Friday, November 27, 2009

Culture shock - eating out

Having been away from the US for three years, I suppose a bit of a culture shock coming and going was to be expected. The picture to the left was actually taken back at the end of 2005 in Katrina-stricken New Orleans. It is a piece of boudin, which is a local spicy rice sausage (not the blood sausage you'll find in France).

Back when I ordered that plate, I was amazed at all of the Styrofoam and plastic that came with it. In fact, a lot of the meals on that trip were served as though I were on a picnic, not in a restaurant.

Four years later, things were basically the same in New Orleans and Washington DC. I paid around 14 dollars for a plate of food at the airport in Washington and was served on a plastic plate with a plastic fork and knife. In the US, you apparently really have to go pretty far upscale to be served drinks in real glass and food with real metal cutlery and porcelain plates.

Back in Germany, the culture shock continued. After 10 days in the US, I had become so accustomed to getting free refills of iced tea and ice water that I nearly perished when I first went out to eat in Freiburg. German restaurants have quite a bit to learn about serving food. Any basic Italian restaurant will immediately bring out some finger food for the kids, and most places in the US also immediately serve you bread and butter or something similar (like nachos and salsa), but in Germany you never get anything for free, and they bring you out these really terribly small (0.2 liter) glasses of water if you are not careful enough to order the large.

In France, you are always given some bread and water right away, but in Germany you get nothing.

To make matters worse, water is often more expensive than beer or other drinks in German restaurants. Take a look at the menu at Munich's Hofbräuhaus, which is pretty typical (PDF). Beer goes for around 6.90 euros a liter, but "Tafelwasser" will run you 4.75 euros per liter, while "Siegsdorfer Petrusquelle" goes for 8.80 euros per liter -- and is only sold in 0.25 liter portions. An "Apfelsaftschorle" (half bubbly water, half apple juice -- the most common drink in Germany) will set you back eight euros per liter.

Amazingly, all of this lack of drinking water is part of a long German tradition. Some 20 years ago, I learned that Germans often do not even take a drink with their lunch -- and indeed, when I came to Freiburg in 1992, the university cafeteria, where some 4,500 students ate each day, did not offer any kind of drinks at all -- no vending machine, no water fountain (in fact, there are basically no water fountains in Germany at all -- Germans apparently do not think their tap water is for drinking, even though it is among the cleanest in the world). If you wanted something to drink, you had to bring your own. (The cafeteria is now full of vending machines and even has a café.)

Wouldn't it be great if American restaurants started serving on real plates with real cutlery like the rest of the world? And if German restaurants brought out some tap water and a bit of bread when they come to take your orders like the rest of the world?

No comments:

Post a Comment