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.

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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.

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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.
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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.


  • An aussie friend once told me that American food is fried stuff with cheese and I always found this to be spot on. China also does hot dog pizza, to be fair though it's through Pizza Hut so they should know better, and also includes shrimp tempura and wasabi mayo. see here:

    One time in Korea I ordered nachos, only to discover upon tasting them that the cooks had apparently not realized that there is a difference between sour cream and whipped cream. It was the stuff from a can too.

    #3 on the list rang true to me. I had waffles once in China and while the picture showed strawberries, when it actually arrived they had substituted cherry tomatoes.

    Other interesting dishes:

    Carbonara loaded with garlic (China)
    Pizza with ketchup for sauce and beans as a topping (Czech Republic)
    Something that looked like a corn dog that had been cooked in a waffle iron, turned out to be a hot dog surrounded by cake batter (Thailand)

    Seen but not actually experienced:

    A female only restaurant called "Burger Queen" in Kuwait. (I have a picture somewhere)

  • My favorite "what foreigners think of America" story comes from overconsumption of American TV dramas, especially cop shows from the 70s – apparently, lots of people around the world are under the impression that in America nobody locks their car doors. You just walk up to a car, open the door, get in, and drive away, because that's how it works on pretty much every network TV show (because showing people fumbling with keys and seatbelts is just dead air that slows a show's pacing). It made me wonder just how many TV storytelling shortcuts (like people answering phones on the first ring without a lot of "hello…who is this…oh hi Jeff" discussion, or people barging into apartments without a lot of knocking or fussing with locks, or parking spaces are always available right in front of someplace) are internalized by non-American viewers to give them a very skewed idea of how people live in the U S of A.

    And I assume everybody saw those articles a couple of weeks ago about "American" themed parties in other countries, where the distinguishing feature was the way…everybody drinks out of red Solo cups.

  • HoosierPoli says:

    Brasilia, right? Dope. Hope we get to see a lot of pictures of completely deserted planned city goodness.

  • Middle Seaman says:

    The world is not that big. Many places have quite a solid notion of what American food is. Hamburgers, hot dogs and pizza can be had in both the good, the bad and the ugly versions in many countries. Australia has plenty of Subway places and bad, as ours, pizza places. A small town in the Costa Del Sol had a decent Tex Mex restaurant plus an "American Restaurant" with a Thunderbird convertible and a Hurley in front. Beijing has more Kentucky Chicken places than is good for them. MacDonald is all over the globe.

    Many countries have great local food Brazil included. This winter I stayed in two countries and three if you count California (they do speak Spanish there after all). Local food was great. Mexican food in California, when you avoid the chains, doesn't resemble East Coast Mexican food and is great.

    Most of the world knows a lot about the US, it's food and culture. They also have better pizza than our inedible chain products.

  • "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."

    Bullshit!! To quote Dirty Harry (don't recall which one) as he's inspecting a murder scene while a detective is eating a hot dog: "You really make me sick! Everyone knows you don't put ketchup on a hot dog!"

    The primary differences between Australian and American food is that Aussies put a slice of (pickled) beet (root) and an egg on it, and sauce (ketchup) on sausages (hot dogs). The French's style neon yellow mustard is near impossible to find at sporting events. I refuse to put ketchup on a hot dog, as some things just are not done.

    A distinct lack of a German, Polish and Central European immigrant population quite frankly means Australia has missed out on really good sausages and smoked meats.

    And if you say you don't like bacon. YOU ARE WRONG! ;)

  • Joseph Nobles says:

    I worked on a cruise ship that went around the world in 2006. We had one guy whose thing was to eat at a McDonald's in every port. I think he was unable to do so on Easter Island, but otherwise, mission accomplished.

    We don't put cheese on American-style Asian foods. But other than that, we glop it on.

  • As an aside:
    The origin of the word and the reason for the different spellings of ketchup or catsup is that it originates from the Indonesian word for "sauce".

