Saturday, 6 June 2009

In which I am slightly ashamed of myself

Oh lord, if my younger self could see me today. I have always been strenuously of the Total Immersion school of living abroad, as demonstrated by my early adoption of the CFO as proof of my French credentials. I don't really know any English people, I don't go to the English Doctor (yes, there is one. All the expats in Brussels go there. Imagine the stuff she must know!). The spawn are at Belgian school. I am assimilated. Or more accurately, I like to believe I am. I am probably nothing of the kind, but I live in my bubble of Belgian delusion.

It was the same in Paris; I didn't know any English people there either, didn't speak English, didn't want anything to do with the expat scene. I was sniffy about it; still am. Arrogant bitch that I am. A bit hypocritical too - I buy English books and magazines wherever I find them, I am secretly delighted our local supermarket sells Cadburys Caramels and PG Tips, and whenever anyone comes to see me, I send them a gigantic wish list full of the esoteric delights of self-raising flour, bagels and M&S yoghurt. I used to force the CFO to transport Muffinskis muffins back from London wrapped and treated with all the reverence of holy relics. He won't do that any more, but he still coughs for Grazia and Heat pretty much weekly. Violet sends me care packages of Supercook Writing Icing and fondant fancies. Essentially, I am a sick expat junkie, but I am in denial. I can totally handle it; take my Yorkshire Teabags away! I will be FINE. Lipton Yellow will do. Marmite? No, not for me thank you.

This morning, however, something inside of me snapped.

"I want to go to the English Shop"

The CFO looked nonplussed.


"For teabags. And party stuff. And jelly and cereal. I just want to, ok?"

Knowing better than to argue, and hoping for cider and Burt's Crisps, the CFO acquiesced and we headed off into the depths of the affluent Flemish commuter belt to a thoroughly incongruous ageing brick building that looked more like a Cotswold vicarage than a supermarket. On the inside if felt more like a Spar than a proper supermarket (fitting, given its bizarre setting), but it was impressively well-stocked. Everyone in there was English. You could tell from their sensible Marks and Spencer slacks, even before you heard them saying "Shall I pick up a copy of the Telegraph, Margaret?" And stroking the HobNobs reverently. And I bought stuff. Lots of stuff. Stuff I don't even like. It was very hard to stop myself from buying much much more.


And looking at this haul, I realise I didn't buy either jelly or bagels. Dammit! I will just have to go back. SOON.

Now you will have to excuse me while I go and sniff teabags. Or something.


pplongstocking said...

Ahhhh ... you have succumbed to cultural food cravings.

I have yet to find an English shop in Paris, I know there must be a few. Luckily my local Monoprix has a corner stacked with food from far away places, amongst it is a shelf dedicated to English food stuff which makes the whole idea of Worcester sauce and PG Tips seem oh so exotic.

Lipton Yellow just doesn't do it.
Long live Yorkshire Gold!

theharridan said...

i too am sniffy about the Olde Country love (in my case, NZ). But just watch me hoard the chocolate fish and Oddfellow peppermints handed to me on Tuesday by our thoughtful houseguests. No one else will get a look-in. I could be educating the children on Treats From Home but no. Better in my doughy tum. Nyahahahaha! Or something. Sometimes, something in you just snaps.

Kathy Castro said...

It's always the things from home (no matter how long ago it was 'home') that are 'best'. Virtually every American expat I know imports clingfilm and plastic storage bags, because they're just *better*. And every time I've lived abroad I have craved, consistently, yearningly, passionately, types of junk food that I never touch when living natively (peanut butter! Doritos! Oreos! Diet coke ((hate CocaLight hate it hate it hate it))). I too think I assimilate pretty well, but you can't close up that little corner of your heart, and your tastebuds, that remembers Home. Go with it.

Does the English Store really sell Burts? YUM. I miss those now!

dragondays said...

I can't believe you went to Stone Manor!!!! It is AWFUL! Sorry, I just hate the clientele and the expat chumminess and the awful screaming kids and ... and everything I escaped from 25 years ago! My local GB sells Twiglets! Just ask them and they try to get it!
word ver : cures

Are you cured?

Laura and Ben said...

OMG - You have just provided me with a good reason why I need to import my car. I miss knowing what stuff is before buying it. Sniff...

tragicanon said...

how do the belgians make those delicious little pâtisserie-type cakes without self raising flour?!
i do remember thinking not even the chocolate tastes the same in europe, when i spent three months working as an au pair in normandy.. and that was a shock because it had a nice normal cadburys wrapper.
truth is it probably tasted a bit better, but there's nothing like a bit of second rate british tat to make my heart soar when i'm feeling homesick.

