Saturday, December 18, 2010

Things I would like to tell my students.

Anyone who has gone to school knows something about the interaction between students and teachers, but now that I have years of teaching university-level classes under my belt I think I have a very different perspective on the situation than I did when I was an undergraduate.  Here are a few things I wish I could tell my students (but probably won't):

1. I know more than you think I know.  I know that you are watching the latest soccer game or texting/IMing your friends on your iPhone/iPad/laptop in the back of class.  I know that you fell asleep during class today.  I know that the reason you are wearing your hat over your eyes is because you think I won't be able to tell that you came to class high.  I know from looking at the test papers who cheated off of whom.  I know when you didn't write your paper, even if I can't google the site you copied directly (which I usually can).  Just because I don't constantly interrupt class to tell you to stop texting or passing notes with your friends doesn't mean I don't know you are doing it.  I'm not stupid.  In fact, not being stupid is kind of a requirement for this job.

2. Well-done work is easier and faster to grade than poorly done work.  It takes me much longer and costs much more mental pain to grade a bad paper or test than a good paper or test.  Why don't you make it better for both of us by just doing good work?

3. I don't take it personally.  Every semester things happen in students' lives that affect their scholastic performance even though these things have nothing to do with school.  I don't blame you for missing class because your boyfriend is having surgery, because you have to get a new job so you can make your car payment, or because your mom needs help.  I don't take your absence from class as a personal comment on my teaching.  I was a freshman once who didn't want to go to class either.  But I hope you will also not take it personally when you get a bad grade because you didn't get the material we covered in class when you were gone.  It really does affect the quality of your work.

4. Please be an adult.  Please do not talk to me or e-mail me at the end of the semester asking for me to bump up your grade or asking for extra credit work.  I am not disposed to assign you extra work which I will then have to grade because you didn't do your other work.  I am sorry that you are disappointed with your grade but that alone is not a reason for me to change it.  As a wise person once told me, "Failure is feedback."  It is not the end of the world to fail a class and have to do it again (and I can say that because I've done it myself!).  I am sympathetic that your parents will be disappointed and you will have to scrape together the money for another semester, but in the grand scheme of things it will be okay.

Glad I got that off my chest! :)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Lies We Tell Our Students: Countability of Nouns

This is the first post in a series that I call "Lies We Tell Our Students".  I am thinking specifically of misinformation that ESL/EFL teachers often give to their ESL/EFL students.  Since I have taught ESL for multiple years and have come up against these issues again and again, I bring them up in the hope that other teachers (and therefore students) will benefit.

First let me qualify the title: I am pretty sure that most teacher who teach the myths about English that I am addressing in this series of posts do not believe that they are false.  And those who do are probably teaching their students a simplified rule for the purpose of making it easier to understand.  So the word "lies" is more for dramatic purposes than for accuracy.

Now, on to countability of nouns.

Pretty much all grammar books that I've ever seen claim that nouns in English come in two classes: count (countable) and noncount (uncountable).  Count nouns can be either singular or plural, and in singular form take an indefinite article sometimes.  Noncount nouns occur only in singular form and cannot take indefinite articles.  Here are some examples (the asterisk indicates something is wrong in the sentence):

My living room has a lot of furniture (noncount).
*My living room has many furnitures (count).
*This burrito has a lot of bean (noncount).
This burrito has a lot of beans (count).

In other words, there seems to be a pattern to the way certain nouns are used, and it appears that some nouns can be used in some contexts and other nouns can be used in other contexts.

The way to decide between these types of nouns is usually explained in terms of countability: items that come in discrete, individual units are count nouns, while items that come in abstract masses are noncount.

Except it's not true.

Problem 1: It appears that any noun can be used as count or noncount.

I have never found a noun that I couldn't get to work as count or noncount, with the correct context.  Let's take the example of furniture that I used above.  It works well as a noncount in this context:

My living room has a lot of furniture.  (Meaning: I have a desk, a chair, an armoire, a sofa, etc.)

And in the example above, using it as count doesn't seem right:

*My living room has many furnitures.  (Same meaning).

But what if I provided a different context; could I get it to work as count then?

The Museum of French Design offers several examples of famous French furnitures, such as Postmodern Furniture and Furniture a la Carte. (Meaning: I am talking about styles of furniture rather than individual pieces of furniture.)

How about another example?  This time, a noun that is usually considered count?

There are two dogs on my street. (count, meaning individual animals)

Can I use it as noncount?  How about this?

