6/12/2006

E Pluribus Unum... To Go, Please [June 11, 2006]

Earlier this week over lunch...
"Hey, baby. You wanna hear a joke?"
"Not really. Especially if it’s one of your jokes but I guess I don’t really have a choice, now do I?"
"Nope. OK, so here it goes. Did you hear about the Polack who returned his bagel?"
"No."
"Yeah, well it turns out there was a hole in it!" I pause and wait for laughter – even a polite smile because I know my jokes are pathetically horrible.
But I get nothing in reply, "And?"
"And... Well, that’s it. Get it? A bagel? It’s supposed to have a hole in it."
"What’s a bagel?"
"You know, the breakfast food. The thing you eat with cream cheese. A bagel."
"Cream cheese? Do you mean that Philadelphia Cream Cheese stuff they sell at the supermarket?"
"Yeah."
My lovely Czech fiancée looks confused as she finishes slurping up a mouthful of spaghetti in white wine mushroom sauce and eventually washes it down with a sip of water. "Breakfast food with that Philadelphia Cream Cheese stuff... What do you mean? Something like a bread roll or toast?"
"No, no. A bagel. It’s like bread but round and hand-size. And it’s got a hole in the middle."
"A donut? Why would you eat cream cheese with a donut? That’s just disgusting."
"It’s not a donut. It’s made out of dough around this size," as I touch my index fingers and thumbs together to form a circle, "and it’s got a hole in the middle of it."
"Sounds like a donut to me," as she twirls up another forkful of spaghetti.
"It’s not a donut, for God’s sake. I think it’s originally Yiddish food or something Central European."
"Well, I’m Czech and you can’t be any more in the center of Europe than the Czech Republic. Trust me, I’ve never seen or heard of this bagel thing here, there, or anywhere in Europe."
"Hmm, I don’t know," as I twiddle the spaghetti in my plate around. "I guess it was a stupid joke anyway..."
"And why," my Czech asks after swallowing another mouthful, "would a Polish person make that kind of a mistake? If there are supposed to be holes in these ‘bagels’ of yours, wouldn’t he have known it beforehand? Why return it?"
"You know. Because he’s Polish!"
"So?"
"Come on... The stereotype that Poles are supposed to be, well, a little slow in the head."
"What do you mean? Like, stupid? Why would that be a stereotype about Poland?"
"I don’t know. It just is. At least, back home in America it is."
"Well I’ll tell you what’s stupid. Americans are stupid for having such an idiotic stereotype. I’ve met plenty of Poles and none of them were – How did you put it? – a little slow in the head. And what about Copernicus and Marie Curie? They were both Polish. Do Americans consider them to have been ‘slow in the head’ too?"
"Well, no. I guess not... You know what? Just forget I ever even mentioned the whole stupid joke to begin with," as the conversation comes to an abrupt end and we finish lunch in silence. It’s times like these I wish I were back home in the good ol’ U.S. of A.


The shelves are loaded with Philly Cream Cheese over here, but what about the bagels?

The life of an expat (that’s short for expatriate for all you who have never read a Hemingway novel) is not an easy one. S/He is mocked for making assumptions that seem normal enough back home and ends up passing each waking hour in a futile search for that elusive childhood-favorite snack food. My Achilles’ Heel is Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and I’ve spent the last five years on the lookout for those delicious little bastards but, alas, they’re as hard to come by in Europe as a bidet is in North America. And just as my imaginary Frenchie expat-brother in Minneapolis yearns to feel a high-powered jet of water tinkle his nether regions after a massive bowel movement, I too yearn to sink my teeth into a milk chocolate cup filled with creamy peanut butter... But some things are just not meant to be. Pierre will have to get used to double-ply toilet paper and I’ll have to make do with nougat-filled Swiss chocolate.

However, I along with my American expat brothers and sisters around the globe shouldn’t really complain about our situation. After all, we’re experiencing foreign cultures, broadening our cultural horizons, and wandering down that adventurous road less traveled – All while handling as little discomfort as possible. You see, as Americans, or rather I should say North Americans because Canadians are also included in this group, we have fewer hurdles to jump in a foreign land than any other expat nationality. First of all, and most importantly, we speak English and by far the most studied language the world over is – you guessed it – English. Whether a North American expat chooses to make his or her home in Timbuktu or Seoul, a local who has mastered the art of our spoken tongue is never far off. No matter how much a native French or Spanish speaker would like to make the same claim about their native tongue, it simply isn’t the case... Parents from Finland to Taiwan don’t send their kids off to learn French if they haven’t already conquered the world’s only true lingua franca, English. Now I know what all you Brits, Irish, Aussies, and Kiwis are thinking: "GC, you arrogant Yankee wanker, we speak the same bloody language!" That may be true, but unlike Americans and Canadians, you guys can’t drive on 80% of the world’s roads without confusing your left with your right. Even Winston Churchill was knocked down by a taxi-cab when visiting New York City because he glanced the wrong way before crossing. So trust me, when taxi-cabs are knocking you down because you don’t know where to look, being able to speak English doesn’t quite seem like such an advantage anymore.


