Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Living In Not America: Would You Like Fries With That?

From time to time I get to ramble on about being an immigrant. Without fail, I'll be asked what I miss, and without fail, food tops the list.

America's ridiculously good at exporting itself, and there's not a whole lot from Over There I can't lay my grubby little paws on with a minimum of fuss. Contact with friends and family is pretty straight-forward at the dawn of the 21st century, and it looks like it will just keep getting easier. So there's no huge gaping Americana-shaped hole in my heart. I may grumble once in a while at the lack of Stephen Colbert in my life (can't even get him on the computer!) and every once in a while, I still try to get in the wrong side of the car. But the biggest change in my life, day to day, is food.

It's never the good stuff either. I can make that myself. It's the guilty pleasures, the unrepentant junk that I miss. I haven't had Nutter Butters, Taco Bell, Little Debbies, Mountain Dew, a really-good really-bad chilli dog or even a convenience store burrito in over ten years! No amount of skill in the kitchen is going to make that happen for me.

Eating at home isn't all that different. Or rather, any differences are intentional and have more to do with the fact that I'm ten years older than with my position five time zones to the right. For better or worse, supermarket shelves look a little more American every year, and while I have yet to find fluorescent orange mac n' cheese and no packaging yet contains the suffix a-roni, I'm sure it's just a matter of time.

Eating out is another matter.

Yes, I can still visit the Golden Arches. I've got plenty of fast food options, and although it's a slightly different experience ("Do you want curry sauce with your McNuggets?"), it's close enough.

Around here, more often than not, dining out has a sense of occasion. Americans on the other hand often have a more functional relationship with a restaurant. We're not here for an evening out. We're here because we're hungry, and it'll take too long to get home and cook. We're looking for good, quick and cheap food, not neccessarily in that order.

We probably haven't gotten a babysitter either, so the place has to be kid friendly. Sure, we have fancier places where you can go for that special date or to celebrate that big promotion, but you'll have an easier time finding the row of family restaurants just off the interstate.

My biggest problem here is scheduling. I never seem to get hungry at an appropriate time. Pubs often serve food at lunch, but finding a decent meal at around 3:30 in the afternoon can be tricky, especially if you're a bit off the beaten path. That's when my Inner Yank gets all huffy and indignant, genuinely shocked that I can't get what I want right now. That whole immediate gratification thing? Yeah, the rest of the world's catching up, but we're way out in front.

Just wait and see what happens when you try to order iced tea.