Awesome Blossom

Posted: Jun 13, 2005 8:45:46 PM

IPC class Well, I've left Palmerston North and my class behind and I'm now in Santa Rosa, California. As I mentioned in the last report, this time around I'm adopting a new style: for my European trip I wrote on monuments, museums, and places I visited, and while I'll still be doing that I also plan to write about the little nuances and things that make America so different from my home town. I'll also be including pictures as I go, although I plan to make the gallery ... eclectic, at best. They'll all be of America, except this first one, which is of my class at IPC in New Zealand. Hopefully they're still studying hard, even though I'm not there to goad and prod them. I'm planning to write a report every Monday, so keep an eye out for them and leave your comments below.

San Francisco Airport wasn't nearly as bad as I had feared, although the imperious "Why are you staying so long?" question was interesting - I forgot that most Americans only get one or two weeks of vacation a year. The armed guards were only vocal to those who got in the wrong queue or hadn't filled in their immigration forms correctly (sarcasm? in a public servant? who would have guessed?), and the queues were long, but overall it wasn't an extremely arduous process.

The first couple of places we visited were a huge Redwood forest bush remnant called Armstrong State Reserve and Bodega Bay, the beach community made famous by the Alfred Hitchcock movie 'Birds', but I'm going to save my description of those until I have photos to back it up. Foolishly forgot to bring the camera on that trip, but I won't make that mistake again. Instead, I thought I'd write this report on some observations I've made about American food.

Yes, the food! Anyone who has seen the documentary 'Supersize Me' will know something of the mythology around American food (or at least the fast parts of it). Before watching that documentary I ate four Big Macs, for no other reason than I wanted to say that I had. And now I've said that, it's strangely unsatisfying. Much like the burgers. But what is American food really like? Not just the fast food, but the diners, the cafes, the restaurants...

There's the size. No-one does super-sizing any more, but the portions border on the absurd anyway: what would be an extra-large cola in New Zealand is here a medium, and their large drinks are large enough to need buoys and a lifeguard. Breakfast is a titanic struggle against the horrors of not finishing your meal (I was raised to finish what you begin), wading through never-ending flurries of hash browns and buttermilk pancakes. The Credo of one diner announces this proudly:
" 'WOW!' - if you don't say that when you get your food you either ordered toast or my cooks reverted to some training regimen received elsewhere. We always want you to feel that you have gotten your money's worth. We buy huge platters and we fill them."
Siobhan has observed that American restaurants often thrive on quantity over quality - something like effort over nuance I guess - but the quality of the food can only rarely be faulted.
Speaking of which, don't eat the orange cheese.
In some restaurants (Chilis being the best example), even an order of Sprite is cornucopian. You're halfway through a glass and the waitress brings another. And another. And another. I must have burned through five glasses over the course of one meal, and I get the feeling that if I hadn't waddled slowly out of the place I'd still be there now, buried under a mass of glasses and melted ice, crying mournfully for more boneless buffalo wings.

Which takes me to my next observation: the service. New Zealand does not have a tipping culture, and aside from Turkey you can get through most of Europe without learning this skill also. Here, it's essential. I always get a little apprehensive about tipping, but it seems to be working out okay. I was worried that a tipping culture would produce an enforced-helpfulness type of attitude, where deathly cheerfulness and overeager suggestions are the norm, but I have found the service staff to be as a rule very polite and happy to help. You still get the odd rise of latent aggression, never directed at the customers but instead fired across the bows of other staff-members: while paying for one dinner our cashier announced loudly across the restaurant that she needed someone to take over the register while she attended to her own customers, delivering that line with a death-grin and a tone dripping frustrated bile. Mostly, however, people are fine and service actually is with a smile. Some customer service customs baffled me at first - asking for a product in a supermarket met with a completely tangential offering of another product, for example. It has since been explained to me, however, that this is considered good customer service. In New Zealand replying to "do you sell vases?" with "we have some lovely bouquets you may consider buying!" is considered evasive and rude. Maybe she didn't understand my accent? I tried both 'vays' and 'vahs'...

