Default Culture Fallacy vs. American Food

I’ve had this conversation several times in my life:

Somebody:  Americans don’t have a cuisine, except for McDonald’s.
Me:  Thanksgiving dinner.
Somebody:  Yah, but that’s…
Me:  Nachos. Chicken-fried steak. Curly fries. Chili. Chili cheese fries. Clam chowder. Philly cheesesteak. Ruben sandwich. Monte Cristo. Club sandwich. Chop Suey. Tater tots. Nacho tots. Salad wraps. Mission-style burritos. Crunchy Tacos. Doughnuts. Popcorn…
Somebody: Yah, but none of those count because…
Me: Crab Louie.  Shrimp and grits. Lobster roll. Chinese Chicken Salad. General Tso’s Chicken. Mongolian beef. Cobb Salad. Yankee pot roast.  North Carolina barbecue. Memphis barbecue.  Kansas City barbecue. Texas smoked-brisket.
Somebody:  Yah, but those are not…
Me:  Shhh, you’re dumb.

Sometimes it’s Europeans that say this, but sometimes it’s Americans; it’s part of their Default Culture Fallacy; that we Americans are just normal, with zero culture, but people from other places and ethnicities are just the same as us plus some something extra. It’s often stated explicitly like this: “I don’t have any culture, I’m just American; I’m just normal.” There is only one kind of normal; other cultures are extra.

Those of us who live between and among cultures see it differently; that culture is a fundamental difference: that there are different normals.   Americans learn to see their culture acutely when they’re studying abroad. It’s so satisfying. It goes like this, “WHAT DO YOU MEAN THERE’S NO CEREAL FOR BREAKFAST?”  (moments of rage, followed by micro-strokes).

Sometimes host families abroad are warned about American Cereal Dependency ahead of time, and offer what they can: cereal they bought from the foreign section of the supermarket. The American students eat it, grimly; chewing slowly and thinking “what… is… this… milk?”

Anyway, yes Americans have a “cuisine,” it’s not known as being particularly healthy or refined, but of course we have it, anthropologists would identify it; people visiting from other countries can point it out to you. Americans often have a hard time pointing it out; the Default Culture Fallacy creates a huge blind spot.

As a side note, if you ask any American expat in Asia what food they miss the most, the answer is almost never “Thanksgiving dinner.”  It’s almost always “Mexican food,” and most of the time, it’s not Mexican food from Mexico; it’s the cheesy stuff that we grew up eating in the suburbs.

I have several friends and friends-of-friends visiting Seattle right now, so I’ve had several discussions about what to eat while they’re here.  I had intended this post to be a list of some local Seattle food, but apparently it got derailed.  I’ll write that post later.

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