Off Campus

01 April 2006

Not so close to home, (cookin')

After living a semester in Europe, experimenting with various levels of vegetarianism, and becoming an avid watcher of the Food Network, I've become pretty open-minded about differences in cuisine. Eastern and Western.

Seeing firsthand pizza served with an egg on top (sunny side up), chicken brought to the table on a platter with the feet still attached, and being "forced" to sup on a meal of hamburgers and fries - on Thanksgiving - (not a very big holiday outside of this country), I've learned not to take even the most normal of "Western" cuisines for granted....

That being said, I was cuisinely shocked on a trip to the seemingly far off and foriegn land of Ohio (thankfully my In-laws had the good sense to emigrate to New England while my wife-to-be was young).

We'd just left a cold and snowy New Hampshire April, and landed in a hot and sunny Cincinnati, OH (technically Kentucky, but lets not split hairs... it was about to get weird...)

My father-in-law met us at the airport and took my wife and I to a pizza place he knew for lunch. I think we ordered sandwiches, my father-in-law ordered coffee (he always orders coffee) and a small pie with cheese and hamburger on it.

"You mean beef?" the middle-aged woman behind the counter asked?

Tired from the trip, wondering if we were being offered an "upgrade," and just trying to be agreeable, we said "sure"

I wanted something cold to drink, so I asked for a Sprite. She counter-offered with "Iced Tea?"

Ok.... not sure what parallel she's drawing with that one... Don't offer me a ginger ale. Don't tell me you have Coke, Diet Coke and Milk.... just make a leap and offer me whatever you like... I'm tired, I don't care.

"Sure." I don't generally like iced tea but was tired and weirded-out enough to not know how to cope.

We were the only customers in the restaurant mind you - generally my wife and I will never set foot in a new restaurant without patrons. However, I was told this was THE pizza place they used to go to all the time (but that was many years ago). Everything was brought out to the table one item at a time....

First my unsweetened iced tea, and everone elses drinks, then a small paper bowl full of sugar - helped the tea a bit (despite being at least a cup more sugar than we knew what to do with), and only served to add to the weird experience.

Next came the pizza. The "beef" topping we were offered was not nice, juicy cubes of steak but, rather, ground hamburger.

What the hell kind of place is this? I'm pretty sure hamburgers were on the menu, so what's the problem?

Patron - "What can I git fer ya?"
Customer - "I'd like a hamburger. Oh, but wait I'm on Atkins, so hold the bun."
Patron - "Oh, so you don't want a hamberger then. You want beef?"
Narrator - Customer is served not a steak, not a Salisbury steak, nothing but a bunless hamburger (with fries)

The next day, on a quick trip to the grocery store, we couldn't find soda on the signs at the grocery store... that was until my wife remembered it was 'pop'. At least we weren't in the part of the country where all types of soda were a 'Coke.' (orange soda, root beer, Pepsi... all called Coke)

What other "translations" were I going to need to learn on this trip?...

Ultimately, and perhaps thankfully, we drove past the score of Waffle Houses and Cracker Barrels and hit the Olive Garden for dinner, and didn't have to worry about wondering what we were really going to be served... thankfully they didn't ask If I wanted gravy on everything there. (no - that happened at breakfast...)