In general, people who travel to foreign countries exhibit a moderate amount of intelligence enough to bring a dictionary to help translate these little things called words.
People unlike myself apparently, because I made the decision not to pack my clunker of a dictionary to France simply because it was heavy, and I was far too lazy to consider the idea of lugging it around while I was looking for a place to live.
This decision in indolence has its consequences, particularly because I am still too lazy and cheap to be bothered with buying another one over here. Instead, I rely on the handy-dandy internet translations provided by freetranslations.com, a decision at which most of my professors would rightfully shudder (internet translations are notoriously inaccurate).
This problem probably manifests itself most when it comes to grocery shopping. I have been looking for baking powder and baking soda, and of course being the forgetful and spacey person that I am, I forgot to look up the translations for these before I went to a supermarket today with my roomies Aude and Elise.
I did find out, however, that no matter how thoroughly you prepare your vocabulary, you may never be fully prepared for the cultural differences that prevent you from leaving the store with what you actually intended to get.
Several cases in point:
1. Bagels. I searched up and down the aisles for bagels, and finally fell upon a pack of them. But it was a pack of two. And the packaging was clear and square. I have never in my life seen a pack of two bagels before, it’s always at least six. It weirded me out too much and I just couldn’t bring myself to buy them.
2. Frozen chicken. It is a verifiable fact that if you walk into any American grocery store, you will be able to find bags of frozen chicken left and right. Frozen breasts! Frozen thighs! It’s like a frozen chicken orgy at your local King Soopers! The store I went to in France, these just didn’t exist. There were frozen chicken nuggets, but I couldn’t bring myself to buy those either.
3. Unrefrigerated milk. The first time I saw this in France I couldn’t quite comprehend it. In the stores there are aisles full of milk, but they are all stacked outside of any fridge. They usually come in boxes, some that you cut open yourself, or in narrow containers (no gallon sizes here, folks). But I couldn’t understand how they could be outside the fridge. Was it some kind of milk powder and you add water to it? Was it just not real milk? Do the French have magical non-spoil milk that Americans have been blissfully unaware of?
No actually, it just turns out that milk doesn’t need to be religiously refrigerated in order not to spoil. Once the milk is opened, it is thusly refrigerated. But before said time or expiration date, it’s okay to leave it in a cool dry place. This was a groundbreaking concept for me. Am I the only American who thought that was impossible?
4. The ever exotic cheddar cheese. It turns out that in France, cheddar is not the ubiquitous creature it is in the United States. It cannot be found pre-shredded, sporting its signature traffic-cone orange color, or lodged in its natural habitat of ShrinkWrapLand. In order to find cheddar cheese, which Aude duly attempted to translate on her phone, we had to go to the cheese specialty part of the store. They had a giant block of it and weighed it out for us in kilograms, and I took me home some fancy ass cheddar cheese.
5. Miniature pickles. Considering how much I love French food, this is probably the only thing that tangibly disappoints me. The pickles! Why are they so small?! I end up eating an entire jar within a day or two, which I know I do anyway with American pickles but still. It is the principle of the matter.
I must admit however, that France has changed the way I eat a little bit despite efforts to retain my uncultured way of consuming food in public. Take, for example, how I eat grilled sandwiches with a fork and knife now.
I know, this coming from a person whose face and hands you have probably seen smeared with buffalo sauce at some point or another. Alter-ego Kristina is so proud of Kristin’s slow and awkward transition into French life.