March 18, 2011

Shopping in London

I think that was also the title of the follow-up hit song to this.

I have returned from the world's trivia capital, London, after a whirlwind and highly enjoyable six-day trip. I have some rather deep thoughts about the nature of British culture as it compares to the American variety, too fuzzy and involved to go into here, but suffice it to say that I find the pace of London life far more manageable—not as frantic, yet just as exciting. As we speak, my fantasy self is inquiring about how to move the BQT buzzer system across the pond.

But as I do whenever I visit a foreign/exotic land, I take note of the trivial differences, specifically consumer products. (See my journeys to Puerto Rico and Switzerland for examples.) Shall we?

Two-liter bottles of soda in a different shape than we're used to in the USA. Why? Shipping efficiencies of restrictions? Are refrigerators in the U.K. on average taller and thinner than in America? Or are we the aberration? After all, two-liter is a metric-system designation; in the U.S., it rarely denotes anything other than a pop bottle. Why must we corrupt everything we find?

Speaking of soda…
Two interesting discoveries here: Dr Pepper Zero, a sugar-free variety of my all-time favorite fizzy beverage. Very appealing, especially considering my recent acclimation to Coke Zero, a.k.a. Diet Coke for insecure men (I can't stay string-bean-thin forever). And Cherry 7-Up—wow, I almost forgot about this one, though who can forget the very stylish, hyper-'80s TV commercial starring the proto–Joey Tribianni. A quick Internet search reveals that this product is indeed still available in parts of the U.S., in an "Antioxidant" formula (yeah, okay, sure), but I surely have not seen it in years. Stupid me, I didn't purchase either of these; too busy with the famous British candy bars. Speaking of sweets…

While I'm in no position to evaluate the veracity of that claim, I do appreciate the use of choc chips for our unwieldy chocolate chips. I saw this usage on other products as well, which indicates a greater economy of language in British dessert packaging. This dovetails with my theory about the superiority of the British vernacular to the American, which I'll cover in a later blog post. For now, let me just add that this package makes me wonder if there's some special association between cookies and the state of Maryland of which I'm unaware.
Another case of pointless gender customization. Man-size tissues! (Or, "mansize"!) Because women have both puny noses and minimal quantities of mucus! I also love the black box, supposedly to appeal to the masculine ego put off by the flowers and iridescent swirls familiar from your typical Kleenex packaging. Though wait…I just thought of the one very common male use for tissues that is mostly inapplicable to women. Hm. Maybe there is something to be said gearing this product specifically to a (lonely) man's needs.
Whiskas, a familiar brand to us all, with an unfamiliar product: bottled milk for cats. When I was a kid, we routinely fed our cat saucerfuls of milk, till a vet told us it was a bad idea, and it's been nothing but water for the series of felines I've kept since then. But apparently, the tradition lives on in England, packaged by a major cat-food company even. I'm curious: Is this cow's milk? Or genuine cat's milk? Eww. (Though really, why is that a problem?) On the cat tip:
"As Good as it Looks." I once read that by law, pet food sold in the United States has to be fit for human consumption, since so many low-income people eat it on a regular basis. Fair enough, but I've never been comfortable with the way pet-food companies attempt to appeal to the consumer's own appetite (this is an area in which the British are apparently no different from us). It's a continuation of a trend I've never liked, the unnecessary and somewhat immature impulse to over-anthropomorphize pets. Yeah, yeah, they have personalities, they love us, but remember, your cat spends 80% of his waking life staring at the wall—they're not all secretly dreaming of a table of Nobu.

Hard to see, but that's "PizzaExpress salad dressing." Um, what? Made more sense to me when I discovered that PizzaExpress is a rather popular U.K. restaurant chain, a somewhat more upscale Pizza Hut. Okay, fine. I suppose I can imagine Olive Garden brand salad dressing. Reluctantly.

Then in the bread aisle, I happened upon this:

No sneeze guards, no tongs. All right then. I always thought Americans were too flabbily germ-sensitive anyway. Besides, the British get rained on, like, 75% of the time, so they need to build up their immunity more than we do.

Finally, after many a ride on the Underground, giggling at the station name "Cockfosters," I hit the lowbrow jackpot in the freezer case:

Oh yes, this product is called "Mr Brain's Pork Faggots." In case you weren't aware, the word faggot is also the name for a British delicacy, basically a meatball made with pork offal. (The name, logically, comes from the word for a bundle of sticks, the same root as the slur.) But what rockets this product into the realm of true flabbergastingness is that the company name is "Mr Brain's." And the packaging screams "You Asked for It! Now with More Sauce!"

I like to imagine the meetings at Mr Brain's corporate headquarters. Every week, there's one younger guy on staff who says, "I know I bring this up each time, but we bloody well need to change this name!" and the hard-line, faggot-loving board of directors insisting that the Mr Brain's tradition is one that will not give in to the proponents small-minded, immature name-calling. Really, I'm with the young guy: Sure, pork-offal meatballs are never going to be a huge seller in the U.S., but I'm sure there's a broad enough community of British expats and adventurous eaters who would enjoy such a product if they could find it; alas, do you think any supermarket in this country would carry something labeled faggots? They have to change the name if they're hoping for any penetration into the American market, if they ever want the U.S. of A. to appreciate all that the faggot has to offer.

Ha ha. And in case you're wondering, I spent 15 pounds on chocolate, but no, I'm not giving out any at Monday's Big Quiz Thing. You'll have to settle for that most American of treats: Girl Scout Cookies.


Honky275 said...

Whiskas CatMilk IS available in the U.S. Check PetSmart's web-site if you don't believe me.

It's sold in a juice-box type of packaging instead of a glass bottle, but it's the same stuff.

It's milk that's been modified to reduce digestive problems that cats have with regular cow's milk. It's 98% lactose-free.

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