At first I thought it was just one badly-branded jar of peanut butter. It was rife with US stereotypes. The Statue of Liberty, an anthropomorphized peanut wearing a cowboy hat, and a color scheme reminiscent of the American flag covered all but a few inches of space. Most damningly, the brand name was “McEnnedy.” I thought it was such a bizarre mash-up of American-sounding name conventions. It reminded me of “Häagen Dazs,” the ice cream brand whose nonsense name is meant to sound Danish, but is a decidedly American invention. Of course, E and I bought a jar of McEnnedy brand peanut butter and ate it all. It tasted… fine.
When we started to frequent different grocery stores and buy more peanut butter, we realized this was a trend. In Berlin, jars of peanut butter are almost always America-themed and fine tasting. In the eight months we’ve lived here, we’ve tried half a dozen different brands of tiny jars of low quality peanut butter. Almost all of them were decorated with eagles and American flags.
We have since found that the “Bio” (organic) grocery stores carry what I consider an average sized jar of peanut butter. And it’s made with just peanuts instead of loads of added oils, salts, and sugars. It is also significantly more expensive. And yet, we keep buying it. Mostly for me.
Because, as it turns out…
Peanut butter is my guilty American pleasure.
I eat peanut butter far more often in Berlin, where it is harder to find, than I ever did when I lived in the US. It doesn’t make total sense unless you think of food as a comfort.
When I studied abroad in Barcelona, a good (American) friend and I went out for sushi. We were near the end of our semester abroad, and my friend mentioned how much she had missed sushi. She had such an intense desire to immerse herself in local Catalan and Spanish culture that she deprived herself of the food she really wanted for months.
I understood where she was coming from. We were trying not to be the ugly American stereotype — people who go abroad and then complain about everything that’s different from back home. But my friend had gone to the opposite extreme. She was denying herself creature comforts that might make it easier to enjoy integrating into and experiencing a new culture.
Comfort contributes to quality of life.
And you never know what your brain is going to latch onto for comfort.
Several years ago, I visited my friend, Kristen, while she was serving in the Peace Corps in Senegal. I asked if I could bring her anything from the US and her immediate response was: Reese’s Pieces. They weren’t her favorite candy when she lived in the US, but they had become the food she craved and didn’t have access to. I brought her 3 bags.
In the memoir, Wild, Cheryl Strayed wrote that any time she passed through a town while hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, she would drink Snapple. This wasn’t a beverage she ever sought out before she started thru-hiking. But somehow Snapple became representative of civilization and it was always on her mind.
A couple weeks ago, E went to a grocery store we don’t normally frequent and came home with 3 different types of hot sauce. It’s a stereotype that Germans can’t handle spicy food, but the groceries available in most stores certainly don’t refute it. The salsa here is abysmal, chili powder is hit or miss, and the Asian food section might offer sriracha. I am, of course, generalizing, but you get the idea. Berlin is a huge city with many specialty shops including the Asian grocery store where E found a plethora of hot sauce.
We like spicy food, but we’re not a hot-sauce-on-everything family. At least, we weren’t when we lived in the US. But absence makes the heart grow fonder and now E is always on the look-out to spice up his meals.
Apparently, hot sauce is his comfort food.
I’m glad we’ve both found sources for our guilty American pleasures. And I like to think having access to these comforts makes adjusting to the bigger life changes easier.
Have you lived abroad? Did you seek out any food you didn’t expect to miss?