On our recent trip to the US, my wife and I found America very sweet. By that, I don’t mean to say the people were friendly and helpful, which they were, almost to a fault, but that many things were, literally, sweet. The beer, the bread, the baked beans and even the candy were all tinged with a sweetness that made them cloying.
But the Americans, being a resourceful lot, didn’t stop there; if a food item wasn’t sugar-based, it was cover in salt or swirling with cinnamon, or a combination thereof. And there was a lot of it: in a supermarket with 12 aisles, four were devoted to snack food and those devoted to “real” food contained items like toaster pastries and microwave pizza. My wife, who just wanted something plain, unflavored and not containing 80,000 calories, searched in vain for rice cakes among the four aisles of offerings. She did find rice cakes, but they were either infused with cinnamon or coated with a cheese-flavored dust of a color not found in nature.
One of the four snack aisles–one third of the entire store.
Another shock was going to the drugs aisle for some aspirin and finding, readily available on the shelves, drugs that can only be obtained by prescription in the UK—anxiety medications, fat blockers, diet pills, high-strength pain relievers, etc. This, coupled with the endless TV ads urging patients to demand specific prescription drugs from their doctors, led us to believe that the average American feels more adept at deciding what is good for them, medically, than is, perhaps, good for them. Maybe my years in the UK have tainted my perception, but I like to leave decisions concerning serious medications up to my doctor.
At one point during the holiday, we bought a pack of Whoppers, just to see how they compare to Malteasers, the UK version of Whoopers. They were, in word, awful. The coating was, apparently, some sort of substance grown in a petri dish from industrial waste products that, I assume, was supposed to resemble chocolate in look, texture and taste. They managed one out of three: the color was brownish, but it had the texture of an inner tube and a taste not far away. And the center was so sickeningly sweet—not the malty flavor I have grown used to—that after three I considered going back to the drug aisle to get some Kaopectate.
Who thought this was a good idea? Candy in the shape of Legos!
We also managed to confuse the check out team (really, three people on a register?) by trying to pack our own groceries and caused the staff at a Dunkin Donuts to retreat into a befuddled huddle by asking for coffee without sugar in it.
On the plus side, the service was refreshingly prompt and cordial. At a diner we visited, a lone waitress was taking orders, bringing food, checking on coffee levels and fetching the check for all the customers. Even so, the food was well-prepared, hot and on time and she always managed to linger for a few friendly words at each table. In the UK, where they have eight teenagers behind the counter filling orders, it still takes half an hour to get a cup of coffee.
This is SALAD! Isn\’t this supposed to be healthy and low in calories?
So America gets mixed marks this trip: too much sugar, too many drugs but great service and really good coffee. Overall, my years in England have made me unable to cope with the high condiment content of American food; I won’t say I was glad to return to Sussex, but my stomach certainly was.
Hey, look what I found at the local bookshop!