Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Grownups who cannot cook

Sure, a little bit tricky at first but it's not rocket science?!

My language exchange partner is one of those Chinese girls that are constantly busy. Not only does she has a full-time job, but she also goes to a language school 3 times a week (to improve her English), meet with me twice a week (for the same reason), go to the gym (in order to ‘get thin’ as she says, although in my eyes she’s already stick thin), and ‘takes care of her boyfriend.’ I never asked her about the latter, figuring it’s nice to keep some things private, but then last Sunday when we spent the whole day together I got a bit thoughtful.

It was around lunchtime when her boyfriend called her. By then we had already finished out pad thai noodles at the Thai restaurant that we had chosen for lunch.

After some minutes of muffled conversation she turned back to me and sighed.

-Oh, is your boyfriend missing you and want you to come home? I joked.

-No, he called and asked me why I didn’t prepare any lunch for him before I left this morning.

-You didn’t?

-No, I didn’t have time.

-Well it’s Sunday, so he can make something himself can’t he?

-No… he cannot cook. If I don’t make any food for him he will go out and eat.

-What do you mean he cannot cook?

-He cannot cook!

-But like.. he cannot make any food at all?


-So if you don’t cook for him he goes out for dinner?


-Every day?


We were quiet for a short moment, before she asked:

-How about your boyfriend? Now when you are out –what does he eat then?

-I guess he will cook something for himself?

-He can cook?!

-Of course he can. How else would he have survived before we met? How did your boyfriend 

-When we met we lived at the university so we ate at the canteen every day… and before that he lived at home and then his mom cooked and took care of him. 

-I see.

And I do. I do understand that there is a huge culture difference between men and women in China and men and women where I come from. But seriously… ‘She/he/I cannot cook’ –I am so sick of hearing it over here! So many of my young Chinese friends hide behind it, as if it was the most natural thing: “Oh I cannot cook! I always eat out or I go home to mom and eat!”

Grownup people who cannot cook? What would they do if they were somewhere where there were no restaurants and no one to cook for them? Would they lie down and DIE, or, would they grab a pan and stir-fry some veggies, cook some noodles, turn on their rice cooker or fry some eggs and tomatoes? In my eyes, the whole ‘I cannot cook’ is plain laziness. No one ever ‘taught’ me to cook –I am just one of those people who are constantly hungry and I figured that would be awful to walk around like that, so I started making food.

I know that most Chinese children are under so much pressure in school and have afternoon classes/piles of homework to deal with every day, and therefore their parents ‘liberates’ them from house work, such as cleaning and cooking from a very young age. But at some point you have to learn –right? What about when they graduate from their university? Or, like in my friend’s case. She is working and her boyfriend is finishing off his degree… she’s told me various times that he spends the days playing computer games and the nights at the university (he has evening lectures). Not a dead serious, mega-busy, under huge pressure guy in other words. Still, he doesn’t even know how to make himself some instant noodles.


Suiiki said...

If you ask me, she should suggest that her boyfriend learn how to cook some small things...She could show him or have him help her make a meal some time. That is how I teach my wife to cook...I have her help me. Though she wasn't entirely helpless when we met, I admit...she could follow a simple recipe and had learned how to stir-fry vegetables and make meatballs by watching her parents do it...Personally my father taught me how to cook from a very early age, and it didn't take long to do it! Everything that I cook takes less than half an hour, unless I want to make a big fancy meal.

laala said...

I've seen the same kind of thing here in Ireland. I've been talking to so many young-ish people who live mainly on fast food, take-aways and frozen dinners, because they "couldn't bother" to learn basic cooking.

The sad thing is, that they think I'm strange because I cook my own meals! Makes you wonder...

Jonna Wibelius said...

Suikiki -in my opinion there is a big difference between not knowing but being willing to learn and not knowing and not wanting to learn... mean, your wife knew the basics... I am wondering if my friend's bf would even be willing to learn if she offered to teach him.

Laala -that is sad indeed!!! I would hate to live on fast food... it's so simple to just fry/boil some veggies, put a salmon/chicken piece in the oven and ta -daaaaa! dinner's done! Cooks itself!

Lydia said...

My boyfriend can't cook either!
It's not normal!... well he can make toast, i'll give him that. a baby could do that though.
I am so determined to teach him but he's just not interested! i'm a busy person, i cant always be cooking for him but if i dont he'll just order a pizza... guys, i'll never get it. it's such an accomplishment to cook a really great meal that you're proud of!

