Food is a way to transport you to another place and way of life. It’s also something that reminds you of your home, of where you’re from. When I first moved out of my parents’ house to move up to Norman for college, I didn’t know how to cook at all. I lived off of cereal (there are so many different options for so many different occasions). I took for granted that stores had refrigerated cow’s milk and eighteen thousand different cereal choices. When I went to Chile, I experienced a lot of culture shock when it came to food. I live with a lovely Chilean mother named Anita and her husband, who is the head chef of his own restaurant. Because of the program that I am in, the host family is supposed to provide three meals for their exchange student. My Chilean breakfasts during the first half of my study abroad usually consisted of a roll with ham and cheese. All of this seems innocuous and like not that big of a deal, but there’s a lot of culture shock wrapped up in those few sentences. Let’s unpack it all.
First of all, I’m a breakfast person. It doesn’t matter what time of the day is, if you tell me we are having American breakfast food for a meal, I will be the happiest person you’ve ever seen. I like my breakfast meals bread-y, sweet, and large. I’m a huge fan of the traditional American breakfast. This might come as a huge shocker, but they don’t have traditional American breakfasts in Chile. Instead, the Chilean thing to do is drink a cup of tea/instant coffee/juice, eat a roll with ham and cheese, and chow down at lunch and dinner. This is very different than what I usually do. In the U.S. I normally eat a lot for breakfast and then just snack the rest of the day. I don’t particularly like tea or coffee, and the Chilean juices are very different from American juices. They’re much sweeter, almost syrupy sometimes, with a lot less tartness. I like to put water in my juice to dilute it a bit, if that gives you any idea of what they can taste like. At first Anita would leave a ham and cheese with mayonnaise (I told y’all that Chileans like their mayonnaise) roll in the fridge for me in the mornings, which was honestly so sweet of her and I really appreciated it. That’s why it was so difficult to tell her that no, I didn’t actually like that type of food. I finally plucked up the courage to ask her for food that I liked more – bread and jam and cereal. I had heard from my other friends in Chilean host families that bread and jam and cereal were consumed by people in our town, so I felt more comfortable asking Anita (I didn’t want her to think that I was asking for the moon or something).
The day after I asked for cereal and milk, there was cereal in the pantry. Corn flakes – I could sprinkle some sugar onto it and bam, it’d be just like Frosted Flakes. But then I looked in the fridge and I couldn’t find any milk… I looked for any carton, container, box, or jug imaginable, but there didn’t seem to be any milk. So, slightly disappointed, I consumed bread and jam for breakfast instead. Later that day, Anita asked me excitedly if I had had cereal for breakfast. When I told her that I hadn’t because I couldn’t find the milk in the fridge, she informed me that of course the milk wasn’t in the fridge because it’s in the pantry!
I was a little wary of the idea of milk in the fridge to say the least. Anita showed me the powdered milk that she bought and how to mix it with water to get milk for my cereal. After growing up on cow’s milk…. this was slightly different. I found out the I didn’t mind the boxed milk, as long as I adjusted expectations and didn’t expect cow’s milk. I now get to enjoy my cereal, and I’m a pretty happy camper. Although, I’m not going to lie, I’m pretty sure that I’m going to consume a gallon of refrigerated cow’s milk when I get back to the States.