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THE AMERICAN IN ME
Eat and Greet
Moving to Hong Kong from Australia has been an amazing experience although the one thing that I didn't anticipate was the huge exposure to American culture. I had some assumptions prior to my arrival, but most of these related to my view that I would learn Cantonese and then how I would be able to impress all my relatives back in Australia. As far as food was concerned, I saw myself being able to whip up a mean stir fry and understand the differences between Szechuan, Chiu Chow, Cantonese and Shanghainese food rather than lumping it all together under the generic description of Chinese food.

I expected I would eat like the locals and become terribly proficient with my chopsticks. And, in some of my wilder moments, I even thought about trying rat, snake and eel. But the one thing which I didn't really anticipate was becoming au fait with the variety of American food imported here into Hong Kong.

Uncle Sam's imported best
Food such as Kool-Aid, popcorn cakes, French's mustard, Oscar Meyer Weiners, Pilsbury dough, concentrate orange juice in funny peel-away tubes and even Oreos aren't available in Australia. We've read about them in novels, seen them on TV or at the movies and flicked past them in magazines but we haven't actually tasted them. This is not to say that I have never had a chocolate cookie with white icing jammed between - I have - but I have never had an Oreo before. It just seems that the brands that we often see in the movies or on sitcoms just don't seem to make it to Australian shores.

So since arriving in Hong Kong, I have gorged myself big time on American food. I have tried Lenders bagels with all kinds of flavoured cream cheeses. I have used butter in aerosols, butter in tiny pots and butter that you squirt. I have even tried butter which I can't believe isn't butter. I have tried Smuckers peanut butter and peanut butter with stripes. Heck, I have even tried marshmallow fluff although I did draw the line at something called a fluffer-nutter sandwich and I can't decide whether she was pulling my leg or was truly serious.

Either way the reality is that here in Hong Kong, my family has developed into fully-fledged US food guinea pigs. I feed them miniature tacos in tiny white corn taco shells and instant packets which turn into Moroccan couscous and pasta before my very eyes. I feed them Quaker oats, instant oats and flavoured oats. I drink Budweieser and Miller and I wash my hair with Head & Shoulders. I snack of little packets of Chex and sachets of Craisins. My cupboard has Lucky Charms, Golden Os, Golden Stars and Honey Stars. My freezer has unbelievable quantities of Ben & Jerrys and Dreyers ice cream. I even have clam chowder soup lurking in the kitchen.

I swear my domestic helper thinks I am a closet American. Especially when I came back from the supermarket recently with black-eyes peas and corn muffin mixes. I think she expects me to break out in Americanisms shortly and start peppering my speech with "have a nice day" and "y'all come back now".

I think that may just be the beauty of Hong Kong. Your expectations don't really reflect the reality. Although my Cantonese needs a lot more work and I won't really be able to impress anyone at least I can talk with absolute confidence about Kool-Aid and Oreos.

And now if someone can just tell me whether y'all seriously eat peanut butter and marshmallow sandwiches.

Amanda O lived in Hong Kong for seven years and, yes, she has eaten fried rat.

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Posted 14Sep05