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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Intercultural Cookie-Baking


Cutting the cookies
One of the coolest things about living abroad these past few years has been the cultural exchanges I have been privileged to experience. In Malawi, for example, I learned a lot about not being so wasteful, and that it’s a whole heck of a lot easier to carry heavy things on your head, not your back. Living with Chinese flatmates in the UK I’ve learned to cook vegetables in more ways than I ever could have imagined. So, this past week I decided to continue the tradition of cultural exchange and share some American culture with my flatmates by having an American Christmas party.
For me, a traditional American Christmas party means cookie-decorating, movie-watching, and apple-cider-drinking. Two out of three of these were not a problem. Last year, I had mom mail me my collection of Christmas DVDs so I had a wide selection on hand. Making sugar cookies also wasn’t that hard, and I had a variety of cookie-cutting implements. Apple cider, however, was a bit more problematic.
Decorating the cookies
To me, apple cider is a heated, spiced apple beverage that is Christmas in a glass. To people in the UK, apple cider is a fruity variation on the beer theme. Therefore, the closest I came to American apple cider was buying two boxes of apple juice, mixing it with some cinnamon, pouring it into a mug and microwaving it. Not exactly in the true holiday spirit, but adequate, I thought.
So it was that at 7:30 my flatmates and I gathered together to fill ourselves with insane amounts of sugar and watch some Christmas movies. We began by cutting the sugar cookies into fun shapes. I had some small generic cookie-cutters, hearts, stars, suns, flowers. We began cutting out shapes when a British friend of mine mentioned that she had “Moomin” cookie cutters. The Moomins, are, we then gathered, a Sweedish cartoon family who look rather like upright hippopotami. So she promptly ran home and brought back the Moomin cutouts, which consisted of Moominpappa, Moominmamma, Moomintroll, and Little My.
Cookie-Guernica
In the spirit of multiculturalism we promptly made an entire baking tin of Moomin cutouts and stuck them in the oven. Unfortunately, having not baked in a very long time I forgot to separate the cookies appropriately and they expanded and melded together, creating a Moomin-cookie-Guernica type object. However, once appropriately frosted it was still delicious.
Having decorated the cookies (and microwaved the cinnamon apple-juice to great success) we then all sat in front of the computer and popped in “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas”. One thing about culture. When you are actually in it, it feels completely normal. Of course you cut out small pieces of sugared dough into fun shapes and decorate them with red-and-green colored frosting to celebrate the birth of the human incarnation of a major world deity. Why wouldn’t you?
From outside a particular culture, however, things can seem a bit stranger.
FInal product, moominpappa decorated
So it was that while the Americans in the party sat singing “You’re a Mean One, Mister Grinch” at the top of our lungs, the other nationalities represented looked on with benevolent amusement tinged with a slight bit of curiosity. And really, when one thinks about it, how else would you react to decorating a sugar-cookie-Guernica made from doughy renditions of Sweedish hippo-cartoons followed by watching a movie about a group of creatures called the “Whos” who live in “Whoville” and a grinch who tries to “steal” Christmas.
For all that, though, the I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-apple-cider was good, the modern-art cookies were yummy, and we had a great time together. Which is, to me, the essence of Christmas, and of cultural exchange. It’s a little bit ridiculous, it’s a little bit corny, but it’s also quite fun.

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