    The thick sweet form of soy sauce is called "kecap manis" or "ketjap manis" or "cetjap manis". The "C" and the "tj" in Indonesian are pronounced like "ch" as in church or chime. So it would be roughly pronounced kee-chap man-ees

    This of course came to English as Dutch approximations of the word during the colonial period.

  • I'm slightly nonplussed by this, because I entirely agree with Middle Seaman that if there's a country on earth of which people everywhere else have a reasonably good sense of the food culture it's the US.

    Every city of any size has an "American" place that sells something approximating American food, with a heavy emphasis on breakfast and burgers. A lot of is adapted for local palates, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. The best home fries I've ever eaten were in Barcelona. The best hotdogs in the world (and yes, I have eaten at Chris' in Montgomery, AL) are for sale at Bæjarins Beztu in Reykjavik.

  • Michael Bloom says:

    My Brazil experience was that lunch salads dressed (liberally) with mayonnaise were called "mayonnaise." There was also a category called "American lanch" (in Portuguese the U is pronounced as in "human," so they spell "lunch" with an A) that was a lunch salad where every ingredient came out of a can, the simplest version being canned tuna mixed with canned shoestring potatoes.

    There are many delicious fruits in Brazil that you can't get here, so I recommend you check out the juice bars, where they sell fruit smoothies called "vitaminas."

  • I was listening to a comedian who wondered what it would be like if cities in other countries had an "America-Town" like we have Chinatown.

    He determined that America-Town would be a bunch of fat, white people putting ranch dressing on everything and looking for free wi-fi.

  • I am with HoosierPoli in assuming you're going to check out the awesome midcentury modern architecture of the mighty Oscar Niemeyer (RIP). Pics please!!

  • greennotGreen says:

    I recently spent a couple of weeks in two southern provinces in China, and I found the food to be not that different from good Chinese food I can get here in the mid-south U.S. The Chinese food in China had less sauce and the meat was mostly terrible with lots of gristle and fat, but it wasn't the "totally different" cuisine I'd been told it was.

    And yes, KFC was every where. We went there one time on a very warm day for ice cream.

    BTW, have a great time in Brazil! Enjoy some empanadas – very different than those from Mexico.

  • My food related story with tourism is from London. I was on vacation there about 10 years ago (and feel really old when I think about it) and I was in a middle eastern place near a tube stop in Chelsea. There were some touristy hotels nearby, all of which charged way over my price point. I got a Chicken Shawarma as big as my head for a pretty reasonable price with some sides. As I was sitting down to eat, a small family of very obviously Americans came in, and without bothering to look at the menu asked the person behind the counter, at VERY LOUD VOLUME (because, you know, brown people don't speak English right, so you shout at 'em, right?) if they could make them hamburgers. I remember making eye contact with the guy at the cash register and rolling my eyes as I glanced at them- he smothered a snicker. I felt sorry for them, because if all Americans acted like that, I'd vote to close the borders to us.
    As for Tex-Mex, I was in a place here in Dayton that claimed to be a Mexican Catina- my general rule for a Mexican place is the more they advertise their margaritas, the shittier the food will be. It was our first time in Dayton, and we really had no idea where to go, so we went to this place, menu unseen. Big mistake- not only was my lactose-intolerant vegetarian wife unable to find ANYTHING on the menu that didn't require a ton of substitutions (not even a bean burrito, FFS) but the "nachos" I got was a plate of canned cheese dumped on burnt chips (not a jalepeno to be seen), and my "spinach and cheese enchiladas" consisted of raw spinach rolled in tortillas, with a bag of mozzarella cheese melted on top.
    We kind of picked at our food, and ate a top of the chips and salsa, and when the manager came over to see if everything was alright, my wife almost told him "I'm sorry, I thought we were going to a Mexican place- our mistake!" We instead said that as vegetarians, we expected more, well, bean related dishes- being a Mexican place and all.

