I smell chocolate whenever I muddle through simple Spanish conversations.
My eternal thanks for this delicious associative memory is due to an old Spanish textbook, Churros y chocolate, and its luscious cultural note on Mexican snacks.
Language textbooks always impart something about a country’s culture, whether intentionally (Mexican snacks are delicious) or not (Chinese think foreigners have gargantuan noses).
The authors of my first Chinese textbook did not actively try to win the hearts and minds of Chinese language students with romantic ideas about the singular deliciousness of Sichuan food. They thought they were diving solely into the straightforward task of teaching their assumed audience — white, middle-aged, foreign businessmen — just enough Chinese to order a beer and state the name of their employers.
Without trying, however, the authors still taught their students something about Chinese culture circa 2005: We think foreigners are friendly, but also hairy, chubby and a bit dopey.
My new Dutch textbook, by contrast, has launched a purposeful, full-frontal, Dutch culture seduction. In case you didn’t realize, the authors wink, the Netherlands is an utterly fantastic, kick-ass country.
The book doesn’t only reinforce romantic stereotypes, it also takes pains to ensure that students of Dutch know that the Netherlands is a multi-cultural society by featuring pictures and dialogues of Dutch speakers of all ethnic backgrounds. No matter who you are, you will be welcome here, the book hints.
Furthermore, it stresses that learning Dutch is really and truly a valuable investment because the Dutch language is used in more places than just Holland! For example, as the world map illustrates, Dutch is used in a sprinkling of Caribbean vacation destinations and might even still be used by elderly government clerks in Indonesia.
Finally, in addition to teaching students the Dutch words for milk, cheese and bread, the book also reminds students that there are famous Dutch people, not only historic painters, but also modern celebrities!
This morning, while staring at the glossy textbook photos after cycling through Utrecht’s lovely Wilhelmina Park, I was left wondering why everyone doesn’t move to the Netherlands.
Then at lunchtime I found myself cycling through a torrential hail storm that filled my hair with sleet and my shoes with water and realized that I was being sold a beautiful half-truth.
Churros y chocolate. Scott, Foresman Spanish program, level 1. Sometime in the 1980s.
汉语入门 An easy approach to Chinese (I). Sinolingua. 2003.
Contact! Nederlands voor anderstaligen. Intertaal. 2009.