Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Joys of Ex Pat Living

I’ve lived in lots of countries including Morocco, Cyprus, Switzerland, Canada, the United States, France, New Zealand, and Australia. But I was brought up in the northwest of Lancashire, which is where I’ve returned following my purchase of Michael’s Nook Cottage in Grasmere last year.

Visiting the Géant supermarket in St. Tropez a couple of weeks ago made me realize the importance of the food you have when you are brought up. For instance I still have Vegemite in fridges all over the world following my stint in Sydney in the early 90’s. At Géant all the shoppers were ex pat holiday makers and it was very funny watching them try to ferret out anything remotely connected to home. The English seem to be the most particular and incredibly nostalgic for their food, which of course doesn’t travel well generally since it is usually unhealthy, fattening, bland, and processed. One shop near the Meatpacking District in New York, Myers of Keswick, has made a great living out of this for over a decade, and so has Salt & Battery and Tea and Sympathy on Greenwich Avenue. Between them they serve all the British essentials such as fish ‘n chips and deep fried Mars bars!

Talking to a few friends, it seems that what English ex pat’s miss most is:

1. Walls sausages
2. English tea (depending on brand it was Tetley’s Typhoo, or PG Tips)
3. HP Sauce
4. Heinz Baked Beans
5. Jacobs Cream Crackers
6. Cadbury Dairy Milk
7. Carrs Crackers
8. Marmite
9. Oxo Cubes
10. Branston Pickles

And there is the story of my youth. Throw in some Hovis bread (which Bob Isherwood wrote some wonderful advertising for 30 years ago) and you have my entire youth laid out in front of you. And, if you want to put on that final shine some refreshing Vimto and Tizer, both of which you can get at Myers at Keswick, and it’s a done deed. Amongst hard core UK Ex Pats you will find some aficionados of Bassetts sweets, Mr Kipling cakes. McVities digestives and Walkers Shortbread which you could also add to the list with Colman’s Mustard and Bird’s Custard Powder also considered prized treasurers. Cheddar cheese travels well, but it is almost impossible to find my Lancashire, Red Leicester, and Wensleydale favorites.

My mother-in-law, Rita, is with us at the moment and she actually brought over some cheddar cheese and Walls pork sausages for me. A couple of the sausages with some HP Sauce washed down by a glass of Lucozade…

… Expat Heaven!


Justin Mahy said...

Love Tea & Sympathy! The full monty, less the eggs but with extra sausage!

Sophee McPhee said...

There's safety in familiarity. Indeed, one seems to get an irrational and perhaps false sense of comfort from predictable flavours…and that is the thing we crave most, not the food itself.

This subconscious need is particularly explicit among people with anorexia, who tend to develop ritualised eating habits, stick to particular food items & preparation methods, and eat exactly the same thing every ‘meal’ (however sparse those ‘meals’ might be)!

The practice of eating familiar foods is driven by the need for predictability; it’s about avoiding surprises, risk and anxiety.

In this way, I believe you can tell a lot about a person by their eating habits...

If they’re up for trying chicken’s feet in ginger & chili sauce (or anything they perceive to be ‘exotic’), they are likely to be a bit of a rebel in other aspects of their life, and at heart.

If they refuse to go beyond McDonald's & room service when playing the role of global tourist, then they are probably an accountant...just kidding!

Susan Plunkett said...

sophee..Isn't the danger of your philosophical point that it, of itself, could be as confined a view as that which you are commenting on?

This is a serious comment. One could replace chicken feet with rat meat and make the same assertion as you did. Then again, in one of the world wars people on a particular island were so starving that after the war their habitat had virtually no bird life or rodents/vermin. Needs must. Adventurous or desperation? There are other reasons people may eat rat meat.

I am wary of rules of thumb when it comes to the human psyche.

Piotr Jakubowski said...

One of the beauties of being an expat is to enjoy the new cultures. I'd have to say that I've tried the chicken feet and the oxtail soup and not everything is fantastic, but it's an experience.

I lived in Indonesia with my parents for 18 years, and if there is a lack of anything in Indonesia it's Polish people. And with that, Polish food. There's nothing better than Polish sausage, ham, mustard and horseradish sauce. Even while going to college in the US, I would randomly seek out these products at Eastern European stores.

Part of this process for me was the smell of it. There's a certain smell to a traditional polish family owned supermarket, and i've come across it in many different countries. Makes you want to buy more too :)

There's nothing better than Cadbury's milk chocolate :)