the-gourmandBeing a fan of the human condition, my radar for bizarre behavior operates on high alert most of the time. One aspect that always grabs my attention? Culture clashes. I am not talking about a cannibal in a room full of vegans kind of thing, more like certain behaviors that seem to make sense to locals, but seem weird-o-riffic to a transplant such as myself. This area of the country offers several opportunities to observe these customs, from folks’ obsession with fried chicken in cashew sauce (white meat only….dark meat is always rumored to have come from neighborhood cats), to having homes in the “country French” style (not to be confused with “French country” style which is also a favorite and TOTALLY different), to one of my all-time favorites: dining out as competitive sport.

When I first moved here, I found it really and truly odd that people would tolerate waiting two hours on a cold or hot sidewalk just to eat at one of the 79,651 restaurants our town seems to offer. This takes place every weekend, and we’re not talking about only fancy, swanky joints either. A national barbecue chain rolls into town and we’ll gladly sit knee deep in peanut shells in the waiting area just for the opportunity to dive into a baked potato with 3,800 calories of meat and dairy on top (that’s one of two side orders, just to let you know). In fact, going out any time from Thursday to Sunday is an exercise in sheer madness, unless Taco Bell sounds like the kind of cuisine you were thinking about. After nine years, however, it somehow became enmeshed in my system that weekends were meant for these feats of endurance, where we could all jam our elbows into one another in waiting areas, proclaiming to the world how nice it was “to just get out of the house” (a sentiment clearly shared by, like, 99.9% of the metro population as well). The Wife, being a native, accepts this as a part of her civic obligation to Springfield, and insists that we participate on a regular basis.

So imagine, if you will, the four of us out for lunch today at the Fuddruckers after some hiking at the Nature Center. All is going well, with Heathen #2 attempting to eat his macaroni and cheese like one might drain the last of the cereal out of the bowl (tipped up and going everywhere). I notice the crowds start to build near the drink station and in the ordering line. I mention as much to my better half, and she leans in, all conspiratorially, cocks up an eyebrow, and says “well, ya know, you GOTTA beat the church crowd. And we just did.” She then nods her head in a self-satisfied way, as though this indicates our consumptive prowess. I looked around. Of course, she was right. It would seem that the only logical thing to do after congregating in a house of worship would be to congregate in a house of pancakes. She then asked me “I guess you never had to worry about this in California, did you?” No, I didn’t. Ever. I am sure that all of the hot spots out there are packed on weekend evenings, but that’s where you’d mostly find singles and young couples, not spiritually inclined families in their finest khakis and polo shirts. It just wasn’t something we grew up doing. Most families were eating at home or in the homes of their friends. The adults would stand around after church on the lawn in front, eating cheap donuts, drinking cheaper coffee and smoking Virginia Slims during “social hour”, but that about covered the churchy-social obligations. We never went out to eat with our fellow congregants; for one thing,  Mom had to haul ass back home so she could prepare “dinner”. For 2pm (I never understood that). Even as a kid, I was busy inventing various diseases to get me out of going to church half the time, so why would I enjoy going out with those people afterward?

Back to today. We ended up discussing the pros and cons of eating out as a ritual for awhile, me advocating eating at home more often, as long as I didn’t have to be a part of the cooking process, she telling me I am ridiculous. Before long, I sensed trouble on the horizon. How? From the back seat of the car, still covered in ketchup residue, Heathen #1 pipes up “that was good, but can we go to Taco Bell tomorrow?”

Game, set and match.