Sundance Times - Continuing the Crook County News Since 1884

This Side of the Pond

Notes from an Uprooted Englishwoman

 

May 9, 2019



My home town is abuzz with excitement to welcome a new eatery just in time for summer. Considering the town center is littered with fish and chip shops, kebab joints and burger takeouts, you wouldn’t have thought yet another food outlet would cause a fuss – but this one is different. This one…is American.

Sure, we’ve always had Burger King ®, KFC ® and McDonalds ®, but those have been around for long enough that the shine has worn off. I can remember wanting nothing in this world more than I wanted a Happy Meal ® with a He-Man toy when I was a tiny tyke, and that was quite a while ago.

(I didn’t get one, in case you were wondering. I don’t think my parents believed in the concept of fast food back then, unless it was from the inferior British version called Wimpy ®, which served your burger with a knife, fork and linen serviette because it didn’t really get the concept either.)

This brand is new, which means it’s a slice of “American Cool” we haven’t gotten to try yet. This is cause for significant celebration back in the motherland, where we all grew up wishing we knew the Fonz.

Nathan’s Famous ® is apparently a hot dog chain born on Coney Island. I haven’t tried it since I’ve been on this side of the pond because I managed to miss it while I was in New York and even I won’t commute that far for my lunch, but apparently it has longstanding royal approval: when King George VI and Queen Elizabeth dined with President Roosevelt in 1936, hot dogs from Nathan’s Famous were the feature of the menu.

I suppose we all enjoy a taste of the exotic, though this might be truer of the UK’s fascination with America than many other places. It all comes back to the fact that we are raised on an entertainment diet that contains a lavish dollop of U.S. culture.

When my brother visited Wyoming, he refused to speak of anything else until we let him try a Twinkie ®, because he’d spent most of his life watching other people eat Twinkies on the television. Sadly, that meant he didn’t talk about much of interest for the entire vacation, because this was the brief period during which Twinkies were not available in this region.

My mother was similarly preoccupied with Krispy Kremes ® when they first crossed the ocean. Before that, a donut was either full of jam or covered in frosting – those were your choices, take it or leave it.

Glazing was a revelation for all of us, so it didn’t take long for every bakery in the land to hop on board the bandwagon. But in those early days, you could really only find Krispy Kremes in the largest supermarkets in the biggest cities.

For my mum, this meant stocking up on sticky delights every time she made the trip to London. She would leave the capital city with four trays and arrive home with three, because it’s a long drive and Krispy Kremes are more than her willpower can take.

She would then freeze the remaining trays and ration out donuts for as long as the stash lasted. My brother, who has never been known for doing things in the most obvious way, developed a taste for frozen donut (I suspect this was partly so he could scoff one down before anyone noticed it was gone.)

We don’t always know that we have America to thank for our favorite brands. Not everyone was given notice when Walmart ® bought one of our biggest supermarket chains, for example.

Asda ® was always the place to go if you fancied a four-mile hike while picking up your groceries, but it became even bigger once Walmart got involved. While I still had my own vehicle in London, my housemate and I would wait for 11 p.m. to visit our local Asda because that was when the deli counters closed and put out meats of every conceivable variety for less than a dollar, while the bakery discarded its loaves for a meager ten cents. It meant a very late night indeed, but our bank accounts, still bogged down in student loans, were thankful for it.

I didn’t know Claire’s Accessories ® was an American brand either, though I’ve been filling the gaps in my jewelry box there since I was a teenager and at least one of the holes in my ears was their doing. I also didn’t know T.J.Maxx ® originated on these shores, though for no reason I can think of they’ve changed it to T.K.Maxx in Britain.

But for the most part, we know exactly when a new American opportunity arises and we’re quick to make the most of it. Unlike many other cultures, British taste seems to align perfectly with yours.

When Abercrombie & Fitch ® attempted to infiltrate Japan, it didn’t work very well because the Japanese culture prefers reserved and polite service to the half-naked beefy models the brand is known for and, apparently, also found the cologne scents almost toxic because they are sensitive to perfumes. Hollister’s models didn’t last long in Britain, either (probably because of all the rain), but we couldn’t get enough of the clothing.

Victoria’s Secret is the latest brand to be making a splash on British high streets, and its international president explained why that is: “What sells here, sells there. What sells there, sells here”.

So it seems the British love of anything Americana comes down to two things: first, the novelty appeal of items we’ve long since seen on our screens but never had the chance to try; and second, the fact we like a lot of the same things.

This is why, if you ever visit my homeland, you won’t have much issue in finding the familiar to spend your vacation cash – but it will be very slightly different to what you’re expecting. To paraphrase an American business journalist, in the parallel universe where I grew up, you can eat pulled pork, buy Oreos and shop at the Gap ®, but we’ll insist you form an orderly queue to do it.

 
 

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