Alright, so you’ve heard about the greatest coach flight ever experienced, and you know about my newly found creepy habit of playing peek-a-boo with little kids on the subway, but I’ve got a few more little stories about my awkward, culturally inappropriate interactions, and flat out overwhelming culture shock moments from my trip back home to the states, and then I promise I’ll get back to more stories about Togo. Not that any of you are really begging for more stories about me getting crazy illnesses or fighting off nature’s (at least African nature’s) apparent strong desire to make me shit my pants (A fight I am proud to say I’m currently winning, although it might just have to come down to a judges decision by the end), but here goes:
So my first cultural faux pa in the states happened just after I got into NY, while I was out to lunch with my dad and sister. First of all, talk about overwhelming. Holy shit, I felt like I was going to have a panic attack just looking at the menu. I honestly didn’t know what to do with myself there were so many choices. And it’s not even like we were at some fancy 5 star restaurant. I’m pretty sure my one and only requirement for my first meal back was that it took place at an establishment with cold beer on tap. So after I had my fingers (and lips) wrapped around an icy cold IPA, everything else was just icing on the golden pint of hoppy goodness in my hand. I’m not even joking, I literally couldn’t even order I was so overwhelmed. Everything was maple glazed, caramelized, bacon wrapped, blue cheese stuffed, and hickory smoked(and I thought that three cheese was exciting). It was sheer beauty.
I read over the whole menu two or three times and still had no idea what was on it, much less what I was going to order. I just had this giddy, stupid, somewhat confused grin on my face, I was slightly shaking(maybe quivering would be a better fit), I even had a few droplets of sweat beading up on my forehead, and I hadn’t even tasted anything yet. Talk about premature excitement. I came to realize/remember while I was home that every menu is just as over exageratingly descriptive as this, no matter how shitty the food actually is. But when you’ve grown accustomed to ‘big pot of spicy red sauce with mystery bush meat’, or ‘big pot of even spicier green sauce with old fish’ as your menu options, this kind of stuff looks like straight up hardcore food porn.
Anyway, I ended up having to make my sister order for me, which, shortly thereafter resulted in my (I’m sure inappropriately) shoving my face into a giant, greasy, bacon blue cheese burger. (She knows me too well). And helping to polish off her pulled pork amazingness something or other. I honestly don’t even remember most of it. It all got a bit hazy once the food arrived. Toss a few more pints of cold beer somewhere in between the greasy massacre and I was on cloud 9.
All of this lack of table manners and whatnot though, was understandable and excusable to my dad and sister. I think it was once the waitress came back to clear our plates that I really got some weird looks.
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Let me explain something to you first though. In Togo, literally nothing goes to waste when it comes to food. People literally crunch down into chicken bones just to get the little bit of bone marrow on the inside. Right after every last remnant of meat or cartilage had been gnawed off the ends. I actively avoided eating hot wings while I was at home for this exact reason(Don’t worry, I’m joking, I haven’t actually picked up on that custom yet). Food, especially meat, is serious business here, and does not go to waste.
So when the waitress came to clear the table and asked my dad if he wanted the other half of his juicy grilled sirloin steak sandwich topped with caramelized onions and peppers, and melted gruyere cheese (My hands are quivering just writing about it as I sit here belly full of pounded yams, spicy sauce, and some sort of mystery bushmeat), I was quickly snapped out of my food coma when my dad politely told her that we were all set. No boxes needed. Im pretty sure I looked over at him like he had three heads. ‘Are you joking right now? Seriously? That was a joke right?’ I shot the waitress a look as if to say ‘Hold on just a second, my father clearly has a screw loose’. Glancing over at my sister as if to get someone else with their head on straight to back me up. I’m sitting completely straight up at this point, chin stretched up in the air, eyebrows raised, looking down my nose at the plate as it passed by my face to get a reaffirming look at the glorious half of a sandwich sitting there pristinely uneaten, “Uh. Um. Nuh, no. Yeah… we… we’ll.. we’ll take a box for that guy.’ Seriously, I thought that was a rhetorical question at first.
I think my father was so taken aback by my reaction he didn’t even bother saying anything. He just looked at me, eyebrows slightly cocked, like ‘Dude, what the hell is wrong with you?’
So to make a long story just a little bit longer, I have absolutely no idea where the contents of that little square styrofoam box actually ended up. They certainly didn’t end up in my belly, because right after that we went to Yankee Stadium to watch the game with my little brother, and was immediately brought to a whole other level of culture shock surrounded by burgers, hot dogs, brat worst, onion rings, and a plethora of cold beers on tap. Needless to say, that little white box had long ago faded from my memory.
I guess this is the point where I should toss in my 2 cents about how we Americans waste too much food and take it all for granted and blah blah blah. But I’m way too busy thinking about what sort of fatty, bacon wrapped, smothered in cheese, heavenly concoction I’m going to eat next time I’m home. So ‘Insert meaningful message here’ and then go eat a half of a steak sandwich in my honor.