  • I can't stand mayo; it's disgusting, nauseating, vomit-inducing sludge. Ranch dressing is just mayo with some weird stuff mixed in. I'm also not fond of American cheese. In the past I've had jobs that required a lot of travel, and I found I pretty much couldn't eat in the midwest or the south. One memorable event was the time I ordered a peanut-butter sandwich (because everything else was slathered in cheese) in a fairly-nice (that is, rather expensive) restaurant in Virginia Beach…and it came with an inch-thick slather of mayo. Who the hell puts mayo on peanut butter?!?

    OTOH, I lived in England for 2 years as an adult, and I've travelled extensively through Germany, Holland, Italy, and France for work, and never had a problem with the food. My favorite cheap-grub was the bog-standard ham sandwich with Coleman's mustard that every pub I ever went to in England served. I never bothered with any "American" restaurants while abroad because why would you? You can get 'murkin food at any Applebees in the USA and it's not even palatable.

  • The Philippines has a reverence for the US, that results in them wanting good things to be "American style". So one of the most popular restaurants is Straw Hat Pizza (or maybe it was Shakey's?). And the cheese on the pizza is AMERICAN CHEESE. I really wish I were kidding.

    cu and I need to start "Fair Fare", a restaurant whose kitchen consists exclusively of deep fryers with various battering and sweetening stations. You pick out the item you want (vegetables, fruits, meats, cakes, whatever), the batter you want (cornbread, pancake batter, cookie dough, cake batter, a thick dusting of sugar/brwon sugar), and we deep fry that for you, and provide a sickly-sweet dipping sauce that alludes to its tough-guyness "Totally triple extreme habanero supersacharine sauce".

    [I could actually go for some carrot nuggets with jalapeno dipping sauce, about now.]

  • Lard is waaaay too expensive for Oreos these days. It's all vegetable shortening now.
    Those Hostess pies? Full of lard.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    Hazy Davy,
    We'd make a fortune in the Mid-West alone!!!!!

    We could even give out cotton-candy strings to floss with after the meal.

  • Annonymouse does know that mayonnaise is not American and that made fresh is indescribably delicious? And any American adventurous to travel abroad to a "non-comfort" country probably understands that there is o such thing as "American" cheese.

    My "non-comfort" travel destination have all been in Asia having lived in Japan for almost seven years and making trips to Thailand and S. Korea back in the late 1980s.

    Mickey D's has been in Japan forever. It, KFC and Mister Donut practically count as native cuisine. I was shocked, however, to see both McDonalds and KFC as well as Pizza Hut in Bangkok in 1989 but chalk that up to the Vietnam War and the city having been a common R&R destination for U.S. servicemen for years.

    Otherwise, as many others have posted, the major cities abroad have at least a passing acquaintance with "American food." Tokyo, gastronomically, is shoulder-to-shoulder with NYC as the most sophisticated and varied city on the planet. The only late-comer to Japan, and still not found much beyond the major cities, is Tex-Mex style Mexican food.

  • Some of the strangest combinations I have found were on a breakfast buffet in Prague …..the former Eastern Europe can come up with some real surprises.

  • FWIW, deep fried candy bars are a Scots import, though that doesn't absolve us from taking to them. Seems strange to me that one might get an opportunity to try new foods, and squander it on "American style" fare.

  • I never ate American food in most of my travels throughout Europe–the occasional fast food burger notwithstanding–but one thing I found in England while I was living there is that their Mexican food is just terrible. I knew there wouldn't be a ton, but I figured there'd be a few restaurants–sort of how you can usually find at least one restaurant in most moderately sized cities here serving Spanish or Peruvian or German or Turkish food. There was nothing. Eventually, my friend from California and I found a Mexican restaurant in Northampton. We were so excited, until we read the menu, which described a quesadilla as a "Mexican pancake stuffed with cheese."

    On the plus side, I learned to make decent Mexican food at home.

