Why Does Everyone on American TV Know How to Use Chopsticks?
Watching TV these days one gets the impression that all Americans are adroit users of chopsticks. Suspecting this to be, to put it mildly, a gross exaggeration, I went looking for data on the subject.
An item at Statista claims that, based on self-reporting (people answered the question “How good are you at using chopsticks?”), 4 percent of Americans are “expert,” 11 percent “very good,” and another 19 percent “fair.”
By contrast 43 percent are “not very good” or “terrible,” and 24 percent have never tried.
Let us accept these numbers as a starting point in the absence of better. Considering them my guess would be that, because this is a matter of self-reporting, people overstate their proficiency — and even with that just one in three claims to be fair or better at chopstick use, meaning at least two-thirds are less than comfortable with them, with a quarter never having handled them at all.
Why does TV give such a different impression? Barring some deliberate effort to master these utensils as an end in itself, the vast majority of Americans, especially in the absence of especially strong exposure to East and Southeast Asian culture due to personal heritage or travel, or very close connections with people who have had that, are probably only likely to learn chopstick use in the course of frequently going to restaurants serving East Asian cuisine, and there specifically insisting on learning to use the associated utensils — something far more likely for affluent (not the 1 percent necessarily, but at least the top 10 percent) residents of big coastal cities than working class folks, and especially working class people from rural, small-town, provincial areas. This seems all the more plausible given the extraordinary snobbery with which Americans have surrounded some aspects of such dining, for example, sushi consumption (in stark contrast with the very different Japanese tradition).
In short, it seems to me a matter of exactly that subject which remains anathema not just to the right but much of the “left,” socioeconomic disparity and social class.
Do I think that the hacks in Hollywood and on Madison Avenue are deliberately signaling social class when they casually pack the screen with adroit chopstick use, however? The way that, for example, they so often present characters whom they wish to impress us as not just our social and economic superiors but also our cultural and intellectual superiors by having them play the piano with concert performer proficiency, or fence like masters (a visual shorthand that, condescending from the start, is now painfully cliched)?
Of that I am more doubtful. I take it, instead, as simply another reflection of the extreme cluelessness of the hyper-privileged of medialand about the existence of anything outside their painfully cramped little world.
Originally published at https://raritania.blogspot.com.