I have come to understand where I am changes what I get when I ask for something from a “native.” I have lived most of my life in Michigan, apart from a brief stint in the Navy where I spent a half year north of Chicago and a year in California. So I was under the (mistaken) understanding that everyone did things the right way (that is, the way WE did things). HAHAHAHA!, What a foolish idea.
Take tho process of ordering a beverage with your meal. Here we drink pop, defined as a sweetened, bubbly drink usually served over ice. Different flavors exist and each restaurant usually only serves options from one of the major brand suppliers. So if you chose a cola, root beer, lemon-lime, orange, or a citrus flavored beverage at one establishment you get a Pepsi, Mug, 7-Up, Crush, or Mountain Dew. At the eatery next door your beverage is a Coke, Barqs, Sprite, Fanta, or Mellow Yellow. Purchase a ginger ale beverage and you get a Vernors. Iced tea comes straight up (although you can have a sliver of lemon added if you ask) and unsweetened (the way nature intended). Simple and straight forward.
Except for most of the other 49 states and hundreds of other countries on the globe. Ask for a pop some places gets you a bloody nose or the senior male member of the family. A soda comes without ice cream (my first real job was as a soda-jerk in a soft serve ice cream stand… and I was the only employee other than the owner that could make a proper soda, according to a number of loyal customers) and results in one of the (again, brand specific) beverages listed above. To make things even more confusing I have been in places where asking for a coke evokes the question “what flavor?” (and they don’t mean plain or cherry). Apparently in Canada and the southern US diabetics order iced tea at their peril (my first adult trip to Toronto involved a shocking slurp of tea-flavored sugar syrup from a fast food establishment… most of which ended up on the windshield).
The year in California was one spent in a wasteland without Lay’s potato chips, Kogel’s hot dogs, or Miracle Whip salad dressing (this was in 1976, things have changed since then, but the trauma remains). I have never been inside of a Waffle House, being forced to take starch-based breakfast food at the International House of Pancakes instead.
So many names for the same products (or maybe a variety of products with the same name… confusion reigns in either case). There is indeed a strong sense of culture shock when you move beyond the hundred-acre woods for the first time. Usually there is enough information exchanged eventually to place an acceptable order. Using the worst-case scenario, pointing at the menu and asking for “one of these” will allow for an unexpected adventure not (necessarily) soon to be forgotten (a favorite ploy at establishments offering world cuisine not commonly found in rural mid-Michigan). I keep Maalox in the glovebox just in case…
So when I travel (not all that often, nor all that far anymore, I must sadly confess) I have learned to accept (if not embrace) the challenge of dealing with nomenclature regarding the local “pop” culture. To make life easier, I eventually just end up with a glass of ice water with my meal, and a cup of coffee with desert (I like pie). But I am reasonably sure of one thing.
Ordering a caffeine-laced-carbonated-soda-beverage in most places results in a blank stare.
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