    In any case, Ed, have fun in Brazil. I've wanted to go for a long time, and just before the World Cup is probably the best time to go–you'll avoid the madness and high prices, but you can take advantage of what improvements to infrastructure there have been.

  • Erm….you DO know that sauerkraut and soft pretzels ARE German food, nicht war? Put some cheese on that pretzel, though, and it turns immediately into American fare. And…you DO know that Dutch and Belgian people really do eat fries with every meal, yes? Served with a side of mayonnaise–and they are not claiming that is American style, either.

    But, as much as I love to jump on the Ugly American bashing train, I am not down with this post. Seems like all those other countries are being the ding-dongs here; making vast assumptions of what Americans like to eat without really knowing. One of the things to celebrate in the United States is our vast diversity of food options. You go to The Netherlands, you are eating Dutch food or Indonesian food. Go to a Chinese place and it is just as gross as any American place. Do NOT go to a "Mexican" restaurant–you'll get ketchup with some chunks of onion in it masquerading as salsa. At least in the U.S., depending on your location, you can find authentic versions of just about any ethnic food. True, many people in many states don't have that option, but more and more do.

    All that being said, I have said this before here and will say it again: I was constantly asked by Europeans if I missed having pancakes for breakfast. Apparently they do think we all eat pancakes every day for breakfast. Also, when I worked as a tour guide in Europe, I would have to explain to my American clients that no, they were NOT going to get coffee with dessert in France–only after. Even if I asked for it they wouldn't do it. Because to the French, drinking coffee is how you tell your stomach the meal is done. Sure, you might get a mignardise with the coffee, but that is a tiny little sweet, not the dessert.

  • Steve in the ATL says:

    I was in Paris and a French family invited me over for dinner. They wanted to cook me an American meal, so they made hamburgers. Uncooked meat patty on a bun, topped with tomato and cucumber, then the top bun, then the entire "hamburger" put in the oven and baked for 10 minutes. McDonald's it was not. Ce n'etait pas de McDonalds's. Or something like that.

  • I spent most of my time in Munich eating at Turkish Kebab joints. I found the German food, with a few exceptions, to be on the bland side.

    The beer and pretzels, however, were every bit as good as imagined they would be.

  • one thing I found in England while I was living there is that their Mexican food is just terrible

    This is absolutely true.

  • So my two cents from living in Brazil for half a year:

    re: cuisine:
    as has been stated eat as much fruit as you can (bananas, mangoes, pineapple aka "abacaxi", guava, passion fruit aka "maracuja" in particular), it's the best food Brazil has to offer. You should definitely get fruit juice when possible. But when you get that, along with coffee, consider getting it "Sem Açúcar " (without sugar), unless you like chewing on granulated sugar in your drinks. Brazilians love nothing more than sugar, Americans honestly have nothing on them. It's incredible. If you do like sweet stuff, even though you're going in the winter, you should think about trying Açaí. In America we've turned it into some kind of strange fake health fad, but the Brazilians do it right. Order it from a modest juice stand for best results, rather than some fancy place. Basically, it acheives some magical sorbet-smoothie concentration, and is this heavenly sugary purple goo. Godawful for you, just the way it was meant to be.

    Forget vegetables and embrace fried foods and red meats in the interior and fish if you're anywhere near the coast. You can get a burger with pretty much anything on it pretty much anywhere in the country though, if that's your thing. Downside is the ketchup is pink and full of sugar. Imagine the cuisine of the midwest in the 1950s and you'll have a good idea. The cuisine in most of Brazil is… simple, save for in the Northeast (Bahia) where it's this really astounding Afro-Indigenous-Portuguese mash-up (moqueca, or fish stew is particularly great).

