Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A random conversation about food in Death Valley

I'm at Dante's View, enjoying sunset, talking with a couple from France whose English is correct but labored. They think Americans are nice and our country is beautiful but our food is terrible. We tell them they're in the desert, and food in cities is better. We learn they're going to LA next and advise them to get Mexican food. The woman says, "But that is not traditional American food."

I tell them that this is what the United States is: more than 10% of our citizens foreign-born. I live in a city that's more than 40% Asian; Chinese and Vietnamese cuisine are part of our traditional foods. We tell them California was Mexico before it was the United States. Tacos, burritos, enchiladas: this is American food too, at least in California. We leave out that George W. Bush loves tacos.

We give them a few restaurant recommendations for their visit to Berkeley, but they're skeptical; why should they come to the US to eat Japanese food? OK, fine, they're not my concern.

They ask what we do for a living. My friend says he works in the wine industry. I say, "I write about wine and food." She doesn't understand. I say it again, gesturing like I'm drinking and eating. Then I switch to French, and this anecdote becomes about how bad my French sounds.

I say, "J'ecris des histoires sur les vins et [la cuisine.]" I put this in brackets because that's what I intended to say.

She says, "La cousine?" I say, "[La cuisine.]" She says, "La cousine?" I say, "[La cuisine.]" I gesture like I'm going to put something in my mouth. She says, "La cousine?" This little couplet goes on about three more times, and once I lick my lips, trying to indicate deliciousness.

Finally her eyes widen and she says, "Oooooh, la cuisine!" It sounds slightly different from what I was saying; there's a stronger Kwee-ness to the first syllable. But it also sounds, to me, like the same word said by a different person. I stipulate, my French is awful.

She laughs. "You said you write about wines and your cousin. I wonder because you said cousin."

And I wonder, how can one stand atop a really remote mountain at sunset with a guy saying "I write about my cousin, mmmmm" and licking his lips, and not back away rapidly?

Those silly Americans. What a profession!

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