Time: May, 1980-something
I’m organizing my first neighbourhood garage sale, thereby meeting people on my three-block-long street whom I’ve never even seen before. One is an American transplant, who tells me that on the day appointed for the garage sale, she’ll be working in the American booth at the Folk Festival.
I think of all the souvlaki, curries, stir-fries, spring rolls, satays, and fry bread that have enlivened my own attendance at folk festivals over the years.
“What food will you serve?”
I’m not making polite conversation: I’m truly puzzled. American cuisine is as varied as the people who call that country home. What on earth will they serve as a representative food for a land with such ethnic diversity?
She hesitates, maybe wondering whether I’m joking or just being stupid. “Hot dogs, of course.”
Hot dogs? Oh. Of course. I shrug, mentally, and think nothing more of it.
Time: July, 1980-something
I’m hosting a departmental barbeque for the new boss of a high-tech employer: the new American boss, as it turns out. I’ve made my own burgers and am feeling pretty good about my menu. Then the new boss arrives with his family. His 12-year-old son looks over my artfully arranged table of condiments and turns to me in some intensity.
“We’re having hot dogs?”
“No, we’re having hamburgers.” I smile reassuringly. Whew! No hot dogs here, no siree.
His response isn’t quite what I’d hoped for. The light in his eyes dies, but it’s clear that he’s not just disappointed: His tone indicates that he’s confused.
“Then why do you have mustard on the table?”
OK, maybe that tone is closer to “betrayed” than “confused.”
I didn’t get it the first time round with the neighbor down the street: I do this time, with the kid in my kitchen, looking as if he’s about to cry. And thus it is that I am introduced to the hot dog as a bit of Americana.
These days, of course, there’s a site for that, starting with the basics—how hot dogs are made, hot dog history and fast facts, hot dog stories and hot dogs in sports, regional and kosher hot dogs—before moving onto important issues like hot dog etiquette (including how to eat a chili dog properly), and whether the hot dog is a sandwich.
And thus it is, too, that I am introduced to the notion that the things that make home, home; that bring us together in spite of everything—the truly important bits of our culture—aren’t necessarily the high-falutin’ bits.