    One last piece of food advice: if you're going to be staying on the Brazilian side of the border in Foz do Iguazu, go to "Bufalo Branco," for a great churrascaria (barbeque restaurant). Basically, this is where the whole "Brazilian steakhouse" trend in the US is from. Except in Brazil, and on the Argentine border especially, you can get great beef along with more exotic things like chicken hearts, and just fantastic Argentine wine for a song, compared to what you'd pay in the US. It's all you can eat, and I recommend trying it once if you like meat at all.

    re: booze
    Mostly Brazilians drink awful awful beer by the gallon that tastes like piss and only technically contains alcohol. They do drink in a certain way though, where a group buys a bottle, then pours it out into individual cups for more social consumption. Pretty much all the beers are the same shit, either tasteless lagers or weirdly sweet ales. It's basically what your students binge drink on a 3-4 days of the week basis. So feel young?

    The famed caipirihna is pretty much the only cocktail in Brazil, it's incredibly sweet, generally made with lime (though you can request any fruit you like). Generally they put cocktails in most American bars to shame in terms of alcohol, so take them slow if you decide to partake.

    The wine sucks unless you're near Argentina.

    re: everything else
    Brazilians not in official or hospitality-industry positions tend to speak little to no English, but try not to let it get you down. Smile, point, laugh, and generally they'll humor you (Brazilians, outside of Sao Paulo, are the most patient people you'll meet).

    At some point you are going to have to deal with the Brazilian State, which makes American institutions such as the Post Office and DMV seem like paragons of efficiency. It sucks and Brazilians kind of default to standing in huge lines when unsure of what to do. You just have to go with it, accept that no one's time is really that valuable, and just deal. This is at its worst in Rio, if you go through there at all, but at least that is the most gorgeous city in the world (simultaneously one of the ugliest). I never got to Brasilia, so not sure what the culture is like there exactly.

    Overall, smile a lot and keep your wallet in your front pocket, your everyday non-filthy-rich Brazilians are really about the coolest people on Earth.

  • Mexican food in Europe is not to be trusted outside of Spain. I was served Doritos with my meal at a Mexican place in Germany (granted, the food was otherwise still a step above Taco Bell). My cousin once got food poisoning from guacamole in London.

    Pizza is questionable in countries not on the Adriatic. Even there though, Croatia gives you a side of cinnamon ketchup.

  • Kraft mayonnaise is most certainly an American product, as is American cheese (a weird, plastic-y congealed homogenized product). Certain parts of the USA, as Ed pointed out, liberally use both of these, occasionally in the same dish.

  • All this food makes me miss real American Food.

    I am an American ex-pat living in the Confederate States of America. :)

  • Due to my childhood, Best Foods mayo (Hellman's east of the Rockies) is practically a sacrament for me. Due to cholesterol, I don't eat as much of it as I'd like. Did have hard cooked eggs in real mayonnaise in Paris, which was very nice indeed.

    On the 'sweet blue Krishna, what am I eating?' front, I was in Barrow Alaska a couple decades ago, and ate in what is probably the furthest north Mexican restaurant anywhere. Easily the worst Mexican food I've had anywhere, as well. Mild salsa from a jar was as spicy as it got, but then, they were using food ingredients that had arrived on the last ship before the Arctic Ocean froze the year before. Also, ate at a restaurant in Paris called Thanksgiving. It wasn't French food, or American either. Never found out why they called it that.

    My first trip out of California was in high school, going to NYC with Model United Nations. It surprised me that none of the French bread was sourdough.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    A story from my HS German class trip to Germany in 1975 – there are so many, that I could write a Novella.

    My family saved for years, and I worked in the machine shop where my father was a Foreman for 2 summers, to save-up and take this 10 day trip to West Germany.

    Many hijinks ensued over the first week.

    Finally, tired of the great German food, me and my closest friends saw a what we though was a pizza parlor, in downtime Munich.
    It advertised, "American Pizza!"
    We desperately wanted something from home that we were familiar with, so walked in – 5 young HS Junior and Senior guys.

    We got the menu's.
    "HOLY SHIT!" We all thought!
    The prices were OUTRAGEOUS!!!!!!

