The common joke in my family when I was growing up was that my mother could come home with a 95 on an exam and my grandmother would say:
"And what happened to the other 5 percent?"
There's clearly a perfectionist element in the Jewish character. (I was mostly spared this because my parents realized early on that no amount of nagging was going to get me higher than 78 percent on science and French exams.)
But wait a minute... hold on, here.
Is it possible that Chinese mothers are exactly the same way?
As evidence I present Eddie Huang.
Huang is the chef behind Baohaus (which is delicious, if slightly overpriced) and Xiao Ye, a Tiawanese canteen sort of restaurant.
Today, Sam Sifton tore Xiao Ye a new asshole in the Times. (It sounded immensely unfair to not even give it a single star given the fact that Sifton really flipped out over a number of the dishes.) Huang is accused of (among other things) not taking the restaurant environment seriously -- sitting in the dining room on his blackberry, rather than managing the place.
Fair enough -- Huang was gracious about it on his blog... but then Huang's mother calls the review "a review of your life."
And she's just getting started! She is a mother who is not happy with the fact that her son has not used his talents to the desired effect. He has not mastered the basic discipline necessary in running a restaurant and it's holding him back.
Whoa! Mrs. Huang, calm down.
I'm most impressed that Eddie had the balls to post this email from his mother on his Web site. It proves several things:
1) He has a tight relationship with his mother. (How Jewish!)
2) His mother is unafraid of making criticism. (Ditto.)
3) His mother's criticism is, well, sharp. (Three-for-three, so far.)
I actually have no idea how sharp the criticism is. Mrs. Huang gets points for being detailed and a clear writer (which is sometimes mistaken for sharpness) who has very definite ideas on what he has to do to make his restaurant better. But even though at this particular moment, I would expect a parent to be more supportive, one can also sense the love underneath the surface: Her Eddie is clearly capable of so much more!
And I could hear this kind of critique out of the mouths of many of my family members.
Yes, we are a similar people. (And, quite frankly, this made me want to try Huang's restaurant.)