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Sir Frederick

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Eating Sugar
An essay by Nadia Khattab

Humans are often afraid of the unknown, whether it is different cultures, challenges, food, etc. In “Eating Sugar” the fear of the unknown is focused on the encounter with a different culture, the Thai. The setting is a Thai jungle where the couple Alex and Eileen are visiting their daughter, who is a 21 year old English teacher. They have been forced to go there in April, when the humidity and heat is at its worst. The parents are uneasy with the situation, as they are suspicious of the Thai’s intentions. They end up in the middle of the jungle, where a marketplace was supposed to be. The place is empty, and no people are to be seen. When the Thais appear, it’s very interesting to interpret the different reactions that the family members have to the Thais. Both parents are extremely nervous, and expect the worst from the Thais. The daughter on the other hand, who knows the Thai because she lives and works in Thailand, is not at all afraid. She is very glad that she has met other people. One of the Thais speak English, and he tells her that a car is going to come by soon. The mother, who constantly shows her anxiety, is worried a car might come by, and that there is no guarantee.

The daughter is throughout the whole story very calm, and keeps insuring her parents that it’s going to be all right. The roles have been switched, and the child is now the responsible one, and the parents are panicky. “Suzanne, their brave twenty-one-year old daughter transformed this side of the world to a competent, patient, encouraging parent. He and Eileen her anxious, fraction, dependent charges.”[1]. Both parents feel very uncomfortable. The heat, foreign people, and the unknown terrain, scares them. The only difference is that the mother shows her nervousness, since she keeps walking tensely around. She keeps reminding the father that it I not safe, and that all kinds of things could happen to them. Because she is freaking out he can hide his uneasiness.

The parents can no more trust unknown things. They have been hard-bitten, and now worry a lot. The father keeps getting flashback to when he and Eileen were young. “There were parallels. The foreignness of Thailand was mind-expanding”. [2] In this flashback the father compares his and Eileen’s first encounter with LSD, an euphoria, to Thailand. The incident had been mind-expanding, he had experienced total loss of orientation and he and especially Eileen had become frantic. The point in the LSD story is, after eating the sugar, Eileen calms down, and she simply enjoys herself. After becoming familiar with the feeling that LSD invokes, she can calm down and enjoy herself – the same thing is the case with Thailand.

Eating Sugar is the title of the short story. The sugar is important because it is the item which makes the LSD experience less frightening. The beer which is received from the Thais maybe has the same effect. It reassures the family that the Thais will do them no harm. “They offered you a beer, Dad. Why’d they do that if they were up to something?”[3] The daughter argues to his father, and he agrees. Also, the mother who is at first frightened by the Thais thaws out when the she gets the beer. The beer is therefore a symbol of the Thais kindness and well-meaning.

The interesting thing about this story is that it is told by a 3rd person narrator. It has the touch of a private vacation description, as the narrator goes into the mind of the father character. The style is therefore informal, and simple. The narrator is non-omniscient as he only knows the father’s thoughts. Many observations are made by the narrator, and it is as if he/she interprets some of the events. “Eileen found Thailand stressful, and wasn’t ashamed to show it. Alex was grateful to her.”[4] The actions of the characters are interpreted and retold.

An artistic effect is definitely that the story stats in medias res. By doing so, the reader is at once thrown into the chaotic situation the parents believe that they are in. The events are presented in a chronological order, interrupted by few of the father’s flashbacks. It is not the events, but the development in the parents’ approach to the native Thais, which is important. Slowly they accept that the Thais are people worthy of their trust. This scene where the British meet the Thai, totally unprepared and afraid could easily be referred back to the sculpture by Duane Hanson, which shows two stereotype tourists, most likely to be from a northern European country. The tourists are wearing European summer cloth, hats, sunglasses, cameras, shorts, sandals with tennis socks in them and last but not least, huge camera, and lunch cooling bags. This is what you would expect most British tourist to look like; overweight and with tasteless, outdated clothes. The sculpture is from 1988, but could easily have been made today.

