When we meet people from other cultures there is a potential for opportunities, problems and challenges. We all know how being in a foreign country can create insecurity and maybe even xenophobia when we are exposed to a language and mindset we do not understand. How we handle a meeting – or a possible conflict will often be exterminating the factor for the outcome of this cultural encounter, a such cultural encounter is to be seen in the short story Eating Sugar written by Catherine Merriman.
The setting of this short story is a rather deserted spot in one of Thailand’s rainforests far from any sort of human population a day in April. The English couple Eileen and Alex and their daughter Suzanne are on a holiday trip in one of the rainforests of Thailand, and have somehow ended up being lost from the other holidaying Thais. After having rested from the, according to Alex, strenuous way down the path from a waterfall four Thai men, who seems to be lost as well, suddenly show up.
The 21 year old daughter Suzanne seems to be, unlike her parents, quite forthcoming towards the strange Thais and quickly starts conversing, she does not question their obligingness. Suzanne lives and work as an English teacher in Thailand, she is curious and in what could seem like an unsafe situation she is the one who reacts calm and heartening, one could say that there havs been a role reversal because Suzanne acts like the responsible parent whereas her parents are panicky and paranoid. Her parents seem to be much more condemned towards the Thais and unsure of the situation. Anything could happen. And she was right. [ … ] So many surprises. [ … ] A mindset that was contradictory, incomprehensi¬ble. The Land of Smiles; but also of pirates, and bandits. ” It is very clear that Alex and especially Eileen feel suspicious and uncomfortable in the presence of the incomprehensible but friendly Thais. They both feel nervous, stressed and helpless being in a foreign country with a different culture and language from their own. During the meeting with the strange Thais Alex recall a memory of when he and Eileen were young and they had both consumed LSD.
Through this flashback Alex compares the feelings connected to this incident with being in Thailand. Both cases have made him loose all orientation and control of the situation, and has made both him and Eileen anxious. “A perceptual door was opened that could never be reclosed. And there was a surreal quality to the experience, your senses, understandings, constantly challenged. He refers to Thailand as being mind-expanding, almost like an euphoria in which he feels powerless and incapable of controlling anything.
The incident ends with Eileen eating some sugar which makes her calm down. The Thais keeps assuring them that a car will soon be there to pick everybody up, but despite of Suzanne’s conviction Alex and Eileen are still distrustful, so distrustful that Alex has started to rage. As a father Alex feels a certain need to protect his family and tries to act calm down though he is just as frightened as his wife Eileen, therefore he decides to take matters into own hands and suggests that they’d walk through the forest alone.
After Suzanne having persuaded her father to stay, a car shows up. Driving through the landscape of Thailand Alex feels a huge relief. His distrustfulness towards the Thais suddenly disappears. Not only does Alex’s behavior change but also the mood, the description of the country is taken to another level which is to be seen in the following quotations:”Huge beach palm trees with gracefully curved trunks, festooned, right to their arching, feathery tops, with white fairy lights. ” And “How incredibly Thai. Alex felt he had never seen anything so beautiful. His thoughts of Thailand and the Thais has indeed changed, he suddenly feels liberated. The short story is narrated from a third person narrator and is mostly seen from Alex’s point of view e. g. through flash backs. Catherine Merriman uses a non-omniscient narrator and the technique used in this short story is telling. The story starts in in-medias-res and thereby gives the story a sort of chaotic start just like the current situation in the story. Throughout the story we follow the development in Alex and Eileen’s view and impression of Thailand and its native inhabitants.
To start with the parents find the Thais appalling and someone not worthy their trust, but as soon as they discover that they have been nothing but friendly and helpful to them, their prejudices towards the native Thais as well as Thailand disappears. The main theme of this story is cultural encounter and the feeling and prejudices that it might implies. The two main characters Alex and Eileen feels feel nervous, almost anxious about being in a foreign country where they do not understand it’s native’s language and mindset, one could say that the parents appears very judgmental maybe even xenophobic.
Through flashbacks we hear about Alex and Eileen’s youth were they are described as being experimental and without worries, which might be a part of being young and which explains why Suzanne is the one to intervene and not her parents. The title Eating Sugar might refer to the LSD incident where Eileen ate sugar to calm down which Alex also did, figuratively speaking, in the end of the story where he lets his guards down. The fact that the Thais actually are able to understand and communicate in English is of great importance for Alex and his family in the current situation.
It wouldn’t be wrong to state that the English language plays an enormously important role in almost every country all over the world. The language is derived from the language of the Angles, Saxon and Jutes. The few people who, in 1960s, spoke English traveled and settled all over the world in colonies. A lot of trading between the mother country and the colonies were to play an important factor in the spreading of the English language, today English is a common language of the world, a global language.
English is today present on all the continents either as a native, second or third language and is referred to as the language of communication, technology, pop-culture, internet and of markets and trading. Almost all major countries have English as an obligatory subject in their schools and therefore speak English as their second language. It is the language the young in the developing and globalized world feel compelled to learn so that they are able to communicate with other countries in every respect.
The short story eating sugar clearly shows the differences between native and tourists and the complications a cultural encounter implies. It shows how the impression of a foreign country and its native made by a tourist develops from being very judgmental and distrustful to a feeling of liberation and seeing the real beauty for the country. It shows how a man’s prejudices keep him from relaxing and enjoying himself. In addition this short story also implies the importance of English as a global language in the process of communicating.