Jon Kennedy's 'Postcards from
his sojourn in Northern Ireland'

More cultural differences


Jon Kennedy  

JONAL ENTRY 1281 | April 19 2013

Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name."

— from Luke 1,
from today's lenten Orthodox
lectionary readings

Diary: I said earlier that I'd take up some additional cultural differences between the United States and the United Kingdom, with particular reference to my former "stomping grounds," the Bay Area of California and rural Western Pennsylvania, and my current residence, Northern Ireland/metropolitan Belfast. One difference that is often mentioned is the culinary contrasts between the States and England and beyond, and I've already alluded to the differences between soups here and there. The main difference, besides the brands, is that soups here tend to be bland compared with the ones in the states, and British blandness is often cited as a major difference between American and British cuisine generally. Bangers (sausages) and mash (mashed potatoes) is a common lunch and even dinner item here, as well as a side dish of mashed turnips. Green salads seem to be rare here, whereas they are part of menus both in restaurants and in homes in the states. I think they came in as a side of Italian meals, but have become common with just about every type of American meal in recent decades. Ranch dressing is hard to find in the stores here, don't even look for Italian or Caesar, and the closest substitute seems to be Heinz "salad creams," which are more like the mayonaise-type salad dressings in American stores.

Another apparent difference is that in this part of the world, food from the nation of India is almost the equivalent of what Mexican food is in California. There are Mexican restaurants in Pennsylvania and here in the UK, too, but my experience of them in both places as far away from Mexico as rural Western Pennsylvania and the UK is that they can hardly compare with the Mexican restaurants in California and the American Southwest. Mexicans have been part of the American Southwest even longer than "gringos" (their most common word for those of us from European lineage) have, and immigrants from India have been a large presence in England for more than a century. And there's nothing bland about Indian cuisine.

My impression of Mexican restaurants here is that they are usually attempts by native British entrepreneurs who've eaten at good Mexican restaurants in the American southwest to duplicate that menu here, usually not very successfully. The cuisine is different from Brit cuisine, but also different from genuine Mexican cuisine. Indian restaurants here are generally run by actual immigrants from India, as are the Indian restaurants I've tried in San Jose, San Francisco, and Berkeley, but generally Indian food here is less expensive than it is in California, and like Mexican restaurants in the American southwest, they are everywhere here, whereas Indian restaurants in California are still harder to find.

Far Eastern restaurants are also far more numerous in California than they are in either Pennsylvania or in the UK, though Chinese restaurants and take-outs are not uncommon here. Authencity of the food is probably harder to pinpoint, as I've been told that even the really good Far Eastern (Chinese, Vietnamese, and Thai, especially) in California are much Americanized; I've even read that chow mein was invented in San Francisco, albeit in that city's incomparable Chinatown. And we've all heard about some food items described as common in Asia that most westerners wouldn't knowingly touch (snakes and other reptiles, for example) so we're inclined to believe the reports of wide differences. When my brother and I were in Hong Cong, we didn't have any problem finding restaurants we were happy to eat at, but that was a year or more before Hong Cong separated from the British Commonwealth back to being part of China (though I'm sure it's still very westernized).

Chinese restaurants are fairly common in Belfast. This one is just two doors from the Loom. Here they call it "takeaway" where in the States it's "takeout." But that's a relatively minor difference between the language usages, which will be the subject of the next installment on culture differences.

Here in Northern Ireland (I don't remember seeing this in my earlier visits to England, Scotland, and Wales), Kentucky Fried Chicken seems to me to be even more popular than it is in the States. Among other American fast food chains, I think only Subway is about the same here as it is in the United States (seen very widely). McDonalds is here but not as prolific as in the states. The most popular fast food native to this culture is fish and chips, but most "chippie" stores seem to be independent rather than part of any specific chain. Chippies were introduced in the states with substantial promotion and financing back in the 1970s, and had some success for a decade or so, but eventually faded away almost entirely.

The video clip below shows a difference between tea and coffee brewing between the United Kingdom and the United States.

Click the > on the video to launch. After the video launches, you can double-click the screen to enlarge it to full-screen. If your browser cannot open the video in Windows Media format, you can try it on YouTube, here.

Scripture: Luke records Mary's claim that henceforth every generation would call her blessed. Have you? Or have you preferred to avoid mentioning Mary as much as possible?

§     §     §

If you missed my overview of my venture in Northern Ireland, check it out here. My residence/postal address is 227 Crumlin Road, Belfast, Northern Ireland BT14 7DY, UK. Mobile: 07772197118.

Webmaster Jon Kennedy

 

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