JustBreathe said...

From teaching ESL here in Canada I deduced that most of the students would go out for meals/eat ready-made ie. pkg of noodles or hope their host family fed them well. I heard the "can't cook" excuse alot too and I would love to know for all those "can't cookers", can you read? Then you CAN cook!

Nobody said...

"the whole ‘I cannot cook’ is plain laziness"

that's to the point.

Nancy said...

It sounds like an excuse to me. I know our culture is different, but I would never be tied down to my husband that way. Make a sandwich, or go hungry. He usually likes to be responsible for himself because then he eats what he wants - like beans and frankfurters- something he doesn't get from me. But he is perfectly capable of fending for himself and eating healthy if he needs to.

Kosmo said...

Yikes. I was single until I was 29, and while I can't claim to be the world's greatest cook, I could definitely do the basics - pot roast, pork chops, etc.

Anonymous said...

When they say they cannot cook, they mean they cannot cook well and it won't taste as good as their mum, wife/gf or restaurant food.

Of course they can cook something if they really had to, but they'd prefer not to.

The problem is the environment and tradition they were brought up in. Traditionally, the son is suppose to help out in the field and the daughter needs to help out in the kitchen *shrugs*

It will change. Most girls now will bulk if their bf/husband doesn't help out in the kitchen. With increasing boy to girl ratio in China, the guys will have to please their women, or they won't be getting any! ;)

Anonymous said...

Jona, you hit on some collective Chinese male nerves. Chinese culture contains a lot of wife tales and sometimes all-out lies. You are only scratching the surface of it. I am Chinese, male and I learned to cook when I left home for college in China many years ago. Keep on observing China. You will find some really ugly cultural traits unique to China. Then you will sigh and realize why it would be hard for China to be the world's superpower. It's the only -ism that has held China back. More importantly, it's the culture. Remember I am Chinese. It's my culture that I am talking about.

Anonymous said...

If you get a university education (undergrad or masters) in China, you don't need to cook. In high school and undergrad you have the many cafeterias on your campus. My university in China had 7. Three of the cafeterias even had evening snacks. You are also not allowed to have a hot plate in your room or in the hallway, as it burned up too much electricity and would throw the circuit breakers, plunging the dorm floor into darkness.

When you get to a masters level you are able to cook in the hallway, but most still go to the cafeteria. That brings you up to your early 20s. Still, there's no excuse for not cooking.

I'm sure that this guy CAN cook. He just does not want to cook, and would rather be pandered to and to show her she is needed. I'm sure he can cook fangbian mian (boil water, put noodles in bowl, pour water in bowl, wait 3 minutes) and boiled eggs. All Chinese guys know how to do this. Still, it did not seem like she was annoyed. He really cannot live without her.

Anonymous said...

Can he READ? If you can read, you can cook. It's as simple as that. There are books that have instructions on how to make dishes. We call them Cook Books!

I've met girls who say they can cook. When I ask what they can cook, they say "instant noodles".

M.M.E. said...

Two of my roommates can only microwave things. Otherwise they cannot even cook pasta. It's true, I once watched them attempt to make spaghetti. It was a disaster.

Anonymous said...

I'm asian and I can't cook either. But then again, I cook instant ramen. It could quite possibly be the best thing ever happened to man.

Anonymous said...

Well, Jonna, I agree with lots of other commentators on this post: you're surely right about the laziness. The whole "can't cook" excuse is really unattractive. Makes me think of an ostrich burying its head in the sand!

Then again, your language partner is quite the enabler, isn't she? I wonder if she has a hard time maintaining her respect for her boyfriend, if he's as feckless as she reports. Or maybe she doesn't feel the need to respect him, as long as she loves him.

I used to cook all the time for a boyfriend, not because he was exactly unwilling to learn (he professed himself very willing, though in reality I think he set up some subliminal barriers to make sure it wouldn't happen too soon) but because I was unwilling to take the time to teach him. I had a razor-thin time budget, and, according to my calculations, it was faster to do it myself than to teach him. (Of course, if he had been really determined to learn he could have taught himself.)

All I'm saying is, I can see the enabler's side of the story, too. Sometimes you think to yourself, "OK, I know this isn't right, but I'm not able to change it right now, so I'm going to just shuffle along and see what happens later on."

