Feeling Homesick, but Not How You Think

It was a little strange seeing an “American” aisle in the international section of the grocery store yesterday. It’s one of those small things that happen from time to time and reminded me that I’m the foreigner here.

We don’t often see ourselves that way, though, even when traveling. We immediately notice other people’s accents but rarely stop and think about how funny or incomprehensible we probably sound to everyone else. I guess we feel so at home in our own skins that it’s hard to appreciate how foreign we may seem to others.

Maybe sometimes that is a good thing because the world’s perceptions of us aren’t always the most flattering. I have to say that I was both a little sad and a lot embarrassed to see Old Glory flying above these shelves.

American Food

Whatever you may think of “American Food” this is how at least a portion of the globe sees our contribution to world cuisine. The saddest part is that I don’t think they’re entirely wrong. Highly processed sugar puffs are as uniquely American as Betty Crocker.

And who can forget the delights she cooked up, like Cherry Pineapple Bologna with instant potatoes and added food coloring. Ah, the good old days. 

If you’ll please excuse me now, I’m going to go lie down. I think I’m feeling a little home sick. 

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22 Comments on “Feeling Homesick, but Not How You Think”

  1. goingplacesbr September 5, 2014 at 9:07 am #

    Having become immersed in marketing (and enjoying) local food the last 4 years, I very much understand how home SICK you felt. What a sad realization that sugar and processed foods are our contribution to international cuisine.

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  2. Smorgasbord - Variety is the Spice of Life. September 5, 2014 at 9:29 am #

    We have the same feature here in Spain in the larger supermarkets. Their selection is mainly teas, jams, porridge, biscuits and tinned salmon. All vastly more expensive than the local alternatives but seem to fly off the shelves….They do have marmite though which I definitely pop in the trolley….Fish ‘n’ chips is a treat that has to wait for a home visit… good post thank you.

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  3. Michael September 5, 2014 at 12:12 pm #

    Jambalaya, crab cakes, clam chowder, turkey, cranberry sauce, caesar salad…America has contributed a LOT to global cuisine, but of course criticizing America will always get more sympathy.

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    • Brian September 5, 2014 at 4:31 pm #

      You forgot barbeque and the world’s best craft beer. But so what? That doesn’t negate the existence of corndogs and deep-fried Twinkies.

      All of which still misses the point. It’s perfectly well and good to argue, as I would, that our jambalaya is a vastly improved version of Spanish paella. But most of the world has never heard of jambalaya – let alone tried it. Sadly, that’s probably also true for most Americans. Can the same be said of McDonalds?

      And of those two things (McDonalds and Jambalaya), which do you honestly think is more representative of our cuisine? Which has had a greater influence on global perceptions? Answer those questions and I think you’ll see my point.

      As an aside, why should the U.S. be immune from criticism?

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      • Michael September 5, 2014 at 5:00 pm #

        No one said the U.S. should be immune from criticism. You really jump to conclusions, don’t you?

        The fact is that, no, McDonald’s is NOT representative of American cuisine and most cultured people know that. Perhaps your social circle isn’t more knowledgable about food. And that’s okay.

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        • Brian September 5, 2014 at 5:22 pm #

          Well gee, once you put “NOT” in all caps, who can seriously argue with your reasoning? But here’s a thought: perhaps the conversation would be more productive if you added some actual evidence to support your claims of “fact” instead of simply appealing to some unverifiable assertions about what “cultured people” supposedly know.

          The original question, which you avoided, was whether jambalaya or McDonalds was more representative of American cuisine. To answer that you might have argued that jambalaya outsells McDonald’s hamburgers domestically. Or that Americans cook Jambalaya at home more often than they cook hamburgers. Or that foreigners associate American cuisine more with jambalaya than with hamburgers in general and McDonald’s in particular. But you didn’t say any of that because each of those statements are, in fact, NOT true.

          Edit to add: “Americans eat nearly 50 billion burgers a year, which translates to three burgers a week for every single person in the United States.

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          • Michael September 8, 2014 at 12:46 pm #

            Here’s a fact then, Brian: the hamburger was not invented in the U.S. Jambalaya was.

            You’re a hostile, angry little man, aren’t you?

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            • Brian September 8, 2014 at 4:26 pm #

              And pasta wasn’t invented in Italy. So what?

              As far as being hostile and angry, you’re the only one who’s resorted to personal attacks. Twice now in three comments, by the way.

              Like

  4. laurabecknielsen September 5, 2014 at 1:02 pm #

    The foreign exchange student from Sweden stood shocked in the grocery store cereal aisle. “So many options?!” Her constant comment was that everything was way too sweet, “even the bread.” And I always agreed with her. When she sent me letters requesting certain “American” items, at the time (90’s) these were not available in Stockholm, Sweden: J-ELLO, Doritos, Pepsi, and Oreos. They were not allowed in Swedish grocery stores at the time, as she told it, because the government thought they contained too high a percentage of artificial ingredients and colors. I agreed with that too.

