I have been teaching English in Belgium for the last four years. My students generally are naturally curious — and I am grateful for that — but they also come with a few prejudices about life in Great Britain. Surprisingly enough, their main reservation is about British food.
As a lifelong learner of the language of Shakespeare and an obsessive enthusiast of all things British, I always despair of ever hearing a student tell me that he or she enjoys, say, Cornish pasties or shepherd’s pie. I would even be fine with fish and chips. But it never happens. Every semester, after spending two hours discussing stereotypes, I move on to British food, but the students never seem to connect these two ideas, which is quite surprising because as future translators and interpreters, they are supposed to be slightly more open-minded to foreign experiences than any Tom, Dick and Harry.
How I wish they would travel to Great Britain. London is less than two hours away from Brussels with the Eurostar and I do not believe anyone could possibly be any diminished by spending a day of their life in England, especially considering that they learn English.
How I wish they could smell the peculiar bouquet of Charing Cross Road at ten in the morning, when you still want to cling to your promise never to eat again after a full English breakfast, but the aroma of freshly brewed coffee mixed with cooling butter on pastries and roasting chicken force you to consider the next meal with all due seriousness. I have fond memories of very simple egg and cress sandwiches eaten over a bag of cheddar crisps at the British Museum. Life could not get any better then.
How I wish I could see their embarrassed expression when the time would come for them to choose between a Greek kofta, a Mexican enchilada or a Thai curry in Camden. I would rejoice in seeing them clumsily sit down on scooter seats while trying not to spill any of the intoxicating garlic sauce. They would understand the colonial past of Great Britain more instinctively there than in any history book. They would know more about the concept of cultural salad bowl in the blink of an eye than in any sociology class. There is more to learn about your own prejudices in your first mouthful of low-carb halal Asian fusion food than in ten years of expensive psychoanalysis.
Food is culture.
This post was first published on my previous blog, Confessions of a Random Reader (now offline).