Anonymous said...

Your topic would be a good name for a rock band.
I think it is also an oxymoron.

Anonymous said...

My friends parents (both Chinese) couldn't cook. They both came from situations where there would be a servant to do the cooking. After emigrating, they had to learn to cook. However it was the husband who took on that task and became a very skilled cook.

In Canada, I see so many young people who can't cook or couldn't be bothered. Supermarkets sell more and more pre-cooked dishes that you can take home and microwave. Even basics like pasta in sauce and mashed potatoes!

Even before I moved out of my parent's house, I learned to cook. I just preferred to eat according to my own schedule and have my own choice of meals.

Jonna Wibelius said...

Really interesting to read all of your comments...

What I find the most funny about the whole 'I cannot cook' thing is that here in China, there are so many 'rules/guidelines' about how someone 'should be like' or what things 'you need to have' in order to be 'good'/have a great life.. like: kids should have a good uni degree, preferably from a fancy university, men should be this and that tall and make this and that much money... young couples should first get married -then buy a house -then buy a car and then have a baby, good girls don't drink booze and yadi yadi.. (the list is endless)
But then, when it comes to something as basic as making yourself a simple meal (we are not talking any gourmet cooking here.. I was more thinking some veggies or noodles or whatever fills u up) people can get away with saying 'oh I don't know how to do that'....

What do you need that fancy degree for when you don't even know how to look after your basic, every day needs.

Anonymous said...

Seriously, this is ridiculous. Even if you can't cook, how hard is it to boil water for instant noodles??? Or how hard is it to put a TV dinner in the microwave oven o.O???

It IS lazyness, of course. Nobody ever taught me how to cook, but I still manage well...

Anonymous said...

Lol, I have girlfriends who can't cook! And they're Swedish too... Here in Niger, men make tea and roast meat on the fire. Quite a few can cook sauces too, but when it comes to the millet dough, they ask a neighbour for help.
Hälsningar från Västafrika,

The Candid Yank said...

I live in Germany with my German boyfriend and we have a similar situation at home, except that he likes eating too much to starve, and is too cheap to go out. He can fry some veggies and rice, but he prefers not to bother. Most of the time if I'm not there to cook he will just eat a sandwich or a bowl of cereal. He will go to very great lengths to avoid turning on the stove sometimes!

None of this bothers me though, because a) I loooove cooking and b) he would never, in a million years, even dream of having the audacity to call me up while I was out with a friend and ask why I hadn't left him something to eat.

I cook at home pretty much every day. One time, we were at his parent's house and his mom mentioned an upcoming dinner party and turned to me and asked what I would be bringing. I said, "nothing" and turned to her son and asked him, "what will you be bringing?" Extremely hostile and awkward silence followed. Like in a movie when some stranger walks in the bar, the record scratches to a halt, and everyone looks in his direction with their mouths hanging open. My logic: I cook every day for their son, so when it comes to making a dish for 20 of his own family members he can do that himself. Plus I don't do dessert and he does. After I couldn't take the menacing glares any longer I broke down and said that maybe I could bring something, I'd think about it. Everyone breathed again and was happy.

Anonymous said...

Hm, When people say that they can't cook I will interpret it as they can't cook WELL. Making instant noodles or put food in the microwave is not cooking alright? And I can tell you this, most young people, especially single ones, they can not cook well, that is why frozen pizza is so popular here in Scandinavia among singles and students. In my opinion, cooking is really easy, what you need is time and a good company, we all know it is damn boring to spend 1.5 hours to cook fancy meals only for yourself to enjoy. And please don't get the wrong impression that chinese guys in general are hopeless when it comes to cooking. I'm a chinese guy, enjoys cooking when I have spare time, can easily cook 4 different delicious dishes for a dinner, and that is only if I have time of course:)

Jonna Wibelius said...

Well like I said -there's a difference between not knowing how to cook coz you have no experience from it (common situation for young students with no large food budget -I've been there!) and then there are those who have the time and the money to cook, but who still prefers others to do it for them... Well, we are obviously all different (and that's a good thing) although I am d*** happy that my bf isn't like my friend's bf, who expects every meal of the day to be served to him. What a hassle!!

J said...

