Here’s the thing about traveling the world: It’s not so much what you learn about new places but what you learn about home by visiting new places.
When I was working for an international company in the long ago past, it wasn’t the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World I found so interesting (not that I saw any of those), but it was the little things:
- I thought hot tea wasn’t complete without a squirt of lemon until I worked in a little office outside of London where milk was part of the office supply budget. Tea with milk! How novel! And delicious! I also discovered prawn sandwiches there. Imagine an egg salad sandwich made with salad shrimp instead of eggs. Whodathunkit?!
- Never was I more grateful for the mostly crime-free town where I lived in Minnesota than when I traveled in South Africa, where I learned women never leave their purses in the passenger’s seat for fear of a “smash-and-grab” marauder who might break a car window at a stop light and make off with the bag.
- I learned a new appreciation for port-a-potties when I was forced to use a public toilet in Toyko that was simply an open trench in the floor. With no toilet paper. Prior to that experience, a poop-smeared pair of ladies’ underwear in the latrine on Grandma’s Marathon route was the most horrifying thing I’d seen in a loo. To be fair, Japanese produce counters are 100 times better arranged and maintained than the lettuce bins in any American supermarket.
- Speaking of vegetables … for all the times I’ve resented having to eat yet another salad, I really missed them when I visited Mexico City, where foreigners avoid eating fresh produce that might be rinsed in local water known to cause Montezuma’s Revenge. Oh, the joy of finding dependably fresh, clean water in one’s boring old kitchen tap at home!
- I had no idea what kind of messages I was transmitting when reading in public until I read Bill Clinton’s memoir My Life on a trip in Munich during George W. Bush’s second term. Let’s just say Germans weren’t Bush’s biggest fans, and they draw a lot of conclusions about America’s residents by the politics here.
Recently, since we’ve acquired a fifth-wheel camper, my travels have been limited to domestic locations, but one learns a lot about home even when one is only a few states displaced.
Like, did you know Clark County in Kentucky is the birthplace of beer cheese?
My Wisconsin friends are expressing great skepticism right now. Wisconsin, of course, is known for two things: It has the highest number per capita bars and cheese shops. Beer plus cheese equals beer cheese, right?
Beer cheese is a cheese spread found most commonly in Kentucky, so saith Wikipedia. And Clark County is capitalizing on this little known fact by promoting the Beer Cheese Trail, a network of eight restaurants in and around Winchester, Ky., that boast “the most authentic” beer cheese.
Visitors who visit at least five participating restaurants and imbibe the delicious beer cheese can earn a free T-shirt. Free?! Sign me up! It’s a brilliant marketing campaign I imagine might work for lots of touristy locales (wild rice soup in Minnesota? statues of Lincoln in Illinois?). I collected four of the five required stamps in my official Beer Cheese Trail Cheese Log (get it? cheese log?), and I was eagerly anticipating acquiring the addition to my wardrobe. At the fifth restaurant, I couldn’t find my log so I collected the stamp on a new log, thinking I could simply combine my logs.
But then I couldn’t find my hard-won log with four stamps. I looked everywhere. Never was I so disappointed (that’s how great “free” is to a frugal native Minnesotan).
Not to worry. This story has a happy ending. My Beloved ripped the console of his pickup truck apart when a styrofoam glass of pop sprung a big leak, and lo and behold, my log which had disappeared into a crevice was revealed. I sent proof of my completed mission to the tourism bureau, and my free T-shirt arrived yesterday.
And the beer cheese? Was it the most amazing stuff ever created for carrot and celery sticks?
Sure, it was good. Better than ranch dressing. But then, I’ve never visited Hidden Valley Ranch.