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She Craves Peanut Butter in Poland


Evelyn Hannon

Stephanie Olsen is an American woman who, because of her husband's business, is presently living in Poland with two small children. She writes... If any of you Journeywomen are happening my way, I'd love to have you over for coffee but please bring me a jar of peanut butter. I'm desperate for a taste of home! E-mail:

I expected culture shock...

I felt completely and utterly stranded. As the mother of a twelve week newborn and her two-year old sister, I was far too busy to learn how to speak Polish, yet here I was with my spouse in Poland. An American city girl, born and bred, I was now living on a farm. Completely dependent on my husband's linguistic abilities, I was often alone for weeks at a time while he traveled on business for which we had relocated in the first place.

I expected culture shock but never believed that food would be such an exceptionally big hurdle for me to overcome. Somehow I just couldn't get used to sour cream, beet soup or Polish sausages and was absolutely shocked to discover that peanut butter is an, as yet, unappreciated staple in Poland. In fact, peanut butter is impossible to buy, beg, borrow or steal here.

"Peanut butter! Get me peanut butter!" I didn't mean to sob, but I think the anguished wail was heard throughout Europe. What IS it with these people; how can an entire continent be unaware of a staple food redolent with childhood memories? Who in North America does not personally know that delicious feeling of squishing her peanut butter and jelly sandwich (on white bread) and rolling it up into little balls while trying to clear the roof of her mouth so that speech is once again possible?

God bless my mom...

"What else do you need over there?" ("Over there" to my mother being anywhere that malls aren't and English isn't spoken).

"Loose-leaf." A groan escapes me despite resolutions and tight lips. "Ma", I whisper, looking around, "they all write on graph paper over here. I can't stand it. I'm nearly blind. Send me some real paper."

"How's your supply of red licorice?" (My mother is a saint, you know).

"Very low, as a matter of fact. Oh, and don't forget the Cheerios, mom! They've only got those sugar-coated ones over here; nothing plain for the kids to snack on."

"Okay, hon." I hear scribbling 3,000 miles away. "I've already sent the Sea-Monkey food and some paperbacks. Lessee...oh! I nearly forgot - did you ever find Zip-Loc Freezer Bags?"

"Not only are there no Zip-Locs, but I've run out of cream of tartar and food coloring again!"

"You and the kids making lots of homemade playdough, eh? Well, don't you worry! I'll pick up a supply today and slip it in with the knitting markers and those 3-ply lotion-soft Kleenexes you like so much."

Phew! Now that I know a box of America is on the way to this temporary expat in Poland, I can relax and enjoy all things Polish. Vive la difference and God bless my mom!

Women's words on culture shock...

Whether you are a French woman living in Britain, a Japanese woman working in Amsterdam or an American woman visiting in Thailand -- sooner or later you will suffer from bouts of culture shock. This condition has much less to do with the culture you are trying to adjust to and much more to do with your own need for finding something familiar to associate with. At some point during your stay you will absolutely crave the foods you are used to and you will reject completely the delicacies and specialties of your new home. Don't despair. You eventually get past the old longings and begin to appreciate the fresh experiences. This usually happens no matter where you come from and how different the country you are visiting is.
(Evelyn Hannon, Editor, Journeywoman)

You may find you get, on occasion, unaccountably irritable and frustrated by local ways of doing things. These are signs of mild culture shock and certainly shouldn't lead you to think you have to get on the next plane home. Once you're aware of what's happening you can take steps to slow down, relax and take more time to explore the differences around you at your own pace. After all you've come all this way because it is going to be different -- that is the reason you're travelling at all.
(Maggie & Gemma Moss, authors of Handbook for Women Travellers)





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