, they’ll all wind up talking together, which is nice.

It’s this mix of entertaining and useful news, video, and photos from all over the world, plus my friends from all over the world commenting together, that makes Facebook something I like. Also, it doesn’t take much time to use. If I want to share something I see on Facebook, it only takes a second to click “share” and type a comment. If I want to share something I found somewhere else, I just paste in the URL. Facebook makes it a link automatically. It’s faster than blogging, but there’s more detail than Twitter.

In the last two days, I shared some news about a charity for tornado victims in the southeast US, a comic strip about English vocabulary, a news article about a 9/11 memorial, and a music video. I clicked “like” on a lot of things, including my friend’s status update (kind of like a tweet) that she was accepted at a university, a message from a local park page announcing a free festival, an article from a travel magazine, etc. I also commented on lots of status updates and a few other things. Oh, and I entered a contest win an around-the-world airplane ticket! Heehee.

Finally, one thing that a lot of my friends do is play games and use other “apps” (mini-programs) inside of Facebook. Mixi started to also use this idea a while ago, and so did other SNSes, so you might be familiar with it already. Some of the games are really pretty good.

In some other posts, I’ll tell you how to get a Facebook account, how I use Facebook (literally–where I click and so on), how to stay safe, and how I think you can best enjoy using it.

Later, I’ll add some pages to this blog with more details (like my Twitter pages).

If you have ANY questions, please let me know!

Cherry Blossom Festival

I went to the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival in San Francisco’s Japantown neighborhood yesterday. It’s held every year on two weekends in April.

Of course, it’s only been 5 weeks since the disaster in Japan. Maybe the organizers were not sure about whether to have this fun event this year. However, it’s really important to the Japanese and Japanese-American community here. For example, it helps Japanese and Japanese-American kids living here learn about and participate in Japanese culture. It’s also really important to the businesses in the area. So the festival was held as usual. However, you couldn’t forget about the disaster: there was fundraising everywhere. I thought that was good.

Anyway, here are some of my photos.

Getting ready
We walked through downtown on our way to Japantown. That’s where the parade starts, so some of the people who were going to be in the parade were eating lunch and getting ready.

Floats, waiting
Here are some of the empty floats. The one with the dolls is a special one to support Japan and encourage donations. It was really big and beautiful.

We stand with you
This is during the parade. I don’t know what group it is.

SF Taiko group
There are several Japanese drumming groups that perform during the festival or in the parade. They’re really popular.

"Cable car"
This isn’t a real cable car, but it looks like one. They’re tossing candy to people in the crowd. That’s common in American parades.

Dancers
These dancers are from a Californian Japanese dance school. Both small children and older people danced all the way from downtown–about 1 mile/1.5 kilometers away. Dancers, cheerleaders, etc. are common in American parades.

Keiko Fukuda
Ms. Keiko Fukuda was the Honorary Grand Marshall (leader) of the parade. She’s a famous judoka (also see this video about her). The mayor and the Japanese consul were there too…last year we saw Japanese-American actor George Takei (Sulu from “Star Trek) and the Japanese ambassador to the US.

Omikoshi
These Boy Scouts have a small omikoshi (Japanese portable shrine). There’s a really big one at the end of the parade, but I didn’t stay this year.

Rock
During the rest of the festival, there are outdoor stages with music. This band from Japan, Soulit, performed on a float during the parade, too! They sounded pretty good.

Religious harmony
This is some kind of Japanese/American inter-faith religious group…They look pretty interesting, don’t they?

Cosplay float
In the last few years, the cosplay group has been popular. This float has the best costumes, and the other participants walk. (You can see another photo at Flickr.)

Cosplay for charity
This participant carried a sign encouraging people to donate to the Red Cross by text.

Taiyaki
During the festival, the Japantown mall is really busy. There’s a coffeeshop that always sells their own special taiyaki (like a filled waffle), but they must sell hundreds during the festival. Of course, I had one. I also had mitarashi dango (a kind of sweet rice dumpling on a stick) at a tea shop. My husband had shaved ice.

Washiningyo parade
There are several displays of arts and crafts during the festival, including origami, cloth-covered wood dolls, and these dolls made of paper. There are also displays of bonsai, antique swords, ikebana (flower-arranging) and stones. They also have demonstrations of martial arts (kendo, kyudo, naginata, judo, karate, aikido, etc.), various kinds of dancing and singing, musical performances on the shakuhachi, koto, and shamisen, and they even play karuta (a kind of card game). Some of the people doing these things are not Japanese or Japanese-American at all.

There are other things to do, too. There is one outdoor area where people sell things like t-shirts with original designs, jewelry, and handmade soap. These things have to be related to Asian culture in some way. There’s another area where community groups like Buddhist churches and bilingual kindergartens sell food. You can buy “sakura popcorn” (rice crackers, seaweed, and popcorn), onigiri (riceballs), takoyaki (with no octopus for people who are scared), and lots of other things. I couldn’t take a good photo of these areas.