Sounds a bit like there might be some mummy replacement syndrome going on there too a bit. I've been surprised by how many young Chinese people I've met who cannot cook, but also by how many Americans of the same age are similarly baffled by the kitchen - in both cases at university in those countries it seems to be the norm to eat in college cafeterias.
In a way though, if someone really doesn't want to learn to cook and/or has no aptitude for it I can understand why they might just rely on bought food when street food and even restaurants are so so cheap in China.

Anonymous said...


There's so many new followers of this blog now.

I see most of the older commenters have gone by the wayside, no longer eager to to be crushed by the onslaught of eager newbie commenters who want their say.

Jonna, you are no longer just a foreigner in China.

You are a Phenomenon.



ps: fyi I can cook, sorta.

Larry said...

As kanmuri said"that's ridiculous..." that's really true.

That's a social change partly in Asian cities. Like people growing up in developed countries(North America, Europe), they choice to cook by themselves or go out to eat fastfood etc. Maybe in mainland China, they choice to set up the image that the girl could cook as like their parents or grand parents generation. That keeps the value about family. Even the people staying in city or a small village, they have the impression during at meal time. It's a norm that girls cook in some regional area in china, not boys. In some cities, the grand children couldn't know any cooking skill because their mum and dad having their meal in their grand dad and mum home very often. As they want to keep 'the value of having meal at home'

All in all, i could say it's about the family value, social norm, and person choice ... i think most of them could do the basic, some could have the talent to cook mouth-watering.

ps: i'm happy to cook the festival food.

Anonymous said...

Hehe, not quite sure if it's a culture different. My boyfriend is a Swedish and I'm a Chinese from HK. I cook and prepare lunch box for him everyday. For those few days, I was away for conferences, I found out that he order pizza everyday. Hehe, I think either because of I've already spoiled him or he is just simply too lazy to cook. :D

Anonymous said...

there's a saying that " the best chefs in the world are men" ;))


Anonymous said...

Well, even if this guy has the time and money, but as long as he does not make any effort to learn how to cook WELL, he will rely on his gf's cooking, which is probably better than his. Anyway, what I'm trying to say here is, it is really up to his gf, if she loves him enough to do the cooking for him. However, it could be related to a cultural thing, I mean it is quite obvious that it would become a hassle for most women in Scandinavia, where it is common/expected that a person should contribute equally in a relationship...perhaps, in particular when it comes to cooking...

thora said...

You'd be surprised to learn how many German husbands don't cook, out of pure laziness. And because their wifes are silly enough to support such laziness and do all the cooking.

Anonymous said...

I was one of those that "can't cook". As when I was in school, my dad cooked. In uni, there was canteen. But as soon as I arrived in UK to study, then I learned to cook. All the male Chinese friend also cooked, I guess quite a lot of them back home would also be in the category of "can't cook". So it is not "can't cook", but rather "won't cook" or "no need to cook".

As for Chinese culture on men not cooking, perhaps I'm extremely lucky? My dad is the main cook, my father-in-law also the main cook, so is my husband.


Anonymous said...

her boyfriend is obviously not shanghainese, havent you heard the rumors of shanghai boys, they do everything for the woman.

Anonymous said...

I've also heard of young Chinese who can't do laundry either. One of my professors who teaches in Tianjin said this is a major problem created by the parents who cater to the every whim of the child. "They can't cook or do laundry, but they sire can study"

Anonymous said...

Shanghainese guys are pretty pussy whipped. It disgusts me when I see them carrying their GF's fake LV bag.

Jonna Wibelius said...

shopgirl -yup, I know about the whipped Shanghainese men... :) Although this post wasn't so much about caning men for not being able to cook.. because a lot of my Chinese girlfriends are the same, heading home to mommy every time they want to have home-made food...

Anonymous said...

Why the Chinese want a wife/gf?
Because they need a wife/gf to do all the housework(include cooking). Not everyone but most of Chinese male think so. So they think don't need to learn how to cook.And if a girl dot't know how to cook or refuse to cook for their husband, then she is the one worthy of and deserving reprehension or reproof. that's really ugly cultural an is unfair to the women.

Anonymous said...

"Shanghainese guys are pretty pussy whipped. It disgusts me when I see them carrying their GF's fake LV bag."

Hey, watch your language there. I've had to get used to carrying the wife's purse while keeping some self respect. When you get married and she says "Hold this", and "I need XXX pads", you'll be singing a different tune. Blog the experience when it happens. (Eyes roll and head is lowered).

odmmb said...

:-)I LOVE reading your blogs. :-)