I really liked this soup, until I found out it was made of dog. (noncount, meaning dog meat)

Another example: ice is usually considered to be noncount, but one time I heard a sentence like the following on a science program:

Pluto is composed of methane and water ices.

I have never found an example of a noun that I couldn't use as both count and noncount, in the right context.

Problem 2: The way to distinguish count from noncount is hazy at best.

Like I said above, typically ESL students are instructed to distinguish count nouns from noncount nouns by whether the thing comes in discrete units.  Well this turns out to be not very helpful.  Sure, bean, a typical count noun, comes in small units, but so does rice, a typical noncount noun.  And when you consider ice as a count or noncount noun, should we think of it as the substance that comes in large sheets in Antarctica, or the thing that comes in little square cubes in my drink at the restaurant?  And what about when something like the following happens:

Me: I would like some water, please. (noncount use).
My Friend: Could I also have some water? (noncount use)
Waiter: No problem.  Two waters. (count use)

So even if we tell our students that the "rule" doesn't work and they just have to memorize which nouns are count and which are noncount, what about nouns like "water" that appear to be both?

My proposal: the count/noncount distinction does not exist.  Any noun can be used as count/noncount.  We should find something more helpful to teach our students.

I did not come up with this idea all by myself.  I had the privilege of hearing a talk some years ago by Kathrin Koslicki, whose dissertation deals with this topic.  Koslicki's proposal, as I understand it, is that there are three ways to use nouns: count, noncount, and plural.  Each of these three types of noun use has a different meaning.

Unfortunately, my training in semantics isn't deep enough to allow me to fully understand Koslicki's dissertation and/or the subsequent article she published on the topic, but I have found the concept very helpful in my teaching.

In the grammar class I taught this semester,  my students and I listed various nouns in count and noncount forms and defined them (pictures were very helpful in this discussion).  The list looked something like this:
Count                        Noncount

An egg                       Egg
(picture of an egg)      (picture of egg salad)

A water                     Water
(a glass of water)        (waterfall)

Histories                    History

and so on.  By listing many examples and showing the differences in their meanings, the students were able to induce the semantic differences between count and noncount uses of various words.  I think in the future these could even be listed as a set of discrete semantic principles.  In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Koslicki has already detailed these semantic differences in her dissertation.  With some modification we teachers should be able to convert them to some principles that students can use to decide how to use a certain noun in a certain semantic context.

Notice that, when I taught my students about this concept this semester, I did not distinguish between singular and plural uses of count nouns like Koslicki does.  I have not tested whether it is feasible to try to convince students that singular and plural are two completely different uses of the same noun (even though I like Koslicki's argument that they are).  But I think that teaching students that any noun can be used in different use contexts empowers them.  They can use this knowledge to analyze the language they actually see and hear, and it certainly must be able to help them more than the current "rules" they are usually taught.

I am interested to read your comments and additions to what I have presented here.

Monday, December 13, 2010


For people like me who teach at the college level, plagiarism is a common topic of discourse.  In the case of most of my students, they commit plagiarism because they have not yet learned difficult language skills such as paraphrase and summary.  For that reason, most of the time I see plagiarism as a teaching opportunity.  But there are of course, a few people who know what plagiarism is and do it anyway.

Today I happened to be searching the Internet while preparing an activity for my ESL students and ran across a book, called English for College Learners.  This book appears to have been copied practically verbatim from another book called Refining Composition Skills.  Only a few of the exercises (which depend on a video) appear to be missing.  I am very familiar with Refining Composition Skills because I have used it multiple times as a text in ESL classes I have taught.  You can use the links in this sentence to compare the table of contents from English for College Learners to the table of contents of Refining Composition Skills.  As you can see, it appears that only the video activities have been removed.

The ultimate irony: Refining Composition Skills includes an activity teaching students about a legal case dealing with plagiarism and the consequences with intent to educate students not to plagiarize.  This, of course, was one of the activities that has been removed in English for College Learners.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Online dating -- why I started and why I'm now moving on.

About a year ago, I started putting some serious time (and money) into online dating. I figured that for a person like me, who is looking to marry someone of a particular faith and has a profession where I don't meet a lot of new people all the time, this would be a good way for me to find like-minded people. (I recently made the joke that, unless I start dating my students, I have to meet people online.) I have profiles on several dating sites, some of which are small, local, and geared specifically to a latter-day saint audience and some of which are larger and more general.

After about a year in the online dating world, I have made some observations about the pros and cons of online dating and how it's different from meeting people in other ways. Here are some of the things I have learned.

