Columnist Caitlin Weigel highlights the subtle differences in condiments and more between London and Philadelphia.
LONDON – Before I left for London, many people told me to prepare myself for a culture shock. I wasn’t going to be in Kansas anymore, so to speak.
I admit that when I first heard this advice, I ignored it. The second and third time I heard it, it also went ignored. I mean, come on – they speak English. I’ve had my fair share of tea and watched the original United Kingdom version of “The Office.” How different could it possibly be?
Answer: Very different. Not in the alarming, people-wearing-pants-on-their-heads-and-eating-live-ducks way. It’s much subtler than that, yet all the more deadly. If they were out in the open, I might have been better able to handle them, but the differences snuck up on me like a ninja in slippers.
Every October, my body has come to expect pumpkins. I consume them en masse each autumn, gorging myself on pumpkin cookies, pies, lattes, soups – anything you can put them in, really. It’s almost as if my body won’t recognize the month unless I stuff my mouth to the brink of explosion with pumpkin foods.
Yet, London seems to be unsympathetic to my problem. I scour the aisles at the grocery store searching for canned pumpkin puree, only to leave empty-handed. I launch myself into every Starbucks I pass, yearning for a pumpkin spice latte. No dice. The Brits seem quite content leading a pumpkin-free existence.
There’s not a lack, my friends, but rather, an abundance. If you pick up a sandwich, expect it to be 90 percent mayonnaise, 10 percent whatever it was advertised to be.
There aren’t any. Or at least there are fewer. Most Americans shop for groceries in bulk – we stock up on everything we need so we don’t have to fight through the aisles of Super Fresh for another few weeks.
Europeans, on the other hand, choose to grocery shop on an almost-daily basis. It’s a part of the natural routine to stop by the local shop and pick up supplies for an evening meal.
Shopping with a U.S. mentality in a U.K. grocery store can prove to be a terrible combination. My urge to buy in bulk meant that within a few days, the food I planned to eat the rest of the month was already turning green and smelly.
My dear, sweet American bird, I long to put you on a sandwich with a minimal amount of mayo and enjoy your taste. I’ve had enough with this ham-and-prawn malarkey. Give me some birds.
When I think of bacon, I think of crispy, delicious slivers of meat tucked into breakfast sandwiches and burgers. But bacon in Britain is a totally different story. The package might say it is “bacon,” but let’s be real. That’s really just ham.
Chewy and tender should not be words associated with bacon, yet that’s how I can best describe the situation.
A to Zed
That’s right: There are no Z’s. Only “Zeds.” So spelling out the name of a striped donkey relative would go down like this: “Zed-E-B-R-A.” Or if you were reading a comic out loud and a character was sleeping, his snores would read “Zed Zed Zed.” Crazy stuff.
There’s something extremely off about the peanut butter over here. Its color is somewhat gray and its texture is reminiscent of wet sand. The Brits seem to know they’re off in their PB game, too. There’s less variety in the peanut-butter realm than in the U.S., and the few jars are almost always tucked away in the grocery store, as though they’re hiding from the public. There is also a suspicious lack of peanut butter in candy bars, which is also highly disappointing. George Washington Carver and H.B. Reese: If you’re reading this, please create a time machine and make your way across the pond. The British need your expertise desperately.
God bless William Penn and his city planning. While Philadelphia is a logically laid-out, near-perfect grid, London is the polar opposite. It’s as though a small child scribbled on paper, and city planners decided to map London that way. Streets curve and sometimes even disappear, and the numbers are seemingly assigned at random. The Mad Hatter obviously planned London’s layout.
The differences are minor, but nevertheless surprising. Then again, nothing is ever bad – just different.
Except for the peanut butter thing. That’s just unforgivable.
Caitlin Weigel can be reached at email@example.com.