Punny bear Anyway, back to food. There is one thing about the American dining experience that just has to be mentioned. The kitschiness. It ebbs and it flows based on the establishment, but the kitsch, she is omnipresent. That's okay, part of why I wanted to witness the States was to revel in the tacky and the magnificent (as the upcoming trip to Vegas and the Grand Canyon will no doubt demonstrate), but even I was shocked at the level of out-and-out corn circulating in these places. This picture is of a wooden bear - one of a half-dozen - outside the Black Bear Cafe. Inside, the walls were covered in signs bearing messages like "Almost Bearadise", "Talk to the Paw", "Just Bear It", and "Grin and Bear It". At the IHOP (International House of Pancakes), you don't order a breakfast with fruit pancakes, you order a 'Rooty Tooty Fresh and Fruity'. Some of the rhymes don't translate into New Zealand pronunciation, leaving me to giggle at a sliced deepfried onion called an 'Awesome Blossom' and the label on a pin that announces "Sass with Class". Indeed, the kitsch is delightful and endearing, especially as you feel that even the staff are embarrassed at the level of corny jokes that flood around them.

So, I'm having a great time with my eatings, as you can tell. Next week I'll be back to writing about places, probably beginning with the grand old city of San Francisco. See you then.


Frazer   Jun 14, 2005 3:22:28 AM

have'nt read it yet BUT IM FIRST yay

fangler   Jun 14, 2005 4:21:37 AM

sounds like you are making a run of all the food chains. Hopefully you'll get to sample some of our finer cuisine, too. there are some top notch restaurants in SF. although, it is hard to top the awesome blossom. :)

Mo Jo   Jun 14, 2005 7:36:57 AM

Always interesting Damon. Cheers for the good read.

Damon   Jun 14, 2005 7:48:39 PM

I am indeed making a run on all the chains! But I still haven't had a McD hamburger here. Maybe I'll see how many Big Macs I can eat in one sitting?

Other Alderson   Jun 15, 2005 1:09:34 AM

yellow cheese bad. BAD I tell you!

Why is it bad?

$15|<4   Jun 15, 2005 1:33:31 AM

4h h4 My n@m3 15 n0w l33t!
sorry I will revert to people speek.
sounds like you are having a good time.
you plan on visiting McD's?
Oh no!
Won't someone please think of the children!
Although witnessing the beast in its lair is vaguely tempting.
Have you tried starbucks? you must have pased atleast 100 by now :P
love ya

MumE   Jun 15, 2005 8:07:00 AM

Hiya from Ma & Da, Tasty report if a bit cheesy!
Glad to hear we brought you up right ie finish what you start n all that.
Have you tried an ' In N Out ' Burger yet?
Also if the portions are sooo large can't you just buy one meal for the 2 of you and share?
We just had curried sasuages for tea.
Damon there is a reminder e-mail to the ellises address about due for renewal on 12 August. What shall I do about it?

Love you, Take care, Have fun,
(Remember to wear clean underwear)
Bye Mum

nevayl   Jun 16, 2005 4:43:53 AM

i concur with fangler - get out of the chains and into some real restaurants. while capital is the number one concern of america, those that have taken a moment to think (and yes, those folks are around here) realize the whole quantity/quality thing. if it is too much in terms of size, do what i do - the portions diet. cut your meal in half and ask for a doggy bag or box at the beginning of the meal. pack it away so you won't be tempted to pick and it, and suddenly you have leftovers for lunch tomorrow :)

nevayl   Jun 16, 2005 4:48:41 AM

also - if you like musicals, you may want to see if you can get tickets to see Wicked. i heard it's coming to SF - not sure if you'll be around when it opens or not. i wanted to see it here in LA, but it sold out quickly. i may try for an SF show in august if i can find the time/money...

Jaime   Jun 16, 2005 11:47:39 AM

In any restaurant, not keeping a customer's drink regularly refilled is often a cause for customer complaint and can even sometimes affect the tip, depending on how anal the customer is. (and make sure you go to a 7-11 and get a gander at their Big Gulps.)

As for the vase, we retail peons are trained to make sure you don't leave without buying SOMEthing, and if we don't have what you want, we'll try to find you something similar or related. The bouquet was a bit of a silly response, though. heh.

