One of the hardest parts about being an expat is the cravings. It is like being pregnant for years and years and never being able get that one item that would satisfy your hankering.
Now I live in France and from what I have heard, the food is pretty good. Sure we can pick up duck and fois gras and creme fraîche in any supermarket in town but man, what I wouldn’t give for a can of Spam.
Growing up in Ohio, I lived off of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, tuna fish casserole with crushed potatoes chips on top, Campbell’s soup…. But in my 20’s I decided to move to the land of croissants but now pushing 50 I am cursed with cravings for Pop Tarts.
Yes, I can get organic ham from black pigs that have raised range free in a forest feasting only on acorns, but it is not SPAM.
When I hear that a colleague is going on a business trip to the States, I try sweet-talking them into bring me back some contraband. The easiest thing I can ask for is extra crunchy Jiff peanut butter. (Yes, my cravings are specific and brand loyal.)
I would like to think of myself as a generous person but the story is still circulating at work about the time a French colleague saw a jar of extra crunchy Jiff peanut butter that had just been smuggled in and was sitting on my desk. She asked if she could taste it, …now, I really don’t believe this version of the story…. but it seems I bluntly said no.
She insisted and I explained that 1. She would not appreciate it and 2. She would probably criticize it.
Really. That hardly sounds like me.
I do go back to the States with my son every summer to visit the folks back home.
Kind of like salmon.
But my primal urge is to go home to eat processed food instead of spawning. (Can’t really spawn, I am at my parents…)
I usually make a list of everything I want to eat in a two week stretch. Denny’s, Pop Tarts, chips and salsa, Chex mix, triskets, Taco Bell, American Chinese, ohhhh. And Big Red gum. I tend to look like a baseball player with a plug in my cheek the entire two weeks I am home.
I usually buy an extra suitcase to put in the hold on the flight back that is full of peanut butter, crumbled bacon, Pop Tarts and my gum. I can usually make my stash last until Christmas but I make an exception for Big Red.
Like people who only smoke that one cigarette on the weekend and on Saturday night, I ration out pieces of Big Red to last untill at least May.
But it is more than just junk food. It is a taste of home, of comfort, of love. When I have a hard day at work, I know that a can of Campbell’s soup will be waiting for me at home. Proust had his Madelines, I have spoonfuls of crunchy peanut butter to calm me down and take me back.
Last Saturday, my 15 year old son asked if some friends could sleep over and play video games. Sure, why not? We had a BBQ and they dragged mattresses down to the living room to set up for an all night geek fest. I went upstairs at about 11 and told them to keep the noise down. They are good kids, the lot of them, I thought as I made out my light.
The next morning when I came down the stairs a familiar odor hung in the air. A feeling of dread hit me. What was l thinking leaving 4 teenage boys alone? The boys were dead asleep on the floor as I ran to the kitchen thinking “ohnoohnoohnoohno.”
I ran right past the fridge stocked with beer, I continued past the kitchen sink where I store the hard alcohol. I reached right for the highest shelf in the farthest cubbard where I stash my Big Red gum.
My worst fear was confirmed. The little bastards had found my stash in the middle of the night.
The house reeked of cinnamon and little wrapper lay all over the kitchen counters. Adding insult to injury, there was even one chewed piece casually tossed and stuck on my dining room table.
That was it. As a punishment, I drove to the little bakery and bought croissants. Huh. No Walmart extra fluffy pancakes for them! That will teach them.
When I got home, they were waking up. I told them that a certain piece of disgusting on my dining room table and all wrappers should be disposed of IMMEDIATELY. I sent them outside to eat their flaky croissants on the terrace while I stood inside, hold down my tongue with a giant spoonful of extra crunchy Jiff peanut butter…. that was put aside just for this kind of occasion.