    At the time, a whole pizza at home cost probably around $3 – $4 bucks – with 10 or so cents an additional topping.

    The pizza's there, started at $20 dollars!!!!!
    And it was $5 – $10 bucks for each additional topping.
    'WOW! Germany's expensive!", we thought.

    While my friends were looking in their wallets to see what they had – we were really, really tired of the great German food, and craved American – I looked at the clientele, and THEN the waitresses, and finally the "menu," and I had an epiphany!!!!

    "HOLY SHIT, GUY'S" I tried to whisper.
    'What," they said.
    "This isn't a pizza parlor – IT'S A BORDELLO!!!"
    "YEAH," I said. "A whorehouse! Take a look at these outrageous prices! Those "toppings" are what you want "extra" on top of straight sex!!!"
    'NO!', they said!
    "Well, take a good look around. Do you see ANY fucking pizza on ANY table?"

    We were all 17 or 18, so, and I'm too discreet to tell you what happened…

  • C u n d Gulag- you must have ordered Dominoes then!
    Two points- 'Mexican' food is pretty dreadful almost everywhere except the U.S and Mexico.
    In Australia, food is not radically different to American both in types available and quality, but American stuff has a reputation that everything is deep fried or heavily dressed with ranch dressing and mayo. Its regarded that getting adequate amounts of fruit and veg ,in the South particularly, can be quite difficult.
    There is a mini- boom of American style BBQ joints here ATM, so it will be interesting to see how they compare to the real thing!

  • I've visited Brazil as a tourist, and agree with everything BenH wrote. I would add that in my limited experience, many of the travel warnings you typically get seemed fairly paranoid. As a 6 foot 13 male (as I understand from past posts that you are kind of tallish) you'll be fine just about anywhere, and the locals will steer you away from any danger they see you bumbling into (again, this is just my anecdata as a tourist a few years back). And yes, the fruit juices. Oh lord, the fruit juices.

  • @c u n d – I believe the Scots generally take credit for the invention of the deep fried candy bar. Late night drunk food in Scotland is pretty much along the same lines as American carnival food. My fave is the pizza crunch supper – a slice of frozen pizza, dipped in batter and deep fried. There's also the infamous "munchy box" which is basically just kebab meat and a bunch of different fried stuff dumped in a small pizza box.

    And everyone makes fun of American breakfasts but the traditional "Full English" breakfast in the UK is actually way more over the top. Everything in it is fried, except for the beans. Even the tomato. In addition to eggs, it's got at least 3 kinds of meat (often including two different types of bacon). It's even got black pudding, which is a type of blood sausage.

    @Ed – maybe it's because the majority of the time I've spent in Germany has been in the South, but pretzels and bratwurst seem to be pretty ubiquitous over there, same with Austria. It did make me laugh noticing that in an Austrian supermarket the "wurst" refrigerated section was just as large as the meat section.

    @Nick – spot on about Mexican food in the UK. I was once persuaded to try a burrito in London – I foolishly believed my English friend because he not only has excellent and diverse taste in food, but he'd lived in Southern California for over 5 years so I assumed he knew what decent Mexican was like. It was… marginally edible? I guess? Mainly because the thing cost the equivalent of almost $10 and I was reluctant to throw it out?

  • One of the few times I got to help introduce foreigners to real American culture was when I was visiting my sister and her husband when they lived in Vienna. It happened to coincide with US Thanksgiving, so they decided to cook up a traditional turkey dinner for me and another US ex-pat couple they knew. Then, some of their Austrian friends heard of it, and decided that eating turkey, drinking, and watching sports was right up their alley, so they joined as well. When I went to make gravy, I realized they were out of chicken broth, so I tried making a small amount using a bullion cube. It worked OK, but it was an odd yellow color and far more salty than I would have normally made it. My sister said, don't worry, the Austrians won't mind, they put tons of salt on everything.