1. Online dating sites represent only certain types of people.
That is, the kind of people who sign up for online dating sites are the kind of people who would sign up for online dating sites. Though there may be many people on the site, the segment of society that one finds on an online dating site is not really a sampling of all society but rather people who thought that online dating would be a good thing for them because they feel comfortable with technology (and because, perhaps, they feel uncomfortable with other ways of meeting people). And that implies that there are other people out there who I am not meeting because they generally meet people in other ways.

2. The site itself makes a big difference.
Certain features that exist or don't exist on the dating site have a lot to do with the kind of success I feel I am having at finding the people I want. In my case, faith is very important to me and I want to find a boyfriend and future husband who belongs to the same religious organization. Some sites, such as, allow me to specify which characteristics about the person I'm seeking and how important those characteristics are to me. Other sites only search based on basic information such as age and place. I know there are a lot of guys in their early 30s that live in my area, but a lot of them are not the people that I specifically are looking for. So the more specific the search on the site, the more I feel like I can find people I would actually want to get along with. And who cares if eHarmony thinks I'm a perfect match for someone who lives in Alabama? I want to meet someone that I could actually date, which in my mind means that we need to be in reasonable proximity to each other. Nevertheless, I would say that my online dating efforts have been somewhat successful in the sense that I have done a lot more dating in the past year than I would have otherwise.

3. Meeting people online is just like meeting people in other settings...
Some people are flaky, some people are kind, some people say inappropriate things, some people seem to be conceited, some people seem to be normal, some people are superficial, and so forth. Just like in real life I have been rejected and have done the rejecting on a number of occasions. It's not really any easier on the ego than meeting people in other ways.

4. ...except it isn't.
The one major aspect of meeting people online that differs quite a bit from meeting in person is the fact that you get to know quite a bit of information (age, profession, whether the person is divorced, whether the person has children, etc.) before you ever talk to or meet the person. I have learned from experience that no matter what the person seems like on his profile, and even by e-mail or phone, I really have to meet the person to discover if there is potential for a romantic connection. This leads to a lot of "first dates" where we are just meeting up to see if there is any possibility. This kind of first date is different from what I would consider a traditional first date where you have already seen and talked to the person and therefore know that you have at least some interest in each other. I now consider the first date with someone that I met online to be "Date 0", that is, the date before the first date. I doesn't usually take long on a Date 0 to figure out how I feel about taking the next step. So in a way it seems like, when dating online, things happen in kind of a backwards order.

In sum, I have met some good guys, some weirdos, some perverts, and some platonic friends online. And I feel that I have more or less explored the possibilities that online dating offers. Though new people join the sites all the time, the population of people fitting the characteristics I am looking for gets new additions only occasionally, meaning that many of the profiles I see are profiles I have seen before. While I don't feel a need to remove my profiles from the various sites, I will definitely be spending less time and money on online dating. I plan to focus more on meeting people through activities for LDS singles of my age in my area.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Linguistic policy gone bad

The Arizona Department of Education, motivated by No Child Left Behind policy, has recently instituted a policy to remove teachers with "heavily accented or ungrammatical" English from teaching English in Arizona schools.

Here is a Wall Street Journal article that reports on the policy.

A significant number of professors from the U. of Arizona prepared the following statement, which explains problems with this policy:

In addition, Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), an international professional organization for English teachers, released this reaction:

A couple of reactions of my own:
1. "Accent" and "fluency" are not the same thing.
In this case, I assume that the words "fluent" and "fluency" are being used as a general measurement of overall proficiency in the language. It is quite a common, but incorrect, belief that the "heaviness" of someone's accent reflects how proficient they are with a language. Many people who learned English after another language speak English with an accent, but that does not mean that their English is ungrammatical or bad. In my work, for example, I interact with a number of professors and graduate students who speak with accents because they are non-native speakers of English, but whose English proficiency is good enough to write papers for research journals, teach university classes, and otherwise contribute to the academic community. The fact that "heavily accented" is being used as a criterion to decide that teachers aren't fit to teach English suggests that the creators of the policy based the policy on their own opinions about language rather than linguistic fact and research. Current research shows that foreign-accented English is no less intelligible to non-native speakers than native-accented English. (In fact, two colleagues and I are currently engaged in a research project about this very phenomenon.) Just because a native speaker thinks they can't understand a teacher doesn't mean the students will not.

