I was inspired to this post by my recent trip to Poland and by an article I read last month in The Guardian about how food standards and quality of ingredients differ between Western and Eastern European countries, despite all countries involved being part of the EU.
Multinational food and drink companies have “cheated and misled” shoppers in eastern Europe for years by selling them inferior versions of well-known brands, according to the European commission’s most senior official responsible for justice and consumers.
From fruit drinks and fish fingers to detergents and luncheon meats, the eastern versions of brands sold across Europe have repeatedly been found to be inferior in quality to those sold in the west, [Czech commissioner Vera] Jourová said, even when they are wrapped in exactly the same branding.
This is a major issue which is building in tension right now, including in CZ. I’ve spoken to a few people about it who have personal experience and are quite angry.
I hope this will be a more lighthearted take on the food issues which actually unite European Union countries… in hilarity for Americans.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned living in Czech Republic, it’s that they don’t really identify with the label “European.” So of course, I’m trying to be careful in using it, but to many Americans, Europe is a big lump of countries sipping cappuccinos or better wine than we have with their pinkies in the air, laughing about how stupid Americans are.
I know – the pinky in the air method for looking posh is foolproof.
(Really this is just an American stereotype about Brits drinking tea.)
But see? We ignorant Americans don’t distinguish, necessarily, between different kinds of being European (especially West-European). But there are some small ways… in this case, gastronomical ways… in which the habits of different European nationalities can be lumped together in the big European basket… and it makes me laugh.
1. That’s what you call big?
Food packaging sizes around the world are almost always downsized from American ones. In Europe, their big is our small. Their “no really this is unusually big” is our medium.
Don’t talk to me until you can get an ultra, mega, Hulk-sized Coke, or your Cheetos (or other deliciously fried television-watching foods) look like this:
Also, from the same supermarket in Lublin:
I suspect they are not much healthier than Americans.
2. Trendy fast food
There are many things available in European (and Asian) McDonald’s that you can’t get in the USA (including beer, see below).
I think it’s obvious that fast food chains like McDonald’s and KFC are so popular abroad because it has the allure of the American Dream, liberally interpreted. But I’ve never understood that. For Americans, fast food represents the underbelly of success. Cheap food, greasy fingers, disgusting facilities…
(Okay, looked at from another perspective, McDonald’s is one of the world’s most successful businesses since being a tiny family burger joint in the 1950s. And for Americans, cheap and easy is a winner.)
I’ve stepped into (but couldn’t go through with actually ordering from) McDonald’s in all those countries, as well as in Vienna (below). Apart from the Golden Arches and the pictures of hamburgers and fries above the ordering counter, they looked nothing like their American counterparts. In Paris, you could order from a series of hi-tech computer screens. You could run your finger across the table without having to sanitize it after. In Vienna, people were wearing fancy dresses and suit jackets on dates. The bathrooms were clean. And…
there were people drinking lattes and eating macaroons.
We know you’re better than us Europe, thank you. Don’t rub it in.
3. Europeans are drunk monkeys
To be fair, alkohole is actually just the word for alcohol in Polish. But it’s funny because from the outside, it just seems like it’s referencing how a 24-hour liquor store can put your wallet and life in a deep hole.
In general, when Americans think of Europeans, we have visions of lower drinking ages, the French and Italians sipping dark red wines, the Czechs drinking world-famous Pilsner Urquell, the Russians (they are on the Eurasian continent!) (and/or the Poles) knocking back vodkas. An altogether more cultural, classy and crafted drinking culture. (The people who think that clearly have never been to a Czech pub past midnight, but I digress.)
I remember how shocked I was to learn that alcohol is totally allowed in most public spaces, including on the train:
If I have anything to say about it, Europeans may drink more – it’s a normal part of life – and they can handle their liquor a lot better than Americans can. So although we have visions and stereotypes of Europeans and alcohol, I’d say it’s actually the Americans who are drunk monkeys.
And in Czech Republic (specifically in Prague), it’s the Brits who win that title.
That came nicely full circle.