I was sitting in the café of the Juliusspital, a centuries-old community hospital in Wurzburg, Germany, that continues to support itself with the wine it sells, some of the best stuff I had during my brief trip to Deutschland. I was traveling with a group of journalists, and as I dug into a truly memorable plate of white asparagus and Bavarian sausage, I noticed that one of my tablemates sat back with a sickly look on her face. "I ordered dumplings," she said. "But this is not what I expected." The dumplings were served in a traditional sauce, and this just threw the journalist for such a loop that she had to send it back. During my next three meals with her, she continued to send the food back every time because the food was either not what she expected, or too this or too that. After three meals, I stopped watching her, trying instead to astrally project myself to another part of the galaxy, as far away from this picky eater as I could get.
Last week, I was coming home on an Apple Vacations charter from Huatulco in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. As we neared touchdown, I heard a person behind me complain to the air hostess that she didn't like Secrets, the resort where we were staying, because "The people couldn't speak English and I wasn't used to any of the food." As we got up to deplane, this person's husband said to no one in particular, "Just need to get some fried chicken in her. Maybe some Burger King."
Now, my wife was witness to this exchange, just in case you think I'm inventing a straw man (or woman) to prove my point. And I'm going to leave aside the idiocy of expecting people in a foreign country to speak your language, and address the second concern: food that we're not used to.
I'm fully aware that I'm probably preaching to the choir here, but the closed-minded inanity of my fellow Americans sometimes appalls – and always embarrasses – me.
Granted, I ate some odd stuff in Mexico: bugs, iguana, leaves I picked off a tree. I'm not suggesting that anyone should be so cavalier in one's dietary choices as I am. But really, if you travel and turn yourself off from sampling the foods of the country you're visiting, then, you know, maybe you should just pack yourself a box of Wheaties whenever you leave the country. Or maybe just stay home and watch National Geographic on television.