Food seems very different to me here. The first summer I was out here I seemed to make a lot of mistakes and face many disappointments in what arrived in front of me after ordering. And I would forget the simple differences: ‘Oh those sort of chips’ – i.e. crisps with the sandwich. I wanted fries. But then when you said grilled sandwich, I didn’t realise that really meant fried! A grilled cheese sandwich is not a toastie here, it’s a fried-up mess! That sad sandwich was a particularly greasy disappointment…
Even breakfast seemed to have too many choices, or everything was too huge. Pancakes mmm, but those stacks were too, too much. And what is that big white dollop on top? Looks like ice-cream – unusual but, oh it’s American butter – pale and anemic. Oh I tried my best with the pancake stack, but was defeated and then crashed out later.
Or lunch where every sandwich comes with fries – so guess what, you eat all the fries and only half the sandwich. And off you go home with half a sandwich that goes soggy in your fridge. Of course you can get the sandwich without the fries but it’s the same price! Or you can substitute something else in their place, but that might cost you more.
Substitution, however, is the solution to most of my menu dilemmas. Take a typical breakfast place. First, think of what you’d like to eat. Then, look at the menu and find the closest match. Then you’ll see that the selection comes with hash browns and you want fruit, so you make a substitution when ordering, simple. But I’ve gotten even craftier and full of more questions… How is that cooked? Can I get the eggs without the cheese? I often wondered what made Americans so vocal when ordering food, now I know. It’s not a simple fear of the unknown. There’s a huge gulf between the ordering and delivery and I’ve suffered too many disappointment not to speak up. It’s not the cheap dining-out solution, but it works. There are now less disappointments on my plate and I’m a happier diner.