The older brother (is a daughter)

You guys all know the story where the younger of two brothers runs off with his inheritance early and blows it on parties and prostitutes. He comes grovelling back to his father, who meets him in the road with tears of joy and throws a huge party. The older, well-behaved, hard working, respectful brother gets mad because he thinks his father is unfair and loves the younger brother more.

Our weekly adult English class was discussing this story, and we heard a rather passionate comment from one of the adult women who has better-than-average English (almost a direct quote):

You know, the real problem in this story is the Father. He’s not fair. He loves the younger son more and that’s wrong.

And she wasn’t saying this in a “this is just how I initially react emotionally, even though I know it’s not really unfair” kind of way. She was saying, “No, really – the Father is wrong.”

An older class member pulled Jessica aside after the class,

I though you should know that in Taiwan most parents don’t treat daughters like they’re anything. Daughters don’t get anything from their families because in the old days they would marry into another family and out of their family.

Now, understand that I’m paraphrasing his “explanation” (this conversation happened 6 days ago) and you have assume that much nuance is lost in translation. We can’t know from his English just how strongly he means for this to sound, or how universal he intends it to be meant. But we also happen to know that he was rather harsh with his own daughter, by North American standards, when she was growing up (she’s told us). So what do we do with all this? How should we understand it?

These aren’t the kinds of experiences with which we can go assuming/concluding things about Taiwan’s society and culture. But these are little clues – little anecdotes that will hang around waiting to be filled in with understanding later as our cultural study progresses. They become blips on the cultural radar, that slowly form pictures with other blips on the radar, as if to say, “Hey, something significant is going on here. Pay attention.”

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