Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Frogs - and Other Food Related Stereotypes

Food plays a decisive role when you first visit a country.

I remember when we moved to Holland, my parents were utterly bafflled when they were taken to an Indonesian restaurant there. Rijsttafel- one of the most delicious things ever to cross a border, freaked them. "How can they eat that?" my mother said. I don't think we ever went out a restaurant in Holland after that...

Ethnic sterotypes and prejudices are based on what a nation (conceivably) eats:

- France: Garlic and froglegs ("Frogs")
- Germany : Sausage and sauerkraut ("Krauts")
- Germans call Italians "Spaghetti Gobblers", and the French call the English"Les Rosbif"

Local food makes you query your relationship to the other country: "How can they eat THAT? There must be something wrong with them..."

So food defines nations – at least in the eye of the beholder. And it isn't neutral, there's always an element of "Says it all really" in the observation.

Have you had food experiences that made you re-define your attitude to a new country? That shocked or delighted you? - I'd love to hear them!


  1. Interesting some poeple avoid or are
    apprehensive about visiting the most amazing places because they are scared by the food!

    A strict vegetarian friend of mine writes travel guides and loved her time in SE Asia BUT was in constant search of food she could eat. The concept of specialist diets are understood more in some regions than others - sometimes because food of any type is considered a luxury (something we should not forget!).

    In a similar vein we should not always presume destinations of great beauty will have the range of food one may associate with their climate and vista. Cuba 15 years ago for example - amazing place and people - food unspeakably awful and the fresh fruit I assumed would be in abundance was no where to be seen.

  2. What a very interesting comment, thank you, Anonymous! Wish I knew who you are :)

  3. What a stimulating blog. I have always found that the stereotypes on food - eg cooked breakfast for the Brits - are something that the media wish to negate, somehow be ashamed of, but in fact are spot on with the vast majority of the population's eating habits. Olive may publish readers letters using French and italian words for vegetables - porcini for example, chanterelles - whereas the ability to actually speak any of these languages is limted to ever fewer Brits. Saucissons et pommes de terre...hardly. Bangers and mash..indeed.

  4. I assume am an ALIEN from other world's with my very odd diet, but as always Margit you wrote something that gets people talking.
    Am a person who hasn't travelled a great deal, but friends find it highly unusual that I detest a Sunday Roast Lunch, the very thought of one turns my stomach. I also think a lot of food and nationalism can be down to psychological aspects and Pavlovian conditioning. OMG am ranting!
    Great writing hinny, keep it up!

  5. What an interesting observation Margit! Having spent most of my life in one country, and now living in the US, foresee-ably for the rest of my life, I often mirror the thoughts you've written about here. For me, the "How can they eat THAT?" happened with bacon. There's something about the animal that doesn't go very well with me. Conversely, I've had Americans come up to me and tell me - How can you Indians eat SUCH spicy food??!! I guess it's also a case of stereotypes defining how people perceive you and your ethnicity.

    As usual you've entertained me with one more great post. :-)

  6. Sabera, Alan - totally chuffed by your observations - and your very kind comments! Thank you!

  7. Hello!

    I found this blog through your twitter feed. I myself am a New Zealander who has lived in America, Germany, London and who now resides in Holland.

    In America I was just shocked by how they run on nothing (it seems) than coffee and carbohydrates. Coming from a good ol' Kiwi household I'm used to meat and potatoes, not caffeine and bagels! Britain as far as I'm concerned never really surprised me, British eating patterns were too similar to New Zealands' - although we go less for greasy spoon diners and more for cafes with sandwiches and cake. Oh, and drink less tea.

    Holland however - yikes. I do not like the combinations that Dutch eaters put together. Peas and potatoes together? Ew! The TEXTURE is all wrong. I had massive problems (had, I can handle it now!) with the raw herring they lower into their mouths and if you want something other than beef, pork or chicken they look at you like you're dangerous! I would kill for a lovely fatty lamb chop, or even a little duck - but they are either just not to be found or prohibitably expensive or covered in MSG - something I am horribly allergic to.

    *sigh* Hehe enough whining though - I never really thought of my food choices defining me and the country I come from - especially as I thought I was so worldly and well-travelled, but I guess I will always remain a Kiwi in my attitudes and outlooks - culinary or otherwise!

    Natalie Prescott - Real Zeal Translations in Amersfoort, NL.

  8. Here the Ethiopians and Russians are the newest Israeli immigrants. The Ethiopians (like the Yemenite) use alot of fenugreek in their cooking and it has a very distinct and long lasting smell,up to 24 hours I was told. Not everybody likes it. My Botany teacher used to say that he stunk so much from fenugreek they used to throw him out of the spice stores (He was an American with a Yemenite habit).
    As for the Russians, many are secular and are associated with non kosher foods which some people turn their noses at that. Many immigrant foods have been assimilated into the national cuisine, its a great country for that.

  9. Sarah, so fascinating - I feel YOUR blog on interculturalism would be a lot more interesting than mine... :)