Travelling Since 16 Hours

One of a miscellany of short observations from a trip to Scotland.

 We don’t want anything.

Sounding resigned, not cranky, the speaker is a pleasant if somewhat shell-shocked-looking 40-ish mother. Having given up on shopping, I am sitting in the airport equivalent of a mosh pit. The seats are at about 90% capacity, with a steady churn. In the hour I’ve been parked here, my row mates have included two old English women in mauve (little girls, it seems, have had purple as their fave colour for a long, long time), a young mother/son duo from Spain (I catch one word in 30 or so, just enough to identify the language beyond doubt, but not enough to follow the conversation), and now a not-quite middle-aged German couple.

I overhear their conversation with their teenage daughter across the aisle. Well, ‘overhear’ overstates the effort required. Conversing in German, they make no effort to keep their voices down, even though the topic is a bit discreet. I catch what I think is ‘toiletten’ from the kid and can’t misinterpret the universal ‘beats me’ shrug from the mother. The Toilets signs aren’t visible from here, but I saw them while reconnoitering.  I pause for a nanosecond and jump in.

Adequate vectoring of the daughter breaks the ice. The talk — now all in English — turns to our respective travel travails.

We have been travelling since 16 hours. We don’t want to eat. We don’t want to drink. We don’t want anything.

Except, of course, for the day to end. In their own beds. Soon.

She has me trumped, no question. I have only been travelling since eight hours, across five time zones: coming from the Seattle area, their 16 hours en route (thus far!) have seen them cross eight time zones.

Having said pretty much all there is to say about this day, we move on to her impressions of Seattle. What struck her most, it seems, is the sameness of American cuisine.

It is all burgers and schteak.

I demur, gently. Surely they’d found other food? Nope, just burgers and schteak.

Their daughter back from der toiletten, their gate announced, they are off. But they leave me thinking about my own impression of American cooking. Burgers and schteak (including the Philly cheese variant) are ubiquitous, no doubt: also pizza and hot dogs. Not that that’s all bad.

But there are also the funky delis and coffee shops selling the homemade trifecta: soups, salads and sandwiches. Both coasts offer crab cakes and salmon; Alaska serves fresh halibut and king crab. The Southwest has seemingly endless variations on Mexican food; South Carolina glories in scallops, shrimp, and savoury and sweet hush puppies. Anywhere south of the Mason-Dixon line you can get fabulous pulled pork and barbeque. If you need comfort food, the Ohio Amish and the Pennsylvania Dutch stand ready. And if you broaden the descriptor from ‘American food’ to ‘food in America’, you can choose from spring rolls, curry, sushi, shwarma, and yes, even schnitzel in most decent-sized cities.

Of course my impressions of American cuisine have been formed with the benefit of a lifetime of cross-border travel, rather than the limitations of a two-week excursion.  And, of course, Scotland isn’t as big as America, but as we set out on the last leg of our travels I remind myself to try not to generalize too quickly or too much. Even in a country as small as Scotland, in 18 days we can’t do more than sample the history, geography, culture, and food. One thing I know for sure, though: it won’t all be burgers and schteak.


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4 Responses to Travelling Since 16 Hours

  1. Vince says:

    But how many different varieties of haggis did you and the Big Guy try?

    I have been travelling since forty years. I pride myself in enjoying a receptive palate, easily able to enjoy the spectrum here at home, from lamb fry to sushi, and from shwarma to bulgogi. Truly, I contemplate an entire road-trip one day, based entirely on the variety of BBQ available in the southern States – from the mustard and vinegar based sandwiches of the Southeast to the sugars and chilies of the Midwest.

    But I currently find myself studying in a Canadian institution host to a handful of individual representatives from around the world. As we have studied Canadian culture, with its moral and ethical boundaries, mosaic or even tapestry-style settlement, and of such diverse composition, the question has come up – what is a uniquely Canadian dish with which to host our guests?

    My mind immediately transports me to the prairies for a feed of perogies and cabbage rolls; nope, Ukrainian. I think maybe mussels and scallops on the east coast; well, maybe more European (think Belgium…). Surely a nice feed of spring rolls and sushi; hmm, a bit obviously not. At this point, we’re down to poutine and tir de l’erable. Way to go Quebec!

    Without easy access to the perfectly delectable trifecta of a muskox tenderloin, a caribou steak, and a char filet easily at hand (my word, that was an outstanding Mess Dinner!), have you other suggestions for a truly representative Canadian meal?

    Stereotyping need not always carry negative connotations, but sometimes it’s not so easy to generalize.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Vince – Ah, the saga of the haggis – all in good time. Your Canadian-food dilemma is a serious one, that’s for sure. First Nations’ foodstuffs have priority by date, but not by use, although I track the wild-game and fresh fish dinner as a viable option (mmm, pickerel). Coming from the West myself, Ukrainian foods seem like a good choice to me – perogies, borscht, kielbasa – but others across this wide land would disagree. Adding partridge berries or bakeapples from Newfoundland & Labrador to pretty much anything should qualify the result as Canadian, (shouldn’t it), and yet I expect most Canadians have never encountered either. It’s odd indeed that with the exception of maple syrup, anything that seems authentically Canadian is not national at all, but regional. And maple syrup is produced regionally but would at least be familiar in most corners of the country – I think! I’m also thinking all this might mean that the gods of nation building are not done with us yet.

  2. Margaret says:

    I’d go for roast beef mashed potatoes and gravy,turnips, broccoli salad with sunflower seeds and strawberries. With lemon meringue pie for dessert!

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Margaret – Hey, there’s an idea! We could collect what people think are quintessential Canadian dinners! Me, I’d insist on pumpkin pie in there somewhere, but maybe it’s just that time of year…

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