If you ever have a chance to visit the festival, I recommend it. It’s a wonderful combination of Japanese and American cultures.

You can see more photos from this year on Flickr, including some amazing origami, more cosplay, and a model of Osaka Castle.

If you have any questions about anything, just ask!

P. S. Where are the cherry blossoms? Well, the name is mostly symbolic–it’s just an image. There aren’t many cherry trees in Japantown. It’s in the middle of the city! Also, by late April most of our cherry blossoms are gone, except the double-blossom (yaezakura) type. But there’s good news! I noticed that more double-cherry-blossom trees have been planted in Japantown recently, so maybe next year…

Thanksgiving 2010

Pumpkin pie slice by cgbug_steven_garcia from openclipart.org

Yesterday was Thanksgiving. A few days ago, my brother-in-law flew up from San Diego to join us. On Wednesday, my brother-in-law and I baked two pies and made cranberry sauce. On Thanksgiving, my husband, brother-in-law, and I cooked everything else: sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, broccoli, stuffing, and turkey. We bought the rolls (bread) and gravy. Yes, it was a lot of work, but it was fun.

Here’s an important Thanksgiving word: leftovers (group noun–the adjective is leftover). After you eat a meal, you may have extra food. If the food can be kept to eat later, then you have leftovers. At Thanksgiving, there’s almost always way too much food. People usually expect (and even hope for) leftovers. We’ll be eating turkey for several days!

Here are some of the recipes that we used:

  • Cranberry Orange Sauce (I doubled the recipe because we wanted leftovers. I added two cinnamon sticks and some ginger. You need to remove the cinnamon sticks before you serve the sauce. Ground cinnamon is OK too. You can use candied ginger or powdered ginger.)
  • Roasted Broccoli with Garlic and Red Pepper (We baked this in the toaster oven because the main oven was full.)
  • Garlic Mashed Potatoes (We added two entire heads of garlic, and also fried shallots)
  • Coconut Spiced Sweet Potatoes (I didn’t use coriander because I didn’t think it would taste good. I used a larger amount cardamom instead. This is an unusual recipe and really good!)
  • Mahogany Turkey Breast and Mahogany Roast Turkey (I combined these two recipes; however, it takes much longer than 1 1/2 hours for a whole turkey–even a small one!)

Unfortunately, we’re not very good at the timing of doing so much cooking. So by the time we were done, we were really hungry. I don’t have any photos! Sorry…You can see other people’s photos at Flickr.

Pitfalls: Air Conditioner

In the Northern Hemisphere, it’s about time for the weather to become cooler. That’s why I thought about this vocabulary pitfall today…

In standard American English, the word “air conditioneronly means “a machine that makes the air cooler and drier.” It’s very surprising to us to see someone say “I turned on the air conditioner because I was cold.” However, in Japanese and some other Asian languages, the phrase means “a machine that changes the air’s temperature and humidity.”

In American English, we would probably say “I turned on the heater because I was cold.” Most houses have central heating (warm air is pushed to all parts of a house or apartment). It may use electricity or gas. That’s still just called “the heater,” though. Some people have wall heaters, portable electric heaters, or other kinds of heaters. “Heater” is a general word that can be used for many different things.

Small heaters that you can carry are called portable heaters, etc., not “stoves.” The word “stove” almost always means the thing in the kitchen that you cook on. Only very old houses use a special kind of wood stove for heating. These stoves are big, heavy, and made of metal. (A few modern houses have a heat stove as an old-fashioned extra thing.) Of course, a long time ago, the cooking stove and the heating stove were the same thing!

You may have a (Japanese, etc.) “air conditioner” on your wall or ceiling that both heats and cools. In this case, I recommend saying “the heater” when you’re talking about using its heating function. If you say “air conditioner” when you’re talking about heating, it will cause most English-speaking listeners to be confused.

My heater and air conditioner are controlled by the same controller on my wall, called a thermostat. But I still say “Honey, can you turn on the heater?” or “Oh, why is the air conditioner on? Turn it off and open the windows!”

Anyway, basically: “air conditioner” means cooling (only) and “heater” means “heating.” It’s true for apartments, houses, businesses, schools, and cars!

(Read about other pitfalls: words that can cause problems when you use them!)

Wedding Anniversary

Yesterday was my seventh wedding anniversary. My husband and I got married in 2003 in San Francisco.

Wedding Day
Wedding Day

This year, we didn’t want to spend a lot of money on an expensive dinner or expensive presents. However, we had a nice time. We packed a picnic and went to a park near the edge of the San Francisco Bay. We went shopping the day before at Trader Joe’s for our picnic. We bought some good cheese, spicy salami, crackers, nectarines, chocolate, and Hansen’s sodas. (Hansen’s sodas are all-natural sodas–they’re really good.)