"Is nice trash here. You like? I give you good price!"
(No kidding. I once spent a good fifteen minutes talking to this homeless guy in English!)

Language comprehension and road compatibility aside, there’s another reason why I assume that I don’t feel as isolated in a foreign land as most of my non-North American expat brethren. Like it or not, ever since the 1950s our cultural products have imperialistically spread throughout the world. American music, franchises, food and beverages have made their way across six continents and are set to stay. No matter what country you’re in, one can always get a bag of Doritos, wash it down with a 7 Up, and sit back to enjoy an episode of The Simpsons. Sure, you can’t always find bagels, but the very fact that every supermarket in Cádiz stocks three different flavors of Philadelphia Cream Cheese proves my point. American culture and products have conquered the world in more ways than just Coca-Cola, blue jeans, and McDonald’s. It’s on every other TV channel, every other radio station, and in everyone’s fridge. What does that mean for North American expats? Whenever you miss home, there’s always a flavor of it just around the corner – as long as you’re not looking for bagels and peanut butter cups.


Cheetos, Doritos, Pringles, oh my... Any American couch-potato's dream come true

In fact, this worldwide success of American products can be accurately judged by a single factor – the staggering amount of cheap imitation rip-offs. Every industrious entrepreneur from the four corners of the globe tries to profit in one way or another from the popularity coattails of American products. Here are just three of my personal experiences to back the claim up:

While wandering through the crowded food markets of a busy medieval Moroccan city this past April, I spotted a street vendor selling some snack food. He was huddled between two butchers’ stalls both covered with flies and the stench of death. What ready-made wonder was this poor Moroccan cook peddling to his hungry Arab clients? A tasty concoction he had dubbed the Big Mag.


"Praise Allah! I shall have one of your delicious Big Mags!
(I never did like your competitor's Whoopers.)"

Another McDonald’s related rip-off is from a little bit closer to home. There’s a fast food joint here in Cádiz that sells burgers and fries for a fraction of the Golden Arches cost. It’s also got quite a witty name, which is where it rips off the American original, but before you can understand it, a little explanation is in order. McDonald’s is often mis-spelled by the locals as MacDonald due to their accent. Furthermore, the letter C in Spanish can either be pronounced as a K or as an S. Therefore, Mac, as in MacDonald, is normally pronounced MAK but also sometimes jokingly as MAS. Confused yet? Hope not cause here’s where the word play gets tricky. Más actually means "more" in Spanish. The word for "less" is menos. So, what’s the name of this ever-popular Cádiz fast food eatery? MenocDonald.


Why pay MoreDonald's for your burguers when you can pay Less?

Although the Spanish love donuts and sell them at every corner shop and bakery, I have never encountered a store in this country dedicated exclusively to the sale of, as my fiancée would put it, the bagel’s sweet twin – That is, until I went to Córdoba. As I visited that grand Spanish city earlier this year and explored its countless cobblestone roads, I spotted a few of the locals carrying what seemed to be a Dunkin’ Donuts bag filled with a half dozen of those tasty treats I remembered from back home. I should say that, throughout my two and a half years here in Spain, I have never seen a Dunkin’ Donuts franchise. I’ve seen them in Prague, Athens, and London – so I know they exist in Europe – but never in Spain. Not even in Madrid or Barcelona. Imagine my surprise, then, when I finally rounded that corner in Córdoba and spotted it in the distance. I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into a Boston Kreme or a Cruller as I made my way through the entrance. I stepped up to the counter, which looked exactly like the countless Dunkin’ Donuts counters I’ve visited over the years, and prepared to order from an employee who was wearing that same ol’ Dunkin’ Donuts uniform. Then it hit me... The place wasn’t actually a Dunkin’ Donuts shop. Everything looked like the franchise, from the store’s name to the colors to the donut rack behind the counter, but it wasn’t Dunkin’ Donuts. This place was called Duffin Dagels. A little taken aback but not discouraged, I chose to ignore the blatant copyright/trademark violation and ordered myself what had been dubbed as a "Dagel with Creme". I don’t know how Duffin Dagels does it, but that delicious little treat tasted just like a Boston Kreme from my youth. I greedily scarfed it down and went back for seconds.


Duffin Dagels, You've done it again!
What's the secret trademark recipe behind your delicious Boston Kre... I mean "Dagel with Creme"?

I’ve encountered many more blatant rip-offs throughout my travels abroad – far too many to mention here – but, as I previously said, it all mainly comes down to being an indisputable sign of just how omni-present American products are. When Muslim street vendors privately curse the Great Satan’s foreign policy yet publicly sell Big Mags to eager consumers in the heart of an Islamic city, there’s something to be said about our cultural influence around the globe. Like it or not, it’s here to stay.


