Sunday, 22 July 2012

Chocolate - an Intercultural Personal History

The first chocolate brand I remember eating was Verkade. We were living in Holland at the time, and everybody was chocolate mad.Verkade chocolate was okay, if a bit tooth-breakerish.Verkade is one of the oldest Dutch manufacturing companies, and was instrumental in the home-grown advertising industry - but in 1990 got taken over first by United Biscuits and then by Private Equity Blackstone -with predictable results for the quality of the product.

We were in Holland, but we were also part of a NATO HQ, and therefore our daily shopping was done in the NAAFI store where I encountered my second chocolate experience: Cadbury's Milk Tray. It tasted quite good - I particularly liked the ones with some orangey foam in them, but I also became aware for the first time in my life that I was eating something totally artificial: The one with rose-flavoured jelly in it (much later in my life when living in England, I would re-discover this in a different guise, namely as Fry's Turkish Delight bars!) didn't taste at all what I was used to eating as a child. It tasted foreign, and slightly - well, wrong. Rose-flavour wasn't a concept I'd grown up with. But interesting.( I think threre was also one with lime flavour which reminded me of cleaning fluid, also from the NAAFI). Much more to my taste was a bar called Nuts (which we pronounced in the Dutch fashion "Nüts", as nobody suspected the name actually had a meaning).

Cadbury's of course, was taken over by Kraft Foods in 2010, and Milk Tray still exists, but apparently has gone downhill with all the interesting flavours taken out, and just caramelly ones in the box. Fry's doesn't exist anymore, but Turkish Delight is still produced (albeit in Poland). And "Nuts" is okay, still manufactured by Swiss multinational Nestlé.

After we moved to Germany, my chcolate brands became Milka and Ritter Sport (the latter still a family-owned business,manufactured in Germany!) There was no more rose-flavoured jelly but much more down-to-earth "Alpenmilch","Vollmilch" and "Joghurt".

A life-time's journey via chocolate - quite fascinating I find. (And part of some more research on my part).

Happy to hear about your chocolate memories etc. on Twitter, @Margit11

©Margit Appleton 2012

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Victor Meldrew, or I Don't Like to Complain, but...

I'm thinking about moaning and the way people see "moaning minnies " in different countries.

In England, people often hedge a conversational complaint by saying "I know I shouldn't be moaning, but...", or they'll be looking for agreement from others by saying "Is it just me, or..." rightly hoping the reply will be "No, not just you it really is..." Objectively approved, complaint therefore allowed.

My interest in intercultural moaning was sparked off when I came to Germany, and noticed how much people complain all the time.(Despite of course having one of the best lifestyles in Europe). It's as natural here as a baby crying in its pram. There are no social  filters, no shame, no social stigma.

In a European context, England and Germay are actually at opposite ends of the scale. In England moaning is seen as a sign of weakness, an inabilty to cope. There are various negative words to describe a complaining person (moaning minnie, grouch, Victor Meldrew....) Nowadays, even legitimate complaints in Britain are often battened down by being labelled unpatriotic, or an attack on the British way on life.

Things couldn't be more different in Germany. Complaining means showing your human side. Hey, nobody is perfect, and things are difficult, so let's all have a good moan together. (The un-acceptable opposite would be an American-style "Life is good" attitude, which people here would see as presumptious.

There is a different form of moaning yet, in France. There, by moaning you show that you're not a push-over, and also indicate that you're used to better things. People who don't moan are obviously happy with lowly offerings, and don't know any better. And who would want to be like that?! Moaning as a social status indicator!

My mother for example, has been moaning all her life. She hardly ever does anything else, and if she stopped I'd be seriously worried. Me? As ever, I'm in cut in the middle. Whilst my favourite saying is "When the going gets tough, the tough get going", I'm no stranger to moaning. Recently, when I had to spend a year in Scotland, I simply couldn't stop complaining. It was all too much, and I hated every minute.

Maybe moaning is really a sign that you can't cope. And society's reply should be "Oh just get on with it". At least that's what I'm feeling now, when I have very little to moan about....

Let me know what you think via twitter, @Margit11