2. It is not bad to learn a language from a non-native speaker.
Non-native speakers who teach language often have some distinct advantages over their native-speaker peers. Since native speakers of a language can use the language without having explicit conscious knowledge of grammar, often non-native speakers have a superior knowledge of the patterns of how the language works. Because they have had the experience of learning the language after their native language, they are familiar with the pitfalls their students might have and are therefore able to help students avoid them. In addition, if the teacher shares another language with the student, that language can be used to explain things that the student might not be getting when they are explained in English. Research shows that language learners do not learn mistakes from each other. In other words, just because students are exposed to grammatical mistakes that the teacher makes does not mean that the students will acquire those same grammatical mistakes.

3. Good teaching is more than just knowledge of the subject to be taught.
I think many people have had experiences where they had a teacher who was very knowledgeable on the subject, but just couldn't do a good job of teaching it to others. In the case of English teaching, just because a person is able to speak English does not make that person qualified to teach it to others. This is why at my university, for example, we have a TESOL certificate program that takes a minimum of a year of coursework for people to become educated in how to teach English to non-native speakers. A teacher with lower English proficiency, but good teaching skills, may be more effective at helping students than a poor teacher with high proficiency.

4. Reassignment of teachers is problematic.
First of all, teachers cannot be simply reassigned to other classes because sometimes they don't have the necessarily skills and certifications in the new subject they are supposed to teach. You can't take a history teacher, for example, and assign them to teach math. Second, if jobs already exist that these teachers don't have, won't the jobs already be filled by other teachers? Third, and most importantly, it is hard to imagine that anywhere in Arizona, a teacher could be assigned to a class that didn't include some English language learners. Just because a student has been "mainstreamed" does not mean that they can't benefit from additional language-learning help. In fact, because of this, where I live, all new teachers entering the field are required to have an ESL endorsement. So reassigning teachers to other classes would not remove them from interacting with ESL students, and therefore the policy would not have the intended effect of protecting (as it were) ESL learners from non-native English.

To be fair to the Arizona Department of Education, apparently they are not solely to blame for this poorly-conceived idea. According to the Wall Street Journal article referenced above, in order to receive No Child Left Behind funds the state should ensure that English students are being taught by "fluent" speakers. However, Arizona has chosen to define fluency by including accentedness as one of the criteria. The Arizona Department of Education should inform itself of current linguistic research before making policies of this type.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Well-behaved women

I've seen it many times, usually in bumper-sticker form: "Well-behaved women rarely make history."  The message, of course, is that women should break out of their expectations for behavior if they really want to make a difference in the world.

But it seems to me that I can list a lot of good women who behaved according to appropriate principles who also made a big difference in the world.  Eve, Miriam, Deborah, Mary, Elizabeth and Anna are women in the Bible who come to mind.  We could also mention people like Betsy Ross, Florence Nightingale, Emily Dickinson, Jane Austen, and Jackie O., who are certainly famous and not for doing anything "wrong".  Personally I choose to defy the message that a woman can't be important if she is good.


My best friends know that I love hugs.  And, when I think about it, I enjoy being held but I think I enjoy holding someone else even more.  Of course it's practically impossible to tell because they are both happening at the same time.  Sweet.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Why I'm a Cougar

Okay, I don't really see myself as a COUGAR, exactly, but I thought it would make a dramatic title. This post is about why I prefer to date younger men.

In order to explain all this, I have to explain that I am an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and I live in Utah. This is a big part of the issue because here in Utah about 50% of people are latter-day saints, meaning that LDS beliefs have an overall pretty big impact on the culture and how people live around here.

And in case you're not familiar with LDS beliefs we believe strongly in the importance of the family. We believe that marriage and family is where we can find our greatest happiness in life, and that families who are joined in a temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will continue to enjoy each other's love and company beyond death. These are fundamental beliefs in the Church, and these beliefs cause latter-day saints to seek marriage earnestly and take it seriously. Which means that, in the area where I live, people get married younger, often when the guy is in his mid-twenties and when the girl is in her early twenties. According to U.S. Census Bureau figures, the median age of first marriage in the United States is 28.1 for men and 25.9 for women, where the median age of marriage in Utah is 24.6 for men and 22.1 for women, according to these figures published by Utah Department of Workforce Services. (Although the former group of figures comes from 2009 and the latter group of figures apparently comes from 2005, even comparing 2005 numbers to each other the median ages are lower in Utah than the rest of the United States.) The same report from Workforce Services also mentions that a greater percentage of people in Utah are married than people in any other state (60% people 15 years or older).