Damon   Jun 16, 2005 9:30:04 PM

So many questions to answer!

Orange cheese, grated, is exactly the colour and consistency of grated carrot that has been left in the fridge to soften for two days.

I will no doubt visit McDs at some point - lair of the beast, and all that - and yes I have had Starbucks. Strawberry Latte. Nice.

Haven't had In and Out yet. Frazer no doubt still wants me to buy t-shirts from there for him.

I will in fact try to find some real restaurants, but most of them tend to be specialist places (went to a lovely Indian restaurant the other day) or too expensive. But I'll keep searching! Thanks for the heads-up about Wicked, I've heard of that and wanna see it bad. And if you come up in the first half of August give me a bell, we can say hi :)

Big Gulps? Dare I ask? And yeah, I comment on the drinks because in NZ you buy them by the glass - it's in the drinks that most restaurants make their best money. And yeah, I understand the other-option customer service thing, but couldn't she have said that they didn't have vases *first*? Oh well.

Off to San Francisco tomorrow, and although the weather is unlikely to be fantastic we should have some fun. New report on Monday!

Jaime   Jun 17, 2005 1:56:59 AM

Big Gulps are ginormous cups for fountain sodas at 7-11; you almost need two hands to carry one. Some movie theaters have large drinks about that size, too.

You should confer with Tessa and see if she still has that checklist her friends made for her to do whilst over here. *g*

strangeshe   Jun 17, 2005 2:04:58 AM

I suppose omnipresent kitsch and wretched excess are pretty good for openers. For better or worse (that, natch), the chains are pretty representative of what you'd find throughout the states. Standardized, y'know, so if you eat at an IHOP anywhere it's just like all the other IHOPs everywhere. If you get out of the chains and go regional, well, that's regional -- f'rex, Cal-Mex is *nothing* like Tex-Mex. But then you'd have to come out here to visit me to find that out ;)

SF and the Bay area are supposed to have some of the best restaurants anywhere. Period. Unfortunately, most also prohibitively expensive, especially if you don't live there or at that standard of living. If I ever make it out there, I'm quite sure I'd only be able to afford eating out once or twice. *g* So pick well when you go. I'm sure you've already had abundant recommendations aside from In 'n Out Burger. Heh.

Vegas, though. Kitsch not to be believed. I can't wait to hear what you think of that. We had a blast when there last. Fun fun if you don't think about it too much. ;D

And I *really* want to hear how you pronounce Awesome Blossom and Sass with Class.

strangeshe   Jun 17, 2005 2:08:29 AM

Do you guys have Waffle Houses out there, Siobhan?

Maladroit   Jun 17, 2005 2:05:51 PM

And I see the whole *state* is so glad to see you it's convulsing with laughter...

MumE   Jun 17, 2005 10:10:20 PM

:-) I'm taking lessons!
Siska & I have just enjoyed reading the mess-age board. But Day you didn't answer my questions.
A report once a week isn't enough!
OK Sat here I'm off to see Nana. I'll tell her your OK and putting on weight fast with all the Burgers and Fries.
Kia Ora

footle   Jun 18, 2005 7:38:23 AM

Awesome Blossom barely rhymes in UK English too, unless you rush it.
Sass and Class have different "a" sounds if you stick to received pronunciation.

Damon   Jun 19, 2005 3:47:44 AM

Oo, sorry mum, could you forward the e-mail to my address? If you don't know it Morgan can tell you. I have now tried In and Out, and I didn't see it as being particularly different, except for the fact that it only has three different burgers on the menu. I mean, three? Geez.

Mal! I'm not trying to make fun of the whole state, as you will see in the next report (coming the day after tomorrow) heaps of stuff here is really cool. Unless there was an earthquake I didn't know about :)

I don't plan to think about Vegas at all, SS, I'm just going to experience it!

It's difficult to describe how to pronounce it without using phonetics, though. Footle has the right of it, they are definitely different sounds for us.