When they come to foreign countries “rich and stupid Europeans” is written all over their faces. They are easy to spot, because they are double the size of the natives both horizontally and vertically. No wonder some natives find them disrespectful, even appalling. By dressing the way they do at home, they can easily offend people of other cultures. The sculpture is therefore an excellent illustration of how Europeans either think of themselves as superior, and regard their own values as universal or how their lack of knowledge expresses itself. That’s why the story becomes thought-provoking. The Europeans automatically think the worst about the Thais, although they are just trying to help.

The second item which could be referred to “Eating Sugar” could be “Trust Between Culture: The Tourist”. This text points out that both natives and tourists have an impersonal relationship with the other, without having this, they would be forced to consider the differences and likeness between the two. With likenesses it would be impossible to reject the other part, and keeping the perception of “us vs. them” intact. The language is the main barrier, the two parts are unable to communicate, and therefore they strictly rely on prejudice, or other spontaneous impressions. “Without a shared conversation, each participant […] relies upon their own linguistic script”.[5]

The British Empire has been one of the worlds biggest. During the era, lots of racism and fake science was rampant. E.g. many scientists tried to prove that that dark skinned people were inferior. This was done by measuring the scalp’s length and width. The church was nevertheless the biggest sinner, with help and quotes from the bible, white people and natives were convinced that the whites had the right to dominate the natives. Formerly known as “The White Man’s Burden”. Some Europeans are still marked by this idea, and therefore unconsciously they view themselves as better. But unfortunately it is not only the Europeans who look down on the natives. The native Thais call white people “Farangs [..] White, high-status freaks”[6]. So the discrimination and prejudice go both ways.

The parents in “Eating Sugar” are clearly feeling superior to the Thais, they suspect that the Thais will harm them, or make use of them. There is no description of any bad experiences in Thailand, so the feeling must come from somewhere else. William Cannon Hunter who is the author of “Trust Between…” speaks of how the tourists feel trapped inside of a glass cage, they can’t understand what is happening around them, and are therefore “only able to gaze out at the “other’s” body.”[7]. The father, Alex describes just about the same thing. “in the suburb where Suzanne lived and worked they had seen no Farangs outside the apartment complex. […] on the streets no one spoke English. Not even taxi drivers, policemen.”[8] Because of their different languages they are unable to communicate. This makes them feel uncertain and unsafe. If they get lost somewhere the chance of finding someone to help them is very small.

Assignment B

In “Eating Sugar” the characters count on other people’s proficiency in English. They could not in their wildest dreams imagine that there could be places where no one can speak English. The language has almost become universal, and considered a must. Most westerners have English as their second language, as it is the first language they learn at school. In Denmark it is mandatory to study English for at least about 5 years. Learning English is not considered hard, because everyday we are bombarded with English expressions. This makes the English skills of most westerners quite good. The western countries not situated in Europe speak English already; most importantly Canada, The USA and Australia. As described in “Trust Between Culture…” language is the biggest boundary and the main cause why different cultures hate or fear each other. Throughout history there has always been a dominant language or state. It is natural that there is one language, which all tries to learn, so that communication becomes easier. It is believed by many that communication is the key to understanding and problem solving. When we can’t speak to each other one must guess what the other is thinking. It is not a problem, but an advantage that people from around the world understand each other. Major conflicts like the Muhammad crisis could perhaps have been prevented, if people could talk to each other and explain their values. Personal contact with “the other” is much better than the picture displayed by the media. On the other hand it would be a shame if languages were lost because English overtakes them. It has been suggested that applications and so on should be available in English as well as Danish. Some people think that this could mark the beginning of an unpleasant globalisation.
-----------------------
[1] Pg. 3 l. 40
[2] pg. 4 l. 87
[3] pg. 5 l. 126
[4] pg. 2 l. 19
[5] pg. 8 l. 14
[6] pg. 2 l. 29
[7] pg. 8 l. 8
[8] pg. 2 l. 36-38…...

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