In other words, marriage is a big deal where I live and in the communities I am a part of. That coupled with the fact that the population of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is about 2/3 women and 1/3 men means that the men have their pick, as it were. On the Utah LDS singles scene it seems that there are more women than men out there. If you're a latter-day saint male from Utah and you're not married by age 30, there is quite likely a good reason. For example, the last guy I went out with that was near to my own age (and he didn't even grow up in Utah) apparently had some kind of psychological problem that made him think it wasn't okay to shower before he went on the date and he smelled. I could hardly stand to sit next to him in the movie we saw. Another famous stereotype of the Utah bachelor is the guy that is so picky that, while he has met lots of wonderful women, he will not date or marry any of them.

So what's a 32-year-old LDS Utah gal supposed to do? The obvious choice is to date younger men.

There is another group of men that I see as generally potentially dateable. That is men who are around my age (30sish) who are divorced. Divorce is common everywhere these days, so if I didn't want to date divorced men it would cut out quite a large sector of the dating pool, as it were. Plus, I figure that these were men who were willing to get married at least once. All of the divorced guys that I have dated so far treated me very well and seemed to be good men.

Why not date older men, say guys who are in their 40s or 50s? Personal preference. I tend to get along better with younger people; for example, most of my friends are younger than I am. Also, when I envision my future marriage partner, I envision a partner, not someone who is going to die 20 years before I do.

Of course the opinions expressed in this post are a generalization; individuals do not always reflect the characteristics of the age groups they belong to.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Fairies for grown-ups

It seems like us adults are kind of missing out in the fairy department. I mean, once the Easter Bunny has lost his luster and you aren't raking in any more cash because the Tooth Fairy has already collected your baby teeth, it's just not as fun anymore. So I would like to propose some fairies who work more with adults. Why should kids get all the benefits?

The Lost Keys Fairy -- When you lose your keys, this fairy magically places them on your nightstand so you have them when you wake up the next morning. She often hangs out with the Lost Wallet Fairy and the Lost Pen Fairy.

The Acne Fairy -- Be nice to this fairy with a fickle personality! If she likes you your skin will look gorgeous, but if she's having a bad day, you just might get a "third eye" before that big date or important business presentation.

The Chewing Gum Fairy -- You know how, sometimes, you just know that you have bad breath? The Chewing Gum Fairy is the one who puts that magical piece of gum in your pocket or at the bottom of your purse, just when you need it.

The Computer Fairy -- This fairy's time to shine is when you are having a computer problem and can't figure it out. The signal to bring the computer fairy out of hibernation is rebooting the computer. That's why computer problems always magically go away when you reboot; the computer fairy has gone into action.
This fairy is also an expert at editing e-mail and making sure that the messages get to the right places. This fairy can make sure that you don't accidentally cc that "You won't believe what I did last night" e-mail to your mother or your "Work sucks" e-mail to your boss.

The Cell Phone Fairy -- Perhaps the cell phone fairy is the most important fairy of them all. This fairy saves you from all kinds of phone-related disasters. She makes sure that your phone is on silent at crucial moments so your "I'm Bringing Sexy Back" ringtone doesn't go off in, say, the middle of church. The cell phone fairy also conveniently turns off your phone when you are about to receive a call from someone you don't want to talk to, so it goes straight to voicemail and you can go on with your day. No longer will your nosy sister feel offended when she counts the number of times it rings and realizes that you pressed the "Ignore" button for her call; the cell phone fairy takes care of it and makes sure that your sister hears a lot of rings before going to voicemail so she doesn't feel neglected. And, if worse comes to worse, the cell phone fairy can magically restore contacts to a new phone if the old one gets, say, dropped into a body of water or run over by a car.

No offense, Tooth Fairy, but once my baby teeth were gone, I was done with you. These fairies can help out in so many ways!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

I'm just saying...

Most of the time I am cool with the way that my life has turned out, and, as much as I would like to be married, I can usually be patient until a good person and situation come along. It is only occasionally that I have my moments where I lament my loneliness and wish to be married now. In those situations, sometimes my friends try to comfort me by saying something like, "Don't worry! I didn't get married until I was..." Just to let you know, if you want your statement to be effective, you should probably say a number after that that is greater than my current age. I'm just saying. :)

Monday, February 22, 2010


An excerpt from a friend's Facebook comment: "... and doesn't it suck that we just write eachother[sic]... I freaking miss phone calls and some old fashioned Café experiences."

As another example, I've seen things like the following on dating sites: "Don't flirt/wink/smile at me. If you don't write me an e-mail/message, I won't respond to you."