Always Coca-Cola – whether there's a jihad going on or not

So, in conclusion, what does all of this mean? Well, for all of you North American expats out there, stop bitching and moaning about how strange other cultures are and how difficult you’re finding it to adapt. Compared to Japanese, Ukranian, or Italian expats, you’ve got it easy. You can speak your native tongue anywhere in the world, drive on the right with ease, and get yourself a Duffin Dagel in Spain that tastes just like the ones back home. As for all of you still stuck in the U.S.A. or Canada, scared to see the world through a non-package holiday or frightened to go live that adventurous year abroad in some strange country... Trust me, it’s not that strange. You’ll be able to communicate with ease and still buy those potato chips you love from back home, all while enjoying the wondrous experience of immersing yourself in a new land and culture. Just make sure you get your fill of bagels and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup before you step onto that plane because some things, no matter how popular America’s products may be, have yet to make it across the Atlantic. Oh, and leave the Polish jokes back home too. You’ll have more success getting laughs from the locals by making farting sounds with your armpits.

16 comments:

matt said...

So what do the people in Cadiz do with all that cream cheese w/o bagles?? You should tell her Americans also think Czechs are a little hard headed lol that will get her going. Hey you might as well have som fun with your expatness.

ViVi said...

My favorite Sunday morning ritual involved the Sunday paper, a large hazelnut coffee, and a bagel with crispy bacon and Philly whipped cream cheese. I can't find even one of those things here. *sigh*

Anonymous said...

bohemian bagel.

'nuff said

Franje said...

You know, reading the blogs of expats makes me want to live in another country. That is one of the attractions of teaching here. After 2 years of teaching, I can take a leave of absence for a semester; after 4 years, I can leave for 1 year and still have my job when I return.

Shouldn't expats be glad the new culture is not exactly like home? Otherwise, why did they leave?

Michelle said...

ah yes, the elusive peanut butter cups. I bring a bag or two back when I go and store them in the freezer. The reason I was given why they aren't popular in germany at least is because germans hate peanut butter, however, try telling that to my german boyfriend who forced himself to eat one once and is now raiding my stash all the time.

Excellent point about how much easier it is for us to assimilate with all the crutches we have available. Always enjoy your posts...

Lori said...

Sometimes you're too funny....I can see why your girlfriend thought it was a donut....I mean it's bread with a hole in it....

My Mother in law and sister in law went to Spain not long ago...and said they had a hard time commucating with people....I just asked them about the bathrooms with holes in the floor...LOL

Have a great day!!!

Ms Bees Knees said...

may i advise you not use "massive bowel movement" in the same sentence as sinking your teeth "into a milk chocolate cup filled with creamy peanut butter" ... yeah. you sicko. :)

ps. can't you get RPC online???

lettuce said...

thanks for the armadillo verification. Can you also verify reports I've heard of dillo races in Texas? that I'd like to see.

I've had hershey peanut butter cups (I think) - yummy.

J.Doe said...

I thought the Polish bagel joke was funny. But yeah, it doesn't translate if one doesn't normally eat bagels or understand Polish jokes (which are only used in the US cuz when Polish workers emigrated to the US in the 1800s and early 1900s and didn't understand English right away like a native they were thought of as stupid.)

christina said...

Duffin Dagels. Heh.

I told the joke to my 10 yr old and then had to spend 15 minutes explaining it to him - "Huh? What's a bagel again? Oh yeah, that round thing with the hole in it. But why would he buy one with a hole if he didn't want a hole in it? And how come people make Polish jokes? Would you like it if someone made a joke about you?" *sigh* I can see that I still have a lot of cultural conditioning to do.

You should move to Germany - we have bagels, donuts, muffins, tons of cream cheese AND peanut butter cups, but only sometimes.

mar said...

Interesting gourmet post...Dunkin'Donuts have been in Barcelona for at least 4 years, one of them on Paseo de Gracia, close to Plaza Cataluña. There is ONE bagel cafe that I know of, no mass production though... I miss English muffins myself, can get them in every French supermarket but not here. To be an expat isn't an easy task... I am Chilean and I live in Spain. So you think, what's the problem. My life is- language wise - easier here than it was when I lived in the US or Germany. But o-ho! I had to learn Catalan! and paella it's fine but not my very fav *sigh*

deborah said...

YES!!!! Love this post. And I nabbed the photo of the coke donkey. I'm collecting them now.

Anonymous said...

YANKIE COCKSUCKING MUPPET SMEG-HEAD.

THE CANCER OF THE WORL = USA.

Franje said...

GC, are you sick? I notice you haven't blogged in some time. Hope all is well with you and the missus.

fffff said...

like ur site
http://bantoty.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

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