MumE   Jun 19, 2005 9:08:10 AM

K Day, Thanks. I already e-mailed you the renew stuff.
Still don't think once a week is enough, but it is fun to check this weeks report for the comments, till I get my next fix of what your doin where you are.
Kia Ora Mum

FraZ   Jun 19, 2005 12:31:03 PM

Thats the best pat, yes only 3 but how good was it?
i think i like it more because of the idea. you should of figured out that by now, not for the food but for the crossed trees at the front, geez

Debra   Jun 20, 2005 4:53:03 AM

Hey Jill (and Don)~

Your wonderful and very charming son (and my daughter, whom I'm also sort of partial to ;) just left our house after our Father's Day barbeque. Thank you so much for the outstanding Chardonnay! I really believe it's one of the best I've ever tasted - certainly gives the Napa and Sonoma county wines more than a good run for the money. :) Mike and I very much appreciate your thoughtfulness. :)

Damon and Siobhan spent most of the weekend traipsing around San Francisco, with many pictures taken, so there should be another fun and interesting report soon. :)

Damon seems well and happy and is an absolute delight - we all like him so much! Just wanted to assure you that we'll look after him with the same care and consideration that y'all were kind enough to extend to our daughter when she was in your beautiful country. :) (So never fear, Mum. :)

Hope all is well with you and your family. Hi to Siska and Tim and Hobbit Morgan and Gareth and The In-N-Out King. ;)

Take care~

Debra   Jun 20, 2005 5:01:20 AM

(Oops, sorry Damon - don't mean to spam your board, but...couldn't resist this...:)

strangeshe, it sounds a bit like this:

~ Seyess with clahs
~ Ohsome blossom

He also seems to be, very quickly, picking up the word "totally." Whether or not any good will come of this is, like, *totally* up for debate. Duuuuuuuude.


Mo Jo   Jun 20, 2005 6:40:16 AM

I hope Hobbit Morgan won't remain my nickname. I ain't that short! Haha

Represent Michael Campbell!!

FraZ   Jun 20, 2005 12:30:03 PM

in-n=out king, hmmm, im not sure if that says it all?
hahaah Morgan is getting a little sick of being called " Hobbit Morgan, but it fits soo well!

Damon your not from New Zealand unless you watch at Least one fo the Lions' All Blacks games.
I will tape on for you.

yo what

FraZ   Jun 20, 2005 12:31:49 PM

strangeshe   Jun 22, 2005 7:54:49 PM

Debra: I'm a bit late peeking back in here, but thank you for the clarification. Heh. Ohsome, Dude. ;)

And feel free to share any more of those fun bits about how we Americans are rubbing off on Damon. He never gives us enough ammo to tease him with *L*

Oh, and I must say it is truly a pleasure to make the acquaintance of both Siobhan's and Damon's mums on these boards. Very cool to see your posts. I've been a big fan of both Bandit and Paragon for some time now. :)

Binky   Jun 23, 2005 12:04:20 AM

It says something about antipodean pronunciation of "awesome", that a university rowing team here called themselves "Oarsome Intellect". In our dialect (where "island" is a homophone with "Ireland") it's the same. Americans - ignore the R in there and you might get the idea.

I can't explain the difference in our short "o" sounds. To us, American "hot" sounds like Kiwi "heart".

Libbette   Jul 13, 2005 5:18:33 AM

We went to the Black Bear Cafe!!!

Yes, I'm late to the party.

Damon   Jul 20, 2005 4:03:52 PM

Ha! It's very popular for breakfasts, apparently.

My name is Rebecca   Jul 24, 2005 8:08:46 PM

Hello there. Yes, American food is gross. even us Americans hate it. I can't stand Big Mac, i suggest the chicken nuggets or strips at McDonalds, not much better, but Way less greasier. Burgerking burgers are a little better then McDonalds. and I suggest places maybe like an Olive Garden resturant.

And yes, we ALL joke about our queer names like tooti frutti, or Awesome Blossom.

Whatever you do, don't come to Florida. not saying I dont like tourist, but because central florida where disney is.. is HORRIBLE. I live here and can't stand walking outside with our heavy traffic, roads always underconstruction, and every fast food chain resturant all lined up for you.


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