Another online dating profile says something like this: "If you are interested, send me a wink/flirt/smile. If I reciprocate, it means that I am interested. Then we can message each other."

Imagine after a first date: "I am so going to dump this guy. He didn't even bother to call me after our date; he just sent me a text to thank me for going out with him."

Or perhaps a husband complains about his wife: "My wife leaves little notes all over the house about things she wants me to do. I wish she would just talk to me instead of putting these notes between us."

It seems that people have strong opinions about the ways we should communicate and which methods of communication are better than others. But I submit that it is not methods of communication which are good or bad, just that people have preferences for modalities of communication that affect the way they communicate with others.

After all, every type of communication has different characteristics. On the phone we can catch people's voice inflections, while face-to-face communication allows us to read the person's lips and body language as well. Some people like to craft well-thought-out letters, while e-mail or instant messaging allows us to communicate more frequently than snail mail. In fact instant messaging is somewhere between synchronous phone and asynchronous e-mail communication. Each "utterance" is crafted as a unit and sent after composition, though both people can be creating their messages at the same time. My guess is that people choose a preferred mode of communication based on its desirable characteristics, but don't often realize that others have preferred modes of communication as well.

I think of it as similar to the five love languages as taught in Chapman's book. Chapman's thesis is that each person has a preferred way of expressing and receiving love, and if others give or expect love in other ways the person may not interpret that as loving. But if we learn to understand each other's love languages, we can both give and receive love in ways that are more meaningful to people we care about. In a similar way, just because others do not have the same preferred method of communication does not make them bad communicators or mean that they are being disrespectful.

This is complicated by the fact that not all methods of communication are reasonably available in all situations. If I am sitting in a meeting and suddenly remember something I want to tell a member of my family, of course I will discreetly send a text message instead of calling attention to myself by excusing myself from the meeting and making a call. I can't hop on an airplane if I want to have a face-to-face communication with a friend on another continent; sometimes a phone call or even an e-mail will have to do, depending on the time difference. But this doesn't mean that I don't care.

How about we cut each other a break?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

True love

I have been thinking lately about the person I would like to be when I am in my future married relationship. Here is one of the effects that I hope true love will have on me.

Real love, to me, only expands. When people have love in their lives, they don't just save their compassion and affection for their partner, but become more loving toward everyone. I hope that the love I experience in my future marriage will give me an anchor from which I can share my increased love. I know that in my life when I have been blessed with wonderful loving friends, their love provides a sort of security that allows me to take risks in other areas of my life that I wouldn't have done before. I want my attitude to be something like, "It doesn't matter if I fail at this attempt, because he still loves me." I think this will give me confidence and freedom to share with and serve others.

Some couples, on the other hand, seem very into themselves. Their focus turns inward to the point where they become what my friend calls "boyfriend-boring": they are boring to their friends because they are so focused in on themselves. While obviously every relationship needs nurturing and people who love each other share intimate expressions, I don't want to have the kind of relationship that is so ingrown that I hardly notice people around me.

I hope to use this as a key by which I can recognize if a relationship I am in is a worthwhile relationship or not. I hope that you, my readers and friends, will let me know if this is an appropriate way to judge relationships and that, assuming you agree, you will hold me to it.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


So I was watching old episodes of Hope and Faith on, and the episode came up where Hope's brother-in-law is getting married to a Swedish girl named Astrid, who has blond hair plaited back into pigtails. Which of course got me thinking about Swedish stereotypes in the media.

Click here to see the episode on Hulu.
(Sorry, Hulu doesn't work outside the United States!)

I feel I probably know more Swedish people than a lot of Americans, including my best friend, who hails from Sweden. I suppose in a way the stereotypes are somewhat accurate: there are many Swedish people who are tall, good-looking, and buxom. But of course not all Swedes are tall and blond and so forth.

Another popular stereotype is about the way Swedish people talk. The below video shows the singular language of the Swedish Chef on the Muppet Show:

While I have met Swedish people who speak English with sing-song accents, most Swedes that I know are EXCELLENT speakers of English. Even my friend's teenage little sister speaks English better than many of my college-age ESL students.

And while pondering these stereotypes about Swedes tonight, it occurred to me for the first time: why are Swedes so popular? I mean, there are tall, good-looking, crooning people in all of Scandanavia, but it seems that Danes and Norwegians don't show up in the American media (even in stereotypical form) nearly as often. Why not? Why is he the Swedish Chef instead of the Finnish Chef, for example?