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    • Brian September 5, 2014 at 4:49 pm #

      The passage of time has proven Sweden prescient.

      Like

  5. Wingclipped September 5, 2014 at 4:07 pm #

    Oh dear. Lucky Charms and sugar puffs I’ve heard of – but not Betty Crocker. Does that make you feel any better? Perhaps not…

    But if, on occasion, you feel a little sad and a lot embarrassed to be an American abroad, please spare a thought for us poor Brits. I think we have the worst reputation there is. Whenever I am abroad and strike up a conversation with someone local, more often than not it turns to how the British have left their mark via football hooliganism and/or drunken stag do’s.

    I also remember being in a coach at 4am in Crete, on our way to walk the Samaria Gorge. We were the only Brits in a coach full of very friendly Germans. We passed through some resort as the night cluibs were kicking out. The Brits surrounded our coach and brought it to a halt. Then they started rocking it. They had a great time; we didn’t.

    Give me Betty Crocker any time, whoever she is…

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    • Brian September 5, 2014 at 4:33 pm #

      We all have our crosses to bear, it seems. 😀

      Like

  6. UnrestingSea September 5, 2014 at 5:37 pm #

    haha! I’ll never forget when I was abroad visiting my ex-pat friend. We passed an “American” store with all the sugary, processed American foods and she nearly had a heart attack with all her excitement. I felt a little embarrassed by the contents of the store, but hey… I guess you can either get “homesick” or home “sick” right?

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  7. The Fourth Continent September 5, 2014 at 8:46 pm #

    I’m always happy to see an American section in non- western countries 🙂 just as I’m happy to see McDonald’s once in awhile 🙂 what you don’t have you miss, right?

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    • Brian September 6, 2014 at 3:18 am #

      We do admit to missing extra-large coffees in take-away cups. I remember being thrilled to find a Dunkin’ Donuts in Madrid. We were the only people walking down the street with these huge coffee cups and couldn’t have been happier.

      Like

  8. judlaw September 5, 2014 at 9:33 pm #

    Great post, and interesting comments. 🙂

    Like

  9. juntosalsur September 6, 2014 at 8:47 am #

    We see a variation of the “American Section” in Ecuador’s supermarkets. There are certain items carried in the familiar North American brands; popcorn, peanut butter, stone-ground mustard, garlic powder and many other examples, that are vastly more expensive than their local equivalents. In many cases the local offerings are of much higher quality with fewer chemical ingredients, rivaling the best boutique foods found in North American stores. It goes to show that one can pay a high price, in money and enjoyment, by gravitating to the familiar while traveling. Bless you two for traveling and discovering with all of your senses, not just your eyes, and for being open to a new view of your own culture while you discover the cultures of others.

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    • Brian September 6, 2014 at 9:10 am #

      “It goes to show that one can pay a high price, in money and enjoyment, by gravitating to the familiar while traveling.”

      How true!

      Like

  10. nigemate September 8, 2014 at 3:17 am #

    Interesting Factoid: The most popular home cooked family meal in Australia is…..spaghetti bolognese.

    Who’d have thought that from the land of the barbie (as in the barbeque, not the doll), kangaroo, emu and a lot of steak, the humble spag bol is #1. Just highlights the differences between perceptions of national traits and realities. Having said that, where there is smoke, there is often fire. The Australians now outweigh the USA in respect of national obesity/overweight prevalence due to, lets face it, a global love of fast food and other processed goodies that largely stems from the USA. Not a criticism of the USA at all, just a fact. I’m living in Namibia at the moment and KFC is THE popular food outlet. So maybe the world craves processed sugary fatty goods, and the USA did a great job of getting the marketing right!

    Second interesting factoid: Nando’s (the peri-peri chicken family restaurant) is founded and still owned by a South African businessman, and there are of course a reams of Asian fast food chains popping up. Macca’s beware?

    Like

    • Brian September 8, 2014 at 4:27 am #

      Didn’t know that spaghetti bolognese was Australia’s most popular dish or that they outweighed us Americans. Like you say, it goes to show that perception and reality aren’t necessarily the same thing.

      Like

    • thecaptainnemo September 9, 2014 at 6:53 pm #

      Mmmm Nando’s , I’m craving spicy chicken now 🙂

      Like

  11. Joanne September 8, 2014 at 12:06 pm #

    love that recipe card. *hurry up main dishes…*
    yes, hurry up and die!

    Like

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