an observation

December 12th, 2008

Asking my two first year speaking classes this week to name some famous places produced an interesting sequence:

  1. Famous places in Beijing
  2. Famous places around China
  3. Europe, Korea, Japan and North America (with perhaps some pyramids thrown in)

It took quite a bit of effort to get them to think of any famous places in the rest of Asia, Central and South America, Africa or the Pacific (other than pyramids- both Egyptian and Mayan).

However, I was impressed that two students working together managed to mention Easter Island’s Moai.

Now, Beijing and the rest of China as steps 1 and 2 is fairly self-explanatory. We are in Beijing and my students are all Chinese. I’m not sure what conclusions to draw from the expansion to Europe, Korea, Japan and North America (and generally in that order). There is the obvious political, economic and cultural strength of those areas. But thinking about it, the European examples were generally in Paris and London (Eiffel Tower, Big Ben)- nothing from Italy despite the football, nothing from Germany despite all the German cars cruising Chinese streets, nothing from any other European country.

No, wait- I did get a Red Square, but only after I told them “outside Europe, East Asia and North America”.

And the North American examples were almost all from big cities in the US, with the addition of Alaska and Hawai’i (ahem, that would be Polynesia, not North America).

And all the famous places they named in Beijing, and most of those from the rest of China, Europe and North America were historic sites. In one class, almost all the famous places they could name from Africa, the rest of Asia, South America and the Pacific were natural places- The Great Rift Valley, Uluru, the Amazon, etc. The only exceptions were the Pyramids and the Moai.

Yeah, I’m not sure what can be read into this, but the fact that those patterns reproduced themselves independently in two separate classes interested me.

Thinking about it, a similar pattern emerged when I asked the class this morning which places are famous for food and drink:

  1. Various regions of China (Sichuan being the first)
  2. Europe (Italy and France coming first)
  3. After much persuading from me, the rest of the world.

Again, I can understand the various regional cuisines of China being first in their minds, but thence strait to Europe? And once I’d convinced them there was a whole wide world out there, Korea and Japan came easily, but it took some prodding to get them thinking of other places.

Interesting, but lunch is coming, and that will require a short walk starting in about 5 minutes.

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