Titian red said...

Ooh, did you get the black or the white bag ? I spent ages choosing, then I will throw it away because it is free gift tat, do you not feel it is slightly ironic to by Dr Oetker Baking Powder, or are the Oetkers a long established English family ?

wv swomb - a nice mix of maternal safety combined with sense of smothering ?

The City Road said...

"Now you will have to excuse me while I go and sniff teabags. Or something."

These aren't just cultural food cravings Mme Jaywalker, this is full-blown home sickness ...

NYC has it's version, Myers of Keswick tucked away over on Hudson towards the West Side Highway. You know it's bad when you go there simply to stare at a Scotch Egg and whimper.

Possibly gone now, but we had a weekly alternative (and I lived with English girls, so this is as much about their need as mine); Tea & Sympathy in the Village, run by two girls from the East End, serving hot Ribena in tumblers and PG Tips in mis-matched crockery and beans on toast. One customer, asking about desert, tremulously enquired whether the custard with the Spotted Dick was Birds - "What other way of making fucking custard is there?" was the reply.

Once I found myself crying at syndicated BBC programs on PBS just because of the accent I knew my time there was up...

DIY Fail said...

Back in the day, my local Rallye supermarche had a Foreign Delicacies section. Offering the best in international cuisine, the discerning English student abroad could find McVitie's Digestives, AND, for only 9F, Heinz Baked Beans. Yes, the pukka bean. None of your Cross & Blackwells rubbish.
This was the perfect solution - get your fix from home, and feel exotic about it. Well worth 9F.

Greeneyed monster said...

Glad to see you got the Yorkshire Gold!
That and a Fray Bentos tinned steak and kidney udding are the only thing worth going to a British shop for.

DIY Fail said...

By the way, I note you went for Frosted, 'Yes I Really Am So Fucking Lazy' Shreddies. Too much trouble to have to sprinkle on the sugar yourself isn't it? Oh, the work involved in getting that (always empty) sugar bowl out of the cupboard. So trying.

Also, am relieved to discover the identity of the person still buying Fig Rolls. When my granny died I presumed that was it, but no! Well done you.

screamish said...

yorkshire tea! yorkshire tea! never knew about this until started going to our version of the english shop. Wish they would stock Aussie Billy Tea instead.

um....and vegemite would be good too.

comfort food....whats going on? you've been repressing something...homesickness maybe...

I have to make good old macaroni and cheese at moments like these...

but then if I DID go home, imagine the red wine/camembert budget, its sooo expensive in Australia

M. said...

Idiot. (says the girl considering throwing out her shoes so she can fill her suitcase with confit and cote d'or aux amandes caramellisees avec une pointe de sel).

Mr Farty said...

Stepdaughter in SA used to ask us to send Curly Wurlys even though she lived next door to the Cadbury's factory. Rotten sods refused to manufacture them locally.

I shall have to try this Yorkshire Tea of which you speak.

Mouthy Housewife said...

I always say a well stocked pantry is a pantry that is well stocked. Yes. Well. English delicacies? A bit of an oxymoron, no?

GingerB said...

When I lived in the UK for all of seven months I missed mexican food so badly I had people mail me powdered mixes for enchilada sauce and I made my own tortillas so I could make cheese enchiladas. The only other American things I had to have were a token pack of American cigarettes and an Idaho Spud candy bar. Your American readers will know I picked a pathetic candy choice, but I figured if it was getting mailed to me it should both taste and read like home. Now I go to every English tea shop or store I see and come home with frozen steak pies, sausage rolls, (are you ready) canned haggis, and plain chocolate HobNobs. You people know cookies, I must say. And now you have me thinking of a representative food from every European country I have visited and I think I need a snack.

Jaywalker said...

pplongstocking - yes, those English corners, that always contain Tiptree jam, Carrs Water Biscuits, Colemans Mustard and PG Tips, they have them here too. But the cassières at our local Monop were so unbelievably evil I was usually too scared to try and buy anything.

harridan - I am willing to make mine jelly (described by their Belgian friends with fascinated horror as "nourriture d'extra terrestre" but that's as far as it goes.

Kathy - no, sadly it doesn't sell Burts. STOCK FAIL, shop. There was a shop in Paris that did though - boulangépicier in the 17ème, Paris dwellers.

dragondays - I know, I know. I am so ashamed. It was my first time and I've lived here for 3 years. Does that excuse me slightly? It was very weird, especially the tweedy WI woman who assailed me outside and said, loudly and slowly as if to an idiot or small child "DO YOU READ?" then tried to get me to go to her book sale.

