13 May 2006

Where's the bear, honey?

[Posted by Colin]

Amy and I always get a chuckle when we talk about the first time I took our friend Muriel shopping at an American grocery store. Even though it was her first full day in the US, she had already noticed several striking differences between Ann Arbor and Paris. The most shocking difference yet was the size of the vehicles. Then we went to Meijer.

For those of you not familiar with Meijer, it's one of those behemoth one-stop-shopping meccas where you can live for several days without going outside (like Super-Walmart, Super Target, or Super-K-Mart). The size of the store didn't shock Muriel, however, since the "hypermarkets" in the Parisian banlieues are often larger than Meijer. No, no. The culture-shock moment for Muriel arrived when we got to the dairy section of her list:

"Next, I need butter."

"Okay, that's over here."

She stood in front of shelves and just stared. "Which one is the butter?"

"Well, that depends on what you want. This shelf has butter, this one has margerine, this other one has a variety of butter alternatives." As I pointed to the shelves, I noticed--for the first time ever--that there are a lot of brands of butter in the US! [In hindsight, Muriel was probably confused by the packaging--in France, butter comes in different shapes and sizes than in the US.]

"What's the difference between them?"

"Butter is made from milk and margerine is made from vegetable oil. I have no idea what I can't believe it's not butter! is made of."

Muriel continued to stand there and stare, her petite form dwarfed by the shelfs of creamy goodness. Finally, she looked to her right and saw the shelves of yogurt. "I think I'll just get yogurt instead."

That was then, this is now.

I made a lovely dessert last night that called for honey. If you're like me, then you find your honey in the US by searching for the little plastic bear that looks like this:

So, I walked across the street to our neighborhood supermarket (significantly smaller than an American "supermarket") and headed toward the miel (honey). When I got there, all I could do was stand there and stare. Not only were there no bears to be found anywhere, I had 30 different options. Yes, that's thirty! Miel d'acacia, miel des fleurs, miel de mille fleurs, miel de Jura, miel de Provence, miel de Normandie, miel des Pyrénées, miel de lavande, miel romarin, etc. etc. etc. Plus, many of the flavors came in both liquid and creamy forms.

I guess I should have been better prepared. While having lunch with the staff at an archive, one of the archivists mentioned that his hobby was apiculture. He went on to passionately describe the drastic differences between honeys made in different regions or made from the nectar of different flowers. His favorite was a creamy honey made from the nectar of lilacs in Ile-de-France.

So, feeling overwhelmed and not being a honey connoisseur, what did I do? I grabbed the closest thing to a bear I could find...
Only later did I discover that I had picked a generic-brand blend of miel de fleurs and miel d'acacia. As much as I'd love to describe for you the flavor of this generic gourmet treat, all I can say is: "It tastes like honey."


At 14/5/06 15:03, Anonymous Muriel said...

Oh my! I did not even remember this moment! All I know is that I sure needed a long time to adjust to many American products like milk which is very different than ours in France. The funny thing I've noticed about milk is that most -if not all- of my American friends who tasted French milk did not really like it and the other way around for the French. However, I, who did not like milk ever since I was young, got to like it (2% fat) in the U.S.
Yet another proof that I must have been an American citizen in a previous life!

P.S.: How many more funny memories of me do you guys have? I'm always very suprised!

At 14/5/06 15:12, Anonymous Muriel said...

Oh by the way, unlike my mom, I'm not fond of honey... So I wouldn't have been of any help on this one like you were with American butter which I still find hard to qualify as butter in comparison with the taste of ours.
It reminds me of your (sweet) mustard which has nothing to do with our (strong) mustard.
So many differences and good discoveries!

At 14/5/06 21:57, Blogger croust said...

Ah yes, the mustard in France. I've looked at two of the supermarkets near our apartment. At either one, I have a choice between 20-25 dijon mustards. Where's my French's Yellow?!?

I should also note...to my great dismay...at one store, there is one option for barbecue sauce. The other store has just started carrying that same brand as their only barbecue sauce.

On a related note: Joe and Kate, thanks again for the KC Masterpiece!!!


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