One of the reasons we travel is to eat culturally diverse food. (Although I have gone into a McDonalds in Paris to order a “Royale with Cheese” just because of Pulp Fiction.) From deciphering menus written in a foreign language, to understanding ordering etiquette, what ends up on your plate can either be a feast or famine.
Travelers have sent us plenty of delicious stories in our Culture Shock Contest. We’re talking worms in carpaccio (“The waiter said it was part of the dish!”) and dirty dishrags left on tables in Michelin-starred restaurants. Here you’ll find some of our favorites! Um, bon appetit?
Zachary Cox of Florence, Alabama wanted pizza in Germany. With pepperoni. How do you say “pepperoni” in German?
While in Berlin, I was sitting at a restaurant enjoying the day. My friend and I decided to order a pepperoni pizza. When our pizza came out, we were a bit shocked to find it covered with peppers. I asked the waitress, “What is going on?” Little did I know, pepperoni pizza is literally a pizza with peppers. I wanted American pepperoni, I should have gotten a salami pizza.
With one wrong syllable, Joel Slaff of Maryland complimented the “bums” of waiters all of France.
One of my favorite memories in my month abroad in France happened at a simple café.
I was in Lille, France, on a month-long study abroad sojourn through my college (Juniata College) and the University Catholique de Lille (where I will be returning Sept. 2012 for an entire academic year abroad). At the cafe, I had just ordered a simple sandwich. Ordering the sandwich was not the issue; it’s what happened when I got the sandwich. The waiter gave me my sandwich, and I said, “Merci beaucoup!” Well, at least I thought I did. I pronounced it “Merci beau-cul,” which, in French, means, “Thank you, nice ass.” The waiter giggled, knowing I was American and trying my best. He then bent over and showed me his butt in front of everyone on the street. Now realize, I’ve been taking French for eight years! I should know simple mistakes like this. Right then and there, I realized that I had been mispronouncing “merci beaucoup” for two weeks straight. Well, after the waiter’s little peep show, all of the awkward memories I had with the “beaucoup” and “beau-cul” phrase suddenly flashed before my eyes. I realized that whenever I would say that phrase to my classmates or the interns and professors, they would always laugh. I thought it was a nice gesture, such as, “Aww, thanks! You’re welcome!” Not, “well, you’re an idiot, but at least you’re trying. It’s still funny, though.
Trying to get a pint of beer at an Irish pub? Sarah English of Ohio learned that flipping off the bartender isn’t the best way to get served.
While traveling in Ireland with a friend in 2010, we frequented the quaint pubs in the various cities that we visited. At about the 4th pub (which we thought was very crowded for a Sunday evening!), the bartender made eye contact and raised an eyebrow over the sea of people to take our order. I pointed to the Guinness sign by me, and raised up my index and middle finger in a “peace sign” with the palm inwards to indicate that I wanted 2 pints. An older gentleman tapped me on the shoulder and explained to me that that gesture could be considered offensive in those parts (equivalent to America’s middle finger gesture). He then demonstrated how to order two pints by using your thumb and index finger in an “L” shape. We never quite got the hang of that, so we just opted to order 4 pints at a time so as not to offend the locals 😉 It worked out well…for us, at least!
Woodl and creatures smothered in sauce not your thing? Neither are they for Emma Osos of Nevada.
After being on the train all day I was glad to get off and spend the night in my hotel.
While looking over the menu in a restaurant in Wurzburg, Germany, I was confused about one of the entrees. The waitress proudly proclaimed she could translate the menu items for me. The first item I pointed to she said was “the chest of the duck”, the second item she stated was “bunny”, the third and final item I selected she had to think about for a few seconds and then smiled and said “Bambi”! Needless to say I ordered potato soup, no animals harmed in the process of that!
Raw beef is what was served for dinner. Just ask Christina Farone of New York who expected a juicy steak.
During the summer of 2011 I studied abroad in Lille, France. When I first arrived in the city, I went to a Brassiere to grab lunch. The menu was all in French but I thought that I could decipher it for the most part. I ordered a menu item titled “filet Americain.” When my food arrived, I thought I was receiving a juicy American steak. Instead, the waiter set my plate full of raw meat on the table. Filet Americain is apparently a french specialty which consists of raw ground beef and seasonings. I wish I knew this before I ordered!
Patty Flynn Ritter of Florida was confident in her husband’s German language skills. So why does her pizza not have cheese on top?
I was out to dinner with my husband and his family near Baumholder. My father in law was very proud of his German speaking skills and decided to order us a cheese pizza by saying “One (oh na) kaese” which he thought meant only cheese. The waiter looked at him strangely and asked him if that is what he really wanted. Our cheese pizza came out “ohna kaese” alright, NO cheese! It was pretty shocking but we got a good laugh out of it. We ordered a 2nd pizza with cheese and all was well.