While we ate, we could see the water, birds, and small planes landing nearby. The scenery was really beautiful. After we ate, we took a walk.

Then we went to a game store called Game Kastle. They sell board games, role-playing games, card games, and so on. (They don’t sell video games.) The games they sell are mostly unusual and interesting ones. Of course, they also sell famous games, like the Pokemon card game. We bought one game, but we haven’t played it yet.

After that, we went to two bookstores that are right next to each other. One bookstore sells new books, and the other one sells used books. The secondhand book shop has a big selection of non-English books, language-learning books, ESL books, etc. I had a coupon, but I only found one book that I wanted! Oh, well. At the other bookstore, I found a book I thought my husband would like. It was on sale! I bought it while my husband wasn’t looking and gave it to him as an anniversary present.

We went to one other bookstore in a nearby town and found one more book to buy. The clerk at that shop was really friendly. The shop also sold these cute hand puppets

Finally, we went to a Japanese restaurant
called Hatcho for dinner. This restaurant is not very expensive and you can order a lot of things individually (ala carte). Their menu is very interesting. We tried several things we had never eaten before. The restaurant was quiet, and the food was really good.

I guess that wasn’t really a typical anniversary celebration. If people imagine an anniversary celebration, they usually imagine something like an expensive restaurant dinner, flowers, dancing, and a gift of jewelry. On the other hand, I think it is normal for people our age to create our own celebrations. We want events and gifts that are meaningful to us. My husband and I are geeky and enjoy food. So a day full of bookstores, games, and eating makes sense for us. It matches our personalities.

It was nice to spend time with my husband, just the two of us. However, for our tenth anniversary, I think I would like to have a party and invite our friends and family.

Here are the places we went yesterday, if you’d like to see them:

Palo Alto Baylands park
Game Kastle
BookBuyers (Photos of BookBuyers)
Books Inc.
Leigh’s Favorite Books
Hatcho

What kinds of celebrations do you enjoy? What do you like to do for your wedding anniversary, your birthday, etc.? Is it different from what your husband, wife, parents, or friends like to do?

Langston Hughes

Many English poems are difficult to read because they are long and full of extremely old-fashioned words. However, you should give Langston Hughes a try. He is an important American poet and writer, who was born in 1902 in the same area that I was born in. He died in 1967, but his poems are still popular because they are easy to read, powerful, and beautiful. Hughes was African-American and was important in changing the roles of African Americans in American culture and society. You can read more about him at the Simple English Wikipedia article about Langston Hughes.

Here is one of his poems:

Dreams
by Langston Hughes

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

(“Hold fast” means “hold tightly.” “Barren” means “empty, without life.”)

More of his poems are available at poets.org (look at the right side).

Now That’s Real English.

If you’re an adult, you should check out the Real ESL blog. This blog includes video conversations and explanations of normal spoken English (including slang). Kim, the blogger, makes her own videos to explain things to you. Currently, she has videos about everything from pronouncing “th” to ordering coffee at Starbucks.

You should be at an intermediate or advanced level to use these videos. You should be an adult, too, because Kim feels that it’s useful to be able to understand and use “swear words.” These are words that most English-speaking adults use when they are angry or joking or speaking very strongly, but you can also get into a lot of trouble if you use them incorrectly.

I hope you’ll check out Kim’s videos and make sure to visit her blog regularly.

(Another good resource for learning to speak natural-sounding English is the Speak English Like an American book and CD series. I’ll be reviewing these soon.)

Happy Thanksgiving!

Oh no, I haven’t posted since Halloween! I’m sorry. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. You can read about Thanksgiving in the United States at Wikipedia (and also in Simple English). An interesting note in the main article is that many Americans associate the day after Thanksgiving with shopping. It’s the day sometimes called Black Friday. A lot of people read the newspaper ads on Thanksgiving (or check various websites) and find special discounts that they want to get. Sometimes people line up for hours to get a very cheap TV, videogame system, etc. Some of the stores can get really crazy.

Because of all the emphasis on buying things, some people think this day reflects the negative materialistic parts of our society. Instead, they promote thoughtfulness and lack of wastefulness through Buy Nothing Day, when they don’t buy anything. I don’t know if I’ll buy stuff on Friday or not!

Anyway, we’ll have four guests tomorrow for Thanksgiving, so the eight of us will eat turkey, pie, mashed potatoes, etc. Tomorrow, you should be able to see lots of Thanksgiving dinner photos on Flickr. Happy Thanksgiving!

Well, I’m still waiting for your comments. Please comment! I need to know that you are reading, so that I will be encouraged to keep writing.