Laura & Ben - I am not sure how wholeheartedly I recommend it. Bad for self-esteem, if good for crappy Britfood.

tragicanon - oh god, the absence of self-raising flour just puzzles me endlessly. Self-raising flour, Belgium! It's one of the wonders of the modern world!

Titian - black. I am not too snobbish about such things and always have fistfuls of those endless free bags they dispense. Dr Oetker seems to have a personality crisis going on - I thought he was supposed to be a consummate Italian pizza maker? YOU CAN'T BE BOTH, "DR".

City Road - I want a round of granary toast at bettys with a pot of tea room blend, followed by a fondant fancy please. I will laugh at all the photos in Yorkshire Life and try and hide from all the people I went to school with. Is this so hard? Pff.

DIY Fail - But you see, 'back in the day' when I used to frequent Atac in Canteleu, shithole on outskirts of Rouen, I would not have been seen DEAD buying English produce. Mock my Shreddies all you want, I totally deserve it.

Greeneyed monster - seriously? Fray Bentos pies? I am impressed, by which I mean, sort of repulsed.

Screamish - Yorkshire Tea makes everything ok, at least temporarily. Taste of home. I am suddenly 14 and just home from school sulking, eating Toffee Crisps and watching Neighbours.

M - yeah, dude. "I want to live in Parrriiiiiiiiis". Pot, kettle.

Mr Farty - oooh Curly Wurlies! They are a bit rubbish, no? Yorkshire Tea, however, is magic.

Mouthy Housewife - is that you, Marinka? Hiding?

GingerB yes, I need a snack too. In fact, I need LOTS OF SNACKS. I am hungover and have just hosted a children's party.

pinolona said...

I don't know - I've never found that I've missed types of food particularly while I've been away. When I get back I remember how much I love Marmite on toast and Nambarrie tea etc but normally I'm quite happy with UHT milk in a cube and drinking my Dilmah black. When people ask me if I want anything from home I can't usually think of anything. Mind you, all the good stuff comes under the heading of 'junk food and therefore definitely not on my shopping list honest' anyway :)

redfox said...

An impressive haul! Bagels that have been on this earth long enough to be transported to the English Shop sound a bit alarming, or at least not entirely satisfying, though.

westendmum said...

I believe one simply can't make English tasting tea abroad, it's the water, it's too good. For a similar reason coffee never tastes right in the UK, our water is too poor.

Comfort darling, you were seeking comfort, damn those memories of buttery toast and tuck shop goodies.

The Gossamer Woman said...

I lived in the States for 22 years and the only things I miss are macaroni and cheese and Parmesan noodles. There are so many good things to eat here in the Netherlands that my cup runneth over. I think you are dealing with a bad case of homesickness, but I already mentioned that before.

(Very) Lost in France said...

We have several overpriced English shops here, you know Yorkshire Tea with a £1.99 special offer stamped on that is marked up at 6 euros, multi-packs of Baked Beans marked 'not to be sold separately' at 1.20euros a tin. Fortunately our local supermarket has a good, reasonably priced English section with Dairy Milk (no 70% cocoa stuff for me!), hobnobs and jelly, you know, the stuff that makes life bearable. But it makes you realise what a strange idea the French have about what we Brits eat. Shelves stuffed with Ambrosia Devon Custard, baked beans and sausages, Rice pudding,Pot Noodles and other such culinary delights.Still we fare better than the Dutch who seem to survive on a diet of Apple puree and peanut butter. VLiF

bevchen said...

I see fig rolls AND Hula Hoops in that picture. Totally jealous!

Kitschen Pink said...

Fig Rolls? You bought Fig Rolls? As a child I thought they were so foul that I had been given dog biscuits to eat. t.x (that's it - you bought them for the weepette non?!

bonnie-ann black said...

it's bad to be a longing ex-pat in another country, but when you're an ex-pat in your *own* country, that's really sad. when i went to college, at a midwestern university, i missed new york food so much, i used to weep at the food carts in the background of movies filmed in NYC... i wanted decent pizza, dirty water hot dogs, sour dill pickles! i wanted egg creams and decent italian food, real malteds and even lipton tea would have been preferable to some of the swill i was given out there. i was a foreign exchange student in mexico when i was 16, and i never missed food as much as i did when i was exiled in my own country across the mississippi. things *may* be better now... and i long ago graduated to yorkshire gold and twinings 1706, but there will never be a foreign substitute for an egg cream, not too sweet, in a *glass*!

and by the way, both Myers of Keswick *and* Tea & Sympathy are still there -- they're doing a roaring business, i believe, and i'm a regular patron of both!