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October 8, 2015 / Karen Hill Anton

What Americans eat for supper

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The Anton dinner table

(June 9, 1994)

“What do Americans eat for supper?” my son Mario asked me the other day at supper.

“What?”

“My friends always ask me and I never know what to tell them.”

“Then tell them, ‘Hey, I’m just like you. I don’t know either.”

“But they expect me to know,” he said, and added a little tentatively, “they don’t eat rice, do they?”

I’ve heard this somewhere before, I thought to myself before answering, “Yes, some do. Look at you. You’re eating rice right now.”

“But that’s different. Anyway, they always want to know if Americans eat bread, but that sounds crazy. Americans don’t eat bread for supper.”

“Look. You’re American. Americans eat like you do. Americans are a lot of different people and they eat a lot of different stuff.”

“Yeah, my friends ask me too,” my youngest daughter Lila piped in. “I tell them mashed potatoes,” she said as she asked for another bowl of rice.

Admittedly, my children, born and raised here, have a less than clear picture of America and American ways of life. Lila, 11, thought Bill Clinton was a personal friend of mine, and she consistently confuses the word “lawyer” with “liar”. For years they thought their Uncle Anatole lived in Broccoli, California. Where a place named Berkeley was they couldn’t have told you.

Since we’re Americans and don’t live there, when we visit I always want them to enjoy what’s best about the States: exciting children’s museums, spacious playgrounds, great pizza. I’m glad they think of America as the home of “Curious George” and as a place where you can eat the world’s best corn on the cob and can hear African drummers and salsa bands in the park for free.

Mario says America is great because no matter where you are — a housing project or an estate in Marin County — there’s always a basketball hoop. But his absolute favorite think about the USA is having breakfast in a restaurant. Never mind what you can have — blueberry pancakes, corn muffins, bagels and lox, grits — having breakfast out is simply a big treat. He’s never had breakfast in a restaurant in Japan in all his 13 years and he can’t even imagine it.

When we visit America my children wouldn’t miss a chance to go to the supermarket. Moving through the aisles, they take it all in with wide-eyed wonder: enormous packs of M&M’s, ice cream in flavors no kid has yet imagined, live lobsters in tanks, and your choice of 50 kinds of cereal.

Although I’m strict about what and how long they can watch when we’re at home, I let them enjoy television more freely in the States, so when they were younger they thought of America as the land of of endless “Sesame Street” programs. Thinking they could only benefit from the English input, I wasn’t so sure after my daughter Mie turned off the TV and parroted: “Just dial 1-800 … for your free brochure. Our operators are waiting to help you.”

And of course, America has two Disneylands. I took them to the one in California and we stayed in a nearby hotel. They’d never slept on anything but futon before that, so I spent a good part of the night retrieving them as they took turns falling off the sides of the beds.

Once when we were in San Francisco we met two policemen in a Chinese restaurant. After a chat, my kids thought they were the greatest guys in the world because they let them sit inside their patrol car. Another time my eldest daughter didn’t believe two men riding in a police car in police uniforms were really policemen, because one was eating a doughnut, and they were both laughing — and the one driving was doing so with one hand while his other arm dangled out the window.

Although my children are happy to visit America any chance they get, recently Lila told me, “You don’t have to worry about me going to live in America. I’m too afraid.”

“Why?”

“It’s too scary.”

“Well, maybe by the time you’re a big girl you will want to live in America, and maybe it will be a lot less scary by then.”

“Well, if I go and become president …”

“What? You’re going to become President of the United States?”

“I said ‘if’. Anyway, then nobody will be able to have guns. Or knives either. Of course, they can have kitchen knives if they want to cook. But that’s it,” the possible future chief executive said with firm conviction.

I thought about explaining about the U.S. system of government, about laws and how they’re made, and broken, about the Constitution, Congress, and lobbyists and politicians and the interests they serve, and how no one person, not even the president, gets to make all the decisions, and … but who knows? This may all change by the time Lila is ready to assume the presidency.

Mario told me that whenever he bites into a whole red apple — that is, an apple not peeled and sliced as they’re often served here — it always reminds him of America.

That’s a nice association, I thought. I don’t suppose a country could have a more wholesome and refreshing image than that.

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© Karen Hill Anton and “Crossing Cultures” 1990-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Karen Hill Anton and “Crossing Cultures” with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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