    And she was right, they loved the whole meal. I was especially happy that they liked my apple pie – the Viennese have some of the best pastry in the world and it's pretty hard to impress them. They were also fascinated by American football, in particular the concept that the offense and defense are in fact totally different teams. They were vaguely aware of the basics of the game, but had never really watched a whole game before with people who could explain it to them. (Side note, watching American football in Europe is great. It's a pay channel, and it's not live, so they edit out all of the stoppages. Watching the whole game takes about an hour).

    The best part for the Austrians was that one of the other Americans there was literally a rancher from Montana. Basically the sort of person they think every American should be like. He runs cattle! He drives a pickup truck! He wears a cowboy hat to work! He was pretty amused by the whole thing and pointed out that only a tiny percentage of Americans live the way he does and city folk like me are far more typical.

  • It's not food but it is about foreigners receiving America via television: around 1980 we had a pair of British visitors who told us of their sole disappointment in visiting San Francisco. They had apparently spent an inordinate amount of time hanging out at the bottoms of hills, waiting to see the speeding cars that crest the hilltop, achieve full liftoff and slam back to the pavement halfway down the block. They had their cameras ready and everything. Cop shows set in SF have always been known for documentary realism, I guess.

    Re "parking spaces always available right in front" (and cop shows), we long ago adopted a habit from my sister-in-law, who claps her hands 3 times chanting "KOJAK! KOJAK! KOJAK!" when she needs a parking spot. This will make a parking space magically appear right where you need it. It's really awesome when it works, and don't judge. It's cheaper than buying lottery tickets and less embarrassing than believing whales are speaking to you.

    As for all the "you won't believe what their pizza was like" stories, isn't that what everybody in America says about the pizza two states over?

  • Some of the best Mexican food I've ever had was at Amelia's in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. El ultimo was some kind of avocado shrimp salad thing I ordered in Mazatlan. Fantastico!

    Pizza in Asia is usually pretty sketchy, but the Pizza Hut I found myself ordering from in Cebu City, Philippines produced a far better pie than any I've had from that chain stateside.

    Nothing beats fresh caught fish, grilled right there on the beach.

  • That's awesome, Ed! I hope you have a great time, and to me mayo on everything seems more european or canadian. Not the ranch though, that shit is everywhere… and delicious! I'm looking forward to hearing about your trip! :)

  • I'm sure visitors to the US would have some horror stories about our interpretations of their food, too, though as others have noted here we have a wealth of authentic ethnic foods (depending on where you live). The pizza stories reminded me of this classic, The Japanese Pizza Page, featuring among other toppings, squid ink:

  • That 1979 hit song, "Breakfast in America", by the British pop band Supertramp, pretty much sums up European stereotypes about the US..

    There is one verse:

    Kippers for breakfast
    Mommy dear, mommy dear
    Must have them in Texas
    'Cus everyone is a millionaire…….

    Yeah, right!

  • Major Kong, thanks for the reminder. Went to London with my travel agent first husband back in the late 1980s. He was Panamanian-Chinese, living in San Francisco, so his culinary horizons were broad but irregular. He did not quite know what to make of cold baked beans as a breakfast food. In France, having truite meuniere for dinner, he paused, looked around the hotel dining room, and whispered to me, "nobody else is eating the head. Don't they know it's the best part?"

