Humble Pie

They don’t have Pepsi™.

Well, maybe that’s a little sweeping. In the spirit of Heinlein’s Fair Witnesses, let me amend that statement to reflect precisely what I saw or, more accurately, did not see.

In four weeks in the major cities of New Zealand and Australia, I did not see one can, bottle (glass or plastic), or soda fountain dispensing Pepsi™. Not in a restaurant. Not in a bar. Not in a full-service grocery or convenience store. Not in a vending machine.

I did not see even one ad for Pepsi™—no billboard, street sign, or TV spot—and I think that says it all.  

Now, I had not expected to find my tipple of choice: Caffeine-free Diet Pepsi™ in a 12-ounce plastic bottle. Serving a niche market par excellence, this product can be tricky to find even in my city of residence. But in these days of global markets, what I did find was shocking: no Pepsi™ anywhere, of any kind. Not diet. Not full-test. Not nothing.

I know what you’re thinking: “How do they stand it?”

But that’s not what I’m thinking. After all, if they don’t have any Pepsi™ at all, they can’t know what they’re missing. But I can, as can legions of other North American tourists. So what I’m thinking is this: “There oughta be a law.”

A full-disclosure-before-booking-flights law, I’m thinking. Something akin to a truth-in-advertising law, I’m thinking.

Or, if not a law—after all, it’s notoriously hard to legislate decency—then at least some social mores along the lines of come-on-it’s-just-common-courtesy-to-be upfront-about-it. Something—anything—that would alert Pepsi™-dependent travellers to the inexplicable absence of this product in Australia and New Zealand. That’s what I’m thinking.

Of course, reciprocity is key to strong relations, so maybe Canada should come with its own warning labels.

For potential tourists from Down Under, that would include a notification that we don’t routinely offer warm, flaky scones and sweet, heavy cream just a shade different from (and better than!) our whipped cream to accompany mid-morning coffee-and-tea breaks. In Australia, we enjoyed this apparently commonplace treat in establishments ranging from a chic cafe in a downtown botanical garden to an otherwise spartan rest stop out in the middle of nowhere (a rest stop that was one part Aboriginal art gallery, one part souvenir/convenience shop, and one part biker bar).

For potential tourists from other parts of the world, I’m thinking there’s still some work to be done to identify the inexplicable product absences from their points of view. Scots, for example, might like to know that they can’t get haggis on this side of the Pond; Brits, that they can’t order warm beer.

And then there are the strange differences in products purporting to be the same. Turks might want to be warned about what Timmy’s does to coffee, New Yorkers about what we do to bagels, and the French about what we do to croissants.

There is, I’m thinking, a whole world of comestible cautions to be documented. And so I humbly offer myself as food-and-beverage cautioneer, at taxpayers’ expense of course. It is, after all, for the good of our international relationships. And if that seems a touch too high-falutin’, well, consider it merely the necessary cost of common courtesy.

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8 Comments

  1. My husband’s very choice of beverage and he is addicted to it! How did you manage? Perhaps, like storing up blood against future need, you should have flown packages of this elixir in coolers of crushed ice to points along your projected route? You can purchase clotted cream Devon-style in the dairy section of “selected” Canadian grocery stores; as it comes to our backwater of civilization you should be able to find it close to home. Or make it yourself from a recipe? President’s Choice Devon Custard isn’t quite the same, but adds an authentic taste to “high tea.”

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Laurna – As a family member says, “There’s no caffeine and no sugar. What are you addicted to?” The habit, I guess . . . As for managing, well, there wasn’t much option. If I’d known in advance, I could have set up cairns, I guess. And now that you mention it, I think I have seen clotted cream for sale – such an icky name for such wonderful stuff . . . Now I just have to make the same style of scone.

  2. John Whitman

    Hi Isabel:

    First it was black/clear tea! Now it is Pepsi, or lack thereof! I wait with bated breath to see what’s next.

    The world is truly a wonderful place and your experiences while travelling reminded me of an Egyptian tea seller I saw in the marketplace in Ismailia, Egypt, back in the fall of 1974. He didn’t have a cart or a stand, but instead was walking through the market with his wares on his back. Imagine if you can, an adult size backpack, except that the top 3/4’s to 7/8’s of the pack was a metal container about 4-6 inches deep. The bottom 1/4 to 1/8 was an enclosed metal charcoal brazier to keep the tea warm. On either side of his head at the top was a rigid spout about 8 inches long much like a pair of horns. On the left hand spout 3 or 4 heavy green glass tumblers were stacked facing downwards.

    When a customer approached him, he reached up with his right (clean) hand and took the top tumbler off the stack, leaned carefully to his right and filled the tumbler from the spout on his right. I thought this was all very novel and wondered how he managed to keep from burning his back due to the charcoal brazier at the bottom of the pack. It became a lot less wonderful when the buyer finished his tea and handed the glass back to the seller, who without cleaning it in any way, placed it back on top of the stack on the left hand spout, and then handed it to his next customer.

    John W

    P.S. You might want to hold off on your notification system for other world travellers as it applies to Pepsi and Australia. A Goggle search shows that PepsiCo Australia is alive and well as of today, and appears to offer the standard range of PepsiCo products from Doritos to Pepsi Lite.

    1. Isabel Gibson

      John – Uh huh. I understand that “recycled” glasses, as it were, can also be a feature of our street festivals. So much for the pervasiveness of our otherwise admirable health inspection system – Caveat imbibor, I guess. Travel, especially in the developing world, can be a lesson in creative supply chain solutions. In Guatemala I saw milk jugs and warm tortillas delivered via bicycle.

  3. Marianne

    Isabel,
    This reminds me of when I traveled in India for over a month. In every hotel we stayed they had Nestle’s Everyday milk powder to add to their very strong black tea. I was hesitant as I thought it would be like Coffee Mate (which I am not fond of), but I was wrong, and I became addicted to this milk powder. When I got home to Canada I learned that Everday is not widely available, and I had to scour through several Indian grocers as most did not sell it here. I finally found a reliable Indian grocer to buy it from and I use it in the office. It becomes hard to go without something you use daily.
    Happy travels,

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Marianne – Thank goodness for ethnic grocery stores, eh? My own brief exposure to immersion in a foreign language (and trying to communicate in said language, I mean) left me in admiration bordering on awe for the resilience of immigrants. I can well imagine that in the midst of all this strangeness, they cling pretty stubbornly to whatever they can get of the taste of home.

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Carla – And caffeine-free. Very important. Actually, durign the rare periods when I’m off it for some reason (like avoiding known neurotoxins), I notice how it changes what I want to eat. Water may be the very stuff of life, but it doesn’t go very well with pizza.

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