In this installment of 5 Facts for Foreigners I'm taking aim at Americans. Why? Because I am one! I'm going to spill it on the major differences in daily drinks. Of course, what might be the norm for me in Central Texas may not be all that similar to the status quo in Maine, Washington, Florida, Minnesota, or California.
...or the Panhandle. (You get the idea.)
Still, these are the main differences that not only I have noticed, but other U.S. expats, as well.
- Milk, as we know it in the states, is a hard thing to find. What is available at the supermarket is equivalent to a version of powdered milk that has already been liquefied. It is sold in cartons (available by the boxed dozen) that do not need to be refrigerated until opened. Boxed milk was developed to accommodate the lack of refrigeration in places that do not have electricity, and for the typically much smaller refrigerators, where a 1 liter box of milk will fit more easily than that of, say, a gallon (4 liters). We'd be naïve to assume this doesn't involve preservatives and/or artificial additives of some kind.
For the record, the year I arrived there were a number of cases involving several companies, where consumers were sickened due to the ingredients. Apparently, someone got creative in trying to cut costs... and thought they'd spike the milk with bleach and peroxide, among other toxic ingredients. People were prosecuted, and boxed milk went back to being only mostly unnatural.
If the idea or taste of boxed milk isn't appealing, then you might try to find fresh milk (actual cow's milk)... at your own risk. You can find it at some of the local farmers' markets, or you might hear a vehicle roll past, booming, "o leite" (pronounced: "oh lay-ch") or "the milk." Depending on the source and scruples of the vendor, it might seem heavenly... or a few hours later, you could find yourself in the ER. I've seen it both ways—about once a year.
- You will find most noncarbonated 1 liter drinks (such as juice or coconut water) in these easily storable cartons, with the exception of water. While these boxed drinks are great for saving space in the fridge, they are the go-to snag at social functions, as they tend to spill all over the place (no matter how many years you've been at it). It's not just me!
Avoid obvious pitfalls like offering to pour some grape juice for your friend's great aunt, who is dressed in her Sunday best. Trust me on that one. I've developed an almost fool-proof pouring method, but it's taken lots of practice in the comfort of my own kitchen. Remind me to make a How To vid to help the newbies.
- There's a popular and innovative way to drink OJ that is like a natural version of the little juice boxes that the kids drink back home. Every time I've peeled an orange, and eaten it slice by slice, I've noticed that people were watching me intently. It's because here, they stick it in a peeler (or use a knife as shown in this video), peel it down to the white part of the rind (called the albedo), and then cut off the top. It is then used as a cross between a stress ball, and a juice box: squeeze & slurp, squeeze & slurp. The remaining hollow of the orange is usually tossed.
To enlarge, right-click & open in a new window.
- Coffee is served black, syrupy sweet, and is so strong that it is served as a shot. If you were used to drinking large cups of Starbucks coffee (4 sugars, 5 creamers) back home, like I was, this amounts to nothing short of cruel & unusual punishment. I usually just pass on the coffee, since it is not customary to add milk; but if I'm at the home of a close friend then I might ask to add a bit to make it drinkable.
However... the business, doctors', and government offices that you may find yourself in will be bereft of milk or cream. Almost everywhere you go, the complimentary stuff will be there... mocking you. Freshly brewed coffee smells great even to those who don't partake, but for those of us used to coffee creamer, this can be torture. With nothing creamy to cut it with, you will need to learn how to steel yourself against the constant assault on your senses. (You should be good to go in about 6 months.) When all is said & done, run back to your place, put on a pot, and pass the milk. Stat!
- Drinking directly out of a can or bottle is a no-no. (You heathen!) If you are at a snack bar, you will be offered a small plastic *cup or a **straw, or two, with your purchase of a canned or bottled beverage. This custom originated because cans are typically dirty, direct from the factory, and it isn't a good idea to willingly ingest germs. Of course, these days bottles have screw-on tops, and some beer companies now come with
additional littera nifty removable foil seal, so... feel free to break protocol, but know that people might think you're a little different.
Awesome, right? Find them here.
- Most cups are a standard 5oz (150ml) size. The bigger 250ml (8oz) is known as the "Americano" size, although in Central Texas we are actually used to [at least] 32oz (946ml) drinks.* They do say everything's bigger in Texas...
- Please note that straws are generally 1/4 — 1/5 the size of our straws back home.**
Hope that wasn't too hard to swallow. Welcome to the deep end...