Yes Americans are steeped in American culture and never question their value system until some witless person forces them to face up to reality. I am that witless person.
When we first arrived in this country we had so many questions, big questions, little questions and thoroughly irritating questions.
We would come across them all the time, Americans doing funny little things, American things. One big thing that we noticed happened at the beach. They did it at other places too, but they were more noticeable on the beach. We, British people, would go to the beach with our hefty wicker picnic hampers and a wide variety of inedible foodstuffs, or rather, destined to become inedible as soon as the wind blew a handful of sand our way. We would sit on itchy rugs and watch Americans pass by. Each family would drag a large, colourful, plastic box after them, a little wheel on two corners. Why did they all bring mobile coffins with them? It was most curious.
An Irish friend of ours translated the custom, “it’s a cooler!”
“A cooler? It’s the biggest cooler I’ve ever seen!”
“That’s America for you! But no, not white wine and soda! A cool box.”
“Ah, a cool box! Why didn’t you say that in the first place! Why is it so big?”
“They fill it with ice.”
“Why? It must be so heavy!”
“So that they can put their drinks in there to get cold.”
“Ah well at least that’s one thing we don’t need. Cold drinks indeed! Give me warm beer any day.”
But we’re improved since those early days, or at least I like to think that we progress. Yet, every so often, even after 12 years, I find that they still catch me out, those wiley little Americans.
It’s took me a few moments to connect the dots, as I hadn’t come across the term ‘otter pops’ before. The context, this month’s prize for all students who handed in their reading calendar, meant that it was a reward of some kind. The reference to the sunny weather and the mention of ‘cooler,’ tipped me off. The prizes must be some variety of ice lolly. I know that ‘pop’ is shorthand for popsicle. I decide that I have no need to learn why they are associated