Food names illustrate cultural differences


Naturally, my first mistake was made in baking. I assumed that because we speak the same language, the meaning of the words would be the same. How wrong I was has become more and more apparent as our months in England pass by.

Craving something familiar from home, I scoured the grocery shelves for chocolate chips to make the most basic of American treats: chocolate chip cookies. No chocolate chips could be found. All they had were baking chocolate bars and fudge chips. Fudge chips sounded pretty close, so I grabbed a couple bags.

The farm lunch I was preparing that day was based around these fantastic American treats, which I was proudly planning to share with my new English friends. Once the cookie dough was ready, I cracked open the bags, only to see pale, square bits pour out into my bowl. What?! I tasted one. It resembled solid condensed milk, with a stale aftertaste. Great, I’ve ruined the meal! Thinking quickly, I ran to the farm shop and bought some lovely dark chocolate bars and chopped them, attempting to cover the horrible “fudge” taste.

My mates gobbled up the cookies, not even noticing the mistake, but I carried around my error all day. How did I not notice the pale color of the “fudge” on the packaging? And how could this country make this awful mistake and call this sickeningly sweet, milky concoction fudge? Fudge was suppose to be chocolatey, rich and delicious! Here is where I failed — thinking that what I know is the only way, the proper way.

I’ve been mulling over the differences between our languages, as I am confronted with them daily. From the start, I thought it strange that the English would use words I was familiar with in a unfamiliar way. But as time passes, I have come to appreciate each for its own individuality. And breaking it down, it does make sense. Like when I heard there was a pie shop on the farm, I instantly thought apple, peach or the like. Of course, knowing the English love for savory pies, I should have figured “pie” meant steak and kidney or chicken and ham. Or at mealtime, when someone says “tuck in,” rather than “dig in.” Pretty much the same thing, worded differently. It doesn’t mean one is right or one is wrong. Both can be nice, in their own way.

There are many more examples of this language trip-up, thinking because we speak the same words they mean the same thing. Take “cheers,” for example. In America we’d say it when lifting a glass of wine at mealtime. Here in England, it’s used throughout the day, for any occasion. “Please pass the milk.” “Cheers.” “Can you help me clean up?” “Cheers.” “Great work today.” “Cheers.” What we’d call pants, they call trousers; sweaters are jumpers; zucchini are courgettes; eggplant are aubergines; and when you don’t understand someone, you say “hey?” instead of “what?”

It has been a challenge, albeit a fun one, as I expected to have no language barriers once we left Italy. But lately I’ve found myself actually using these words and different pronunciations in my daily conversations, like using the word “proper” and pronouncing the “h” in the word “herbs.”

After three months, there are still some language surprises here and there, which keeps things entertaining. But there are also a few things I would rather not adapt to, as I prefer the American way. Muesli for breakfast is one of them. Raw oats with dried fruit, topped with milk, does not get my day started right. So I stay up late every other night and make a big batch of proper granola for breakfast, with honey, butter and nuts, toasted to beautiful breakfast perfection.

Another one is the scone, English vs. American. In England, the scone is pronounced “skon,” and is made simply with flour, some butter, eggs and a touch of sugar. On its own, it’s quite bland and uninteresting, made to be slathered with clotted cream and jam. An American scone, on the other hand, is sweet, buttery and often fruity or nutty, perfect to eat on its own with a nice cup of coffee or tea. Of course, the ones purchased in chain coffee shops or supermarkets are often overly sweet and full of additives, but the ones made at home, or in a quality bakery, are a delicious balance of sweet, crispy and crumbly. This is the image that pops into my mind when I think scone: a lovely American breakfast pastry. This I will not sway from.

Now, at a new farm, I wanted to make a nice breakfast treat to share. When I noticed the ripe, wild blackberries around the farm, I instantly thought scones — crispy, luscious blackberry scones with a touch of lemon. My mouth waters just thinking of the idea. Butter, flour, sugar, milk, baking powder and a few grates of lemon zest, buzzed in the food processor until it comes together. Flattened out, topped with berries, folded in and cut into triangles, my favorite breakfast sweet treat is ready to pop in the oven in less than 15 minutes. When I announced to my farm mates I was making scones, they were puzzled when I entered with crumble-topped triangles, flecked with berries. But one bite had them convinced that American scones are quite nice indeed.

I will have to be careful from now on, not to assume I think I know the meaning of words, but still be open to try new things and other ways of phrasing things. And I might surprise myself, finding that I actually prefer the English way of saying something. Blimey, that tukka is posh!

Walla Walla chef and nutritionist Melissa Davis and her family are spending time traveling in Europe, backpacking, cooking and working on organic farms. Their adventure can be followed at


Log in to comment