NPF: NEEDS MORE CHEESE, MAYBE ANOTHER GUN

Posted in No Politics Friday on April 25th, 2014 by Ed

In about one month I will be taking my first real trip to a foreign country. I've been to the basic Comfort Zone countries that Americans can visit without experiencing any severe culture shock – Canada, UK, etc. – but in late May I'm going to Brazil for a week. Don't worry, I'm not actually doing anything fun like going to Rio to party my ass off. My itinerary would make your grandmother jealous; let's just say that a lot of modern architecture will be toured and photographed.

One obvious rule when traveling is to avoid anything with "American" in its name unless you happen to be morbidly curious about just how ridiculous an image of Americans is held by people in other countries. Not that we do not give the rest of the world ample reason to think we are ridiculous, and not that Americans don't hold ridiculous misconceptions about foreigners who travel here (Japanese people all know karate! Everyone who speaks Spanish is from Mexico! Italians must eat pasta for every meal!) Rather than take offense, I enjoy learning about what people who have never been to the U.S. and may not know many Americans think of us. It's…revealing.

This is a list on Thought Catalog of 43 anecdotes relating to Americans traveling abroad and discovering what other people think of "American" food. It is fantastic. Add your own tales in the comments here if you want. Some of these I knew (The Japanese put corn in things to make them "American") or assumed (People around the world think Americans put ketchup on everything). Other things here were new to me. In Brazil, for example, "American" food items are drenched in mayonnaise. I never considered mayo a particularly "American" food – seems French, if anything – yet it makes sense that movies, TV, and advertising always show big jars of it in American kitchens and fridges. Finding mayo absolutely disgusting is all the motivation I need to make sure that I resist the urge to order American-style anything.

Of course stereotypes are full of holes and exceptions, but the one that comes closest to being valid is the foreign assumption that Americans put cheese on everything. We don't all do it, and we don't all put it on everything, but…let's face it, folks. We put a lot of cheese on things. Here in the Midwest it is difficult to find items on restaurant menus that are not covered in cheese (often of the liquid "nacho" variety). Oh, and ranch dressing. The entry that describes how in Finland, "American Sauce" is creamy ranch dressing is a bit too on the nose. A friend once worked in a popular chain restaurant – not the fast food variety – where 55 gallon Rubbermaid garbage cans were used to mix ranch dressing, such was the demand for the stuff on a daily basis. I have heard similar tales from restaurant staff coast to coast. While it is true that I live squarely in the heart of cheese-and-ranch country, I'm confident that these are traits found in all regions of the country to some degree.

Perhaps I'm the only one who sees great humor in this, but something about ordering a Tex-Mex platter in Germany and receiving Tortilla chips, mozzarella sticks, chicken nuggets, hot wings, hash browns, and potato wedges is priceless. Is it any more ridiculous than ordering "German food" in the U.S. and getting bratwurst and soft pretzels? I mean, most reasonably educated and self-aware Americans understand that our ethnic foods have been Americanized. Chinese takeout bears little resemblance to food served in China and Taco Bell is to Mexican Food what Disney World is to Detroit. While I will be visiting a large city with a lot of international visitors (Brasilia) and a major tourist destination (Iguazu) I hope I can enlighten at least one Brazilian or fellow tourist to the effect that, no, Americans do not all carry guns and eat french fries with every meal and drink Coke for breakfast and put cheese on everything.

I might have a moral dilemma about the last point, though. If we're being honest here, we kinda do. If there's anything we can't cover in cheese, bacon, and ketchup, I don't know what it is.

Oh, and apropos of the tale about Koreans putting whole hot dogs on "American pizza", my one horror story from the UK was discovering that kebab mystery meat (what goes into Gyros, essentially) can be and is a pizza topping. Come on. We're not animals. Let's maintain a little dignity.