  • Hong Kong is an interesting subject when it comes to "junk" food. While you are correct that "sesame chicken" is not a particularly popular dish here (and much less so on the mainland), the dishes you find in strip mall chinese joints are relatively NOT Americanized – and where they are, it is often for the HEALTHIER! Hong Kong cuisine is a strange mix of traditional dishes and wartime/colonized adaptation foods. Sweet n sour pork can be found, exactly the same here – and is the closest, as even in America it's often served without vegetables. But in HK you'll find things flavored just like beef n broccoli – but using even cheaper, chewier beef, and NO BROCCOLI. Most veggies are ordered a la carte here, so you'll get a plate of JUST spinach fried in garlic, and a plate of pork fried rice may have no veggies – just a higher quality version of those little red cubes. Those red cubes are char siu and change the dish's name to char siu fried rice but otherwise it's the same dish (but much oilier here). If you want "veggies" you may want "American" fried rice, which uses the corn, peas, and carrots medley you can find in your own freezer case. AND THEY FUCKIN LOVE SPAM!! So much spam. But not even real Spam – this is cheaper, blander, and doesn't get crispy when fried. It's that dirt cheapest "ham" you see in the cold case… pink blob. Also, pizza – thousand island sauce (as in no tomatoes) and seafood toppings. Seriously, this is the only place I've ever seen with less regard for oil and salt than ol' Murrica. There are healthy options, but some are very new – often Western-inspired – and salad (aside from fruit salad w/extra mayo) is still not widespread. The food can be amazing, too, of course – and it's very international (amazing, cheap Japanese food, both sushi and izakaya dishes :9) – but most people have a very strong tolerance for salty and oily. Killer fried noodles.

  • When I was a kid back in the mid-60s, my family went to Europe for a long summer vacation. We broke down and had American food twice. Once at the Sears in Barcelona which had good hamburgers and fries, but the milkshakes has a slightly off flavor. The other time was at the Wimpy's in Paris. That was an outpost of a British burger chain named for the character in Popeye. It was pretty good and close enough to American for us. The rest of the time we ate local food which was also pretty darned good if I remember correctly.

  • As an American, I think going to American chains and themed restaurants in a foreign country is an absolute kick. Food quality and taste have nothing to do with it. It's all about the experience! Foreigners visiting the US can't really be called tourists unless they do the same. Just bear in mind, though, since you're a man, if you want to be treated well and have a good time in pretty much any foreign land, drop the innate American desire to be liked, be respectful and excruciatingly patient, but treat all the men as if they are a total bore, and all the women as if you're madly in love with them.

  • It's not just "American food" that foreigners have an amusing lack of knowledge of, in my experience. Americans do (non-fine dining) foreign food better than anywhere else I've been. We don't give ourselves enough credit for that. Chinese food in Europe or Italian food in Asia, for instance, is almost certainly going to be disgusting and sad, whereas some random foreign food in some random American city might actually be OK. (*)

    With the exceptions of kebabs and French food everywhere, and Indian food some places, I try to completely avoid "ethnic" food when outside the US, because it's almost always shitty, in a way that is not only unpalatable but ethnically insulting, a culinary bowdlerization — whatever the local cuisine is, but with a little bit of "ethnic sauce" on top.

    (*) Well, excluding the New England/Midwest puritanical 'blandness belt'. Mexican food in say New Hampshire or Minnesota vs Mexican food in Hungary is probably a toss-up as far as horribleness and open contempt for the original cuisine. But in parts of the US where putting spice in food is not regarded as a gateway to mortal sins like drinking booze and dancing, we do pretty well compared to the rest of the world.

  • In England 30 years ago some friends and I went to a pizza place. The "American" pizza had corn on it. I gently tried to explain to the owner that, while the pizza was good (it wasn't bad), Americans never put corn on pizza. In spite of his having never actually BEEN to the US, I could not convince him of this.

    I now live in China. While there is "good" (by my American tastes) Chinese food, most of it that contains some form of meat is terrible, since the "meat" is mostly bones, gristle and fat. In every city I've lived in here I've been able to find at least one good American/Italian/Thai/Indian/Japanese place. But never Mexican.

    I mostly cook for myself.

  • Ed,
    Maybe May is a bit on the warm side in Brazilia, but if you want traditional then you can have "feijoada" (a dark, heavenly beans-n-pork stew). And enjoy rice and "farofa" (roasted cassava flour) in your plate, as you will get no bread with the food. When in Iguazú, compare both views (Brazilian side and Argentine side): Brazilians have the scene, we Argies have the action. And the wine, yes. Have a great time!

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