This morning I had a close encounter with a killer pop-tart. A few days ago I was at one of the local grocery stores in town that stocks lots of imported items, and I stumbled across boxes of pop-tarts. Not just pop-tarts, but frosted brown sugar cinnamon pop-tarts. My favorite. Even though they were a bit pricy, I somehow convinced myself that I deserved the treat, so I dropped them into my basket.
This morning for breakfast I opted to forgo my "usual" (cereal and toast) and have a pop-tart. Big mistake. As I was taking it (carefully, mind you) out of the toaster, something went awry, and the pop-tart tumbled and landed, super-heated frosting side down on my right middle finger. Contact was only for a few seconds, but it was long enough to trigger a yelp and make me feel as if my finger was being burned right to the bone. I scraped the molten frosting off and ran for the sink to douse the flaming appendage in cold water. As long as said appendage was safely coated with cold water, the pain was bearable. Pull it out, and the pain-o-meter was spinning out of control. Which it pretty much did for an hour as I tried to get ready to go to work.
I called my administrative assistant on her cell phone to ask how to say "I burned my finger" in Chinese, so I could stop at a pharmacy on the way to work. Wo tangshang le wode shouzhi. Very helpful. I didn’t know tangshang (burn injure). I probably would have just stuck the now swollen and blistering finger under the nose of the pharmicist and said "fire," hoping she wouldn’t ask too many questions, thus putting me in a position of trying to figure out how to describe a pop-tart in Chinese. With my new phrase of the day safely ensconsed in my brain, I stopped at the pharmacy outside my housing complex. I used it, and promptly got some tangshang ointment. As soon as I got to my office, I put it on, and that, coupled with a handful of Ibuprofen helped to reduce the pain.
And who knew that this burning encounter with a pop-tart would lead to an interesting cross-cultural observation. When I got to the office, my administrative assistant, Ms. G, whom I had called earlier wanted to hear how in the world I’d burned my finger. It so happened that an American colleague was in the office at the time, so when Ms. G. asked me how I burned my hand, I told her it was a bit embarrassing. I told them both that I burned it on a pop-tart, and Ms. G. looked puzzled, while my American colleague burst out laughing, which caused Ms. G. to be even more puzzled. Why would P. be laughing at my pain? A minute later another colleague walked in and asked what was going on. I told him I burned my finger on a pop-tart, whereupon he threw his head back and laughed as well. By this time Ms. G. was demanding to know why everyone laughed when I told them I was burned by a pop-tart. She was starting to notice a pattern!
We explained to her that pop-tarts are a classic American junk food that most of us associate with childhood. And that there was something inherently funny about having to say that my burn was caused by something so useless as a pop-tart, rather than being able to say that I burned it doing something noble, like serving soup to the elderly or preventing a candle from falling off the table and burning the house down. A pop-tart! I told Ms. G. to watch, that every American I told the story to would have the exact same reaction–they’d laugh. Sure enough, as other American colleagues showed up and I told them, they all laughed. Every single one of them. Of course this only confirmed to Ms. G. what she already knows….we’re all certifiably nuts!
And now I have to finish the remaining two pop-tarts in the box. I figure it’s like falling off a bicycle. You’ve got to get right back on and keep riding. Guess what I’ll be having for breakfst tomorrow.