So I wrote this remyth.
I hold my chopsticks wrong.
My parents taught me to use a fork and spoon first. I don't know why. Maybe it is because they are easier to use in small, chubby, child hands. Maybe it is because the teachers at my pre-school would never hand me chopsticks to eat my lunch.
I don't remember those pre-school lunches very well.
I do remember Dim Sum lunches in Chinatown, where they don't lay out forks and spoons next to their chopsticks, and the uncomfortable shame I'd feel when my parents would have to make a special request for a fork just for me. Because I didn't know how to use chopsticks. Because I was too American to know.
My parents taught me eventually, over a long series of meals. (Or maybe it just seems that way in my head.) I was about five or six at the time, still young enough to feel like it should come naturally to me.
I remember how awkward and strange the chopsticks felt in my hands, so difficult to use. The noodles would slide away; the tofu square would be split in half. My grip was always too soft, too hard, badly placed.
"Don't worry," my parents would say as another fishball slipped between the wooden sticks. "You can spear the fishballs on the ends and eat them like skewers."
But they never ate their fishballs that way, because their grips were strong and precise. They knew how to use them right.
It took me a while to convince my parents that they no longer needed to get an extra fork for me. "Mom, please," I'd say as my mother would be flagging down a waiter. "I can do this." She would look skeptical, but she would stop and give me a chance. It took me a while to finally convince her. Each meal, I'd have to prove myself again.
I remember the time she looked proud of me for lifting a fishball into my bowl without dropping it once. "You are getting good at using your chopsticks," she said, and I felt pleased with myself for days.
I hold my chopsticks wrong. My grip is too close to the front, like holding a pencil. I bring the bottom one up instead of snapping the top one down.
I have eaten with chopsticks this way for thousands of meals, with slippery plastic ones, with cheap, disposable wooden ones, with the nice ones I have at home.
My tofu is no longer split in half and my noodles do not slip away.
I am sixteen, and my aunt and cousin are visiting from Taiwan. We are eating at home, a casual meal, when my aunt feels the need to make a comment about my cousin. "Look," she says, "my daughter's chopstick hand position is all wrong. Let us see how ____ holds hers." My cousin holds her chopsticks too far back, in an awkward hand position that I don't think is very comfortable. But my cousin was born and raised in Taiwan and has probably used chopsticks many, many more times than I have. She probably learned how to use chopsticks first.
I hold my own chopsticks up, and my aunt laughs. "See how your American cousin holds hers much better?"
I am in college, and I am in an Asian restaurant with a group of mostly white friends. At this restaurant, we have the wooden, disposable chopsticks, with directions printed on the red packets.
One of my white friends says, "I wish I knew how to use chopsticks."
I hold up my hand to show her how to bring the two ends together, so that she can mimic the motion. It is comfortable and familiar to me, and I feel secure in the knowledge that was hard-earned. She copies me with the awkwardness of someone who has never tried it before.
One of my white friends laughs at me and says, "No, no. That's not right," pointing at the directions on the packet. He demonstrates for her himself. His hand is just far enough back, and the bottom stick does not move as he brings the top stick down. The way he holds his chopsticks is technically perfect.
Unlike me. I hold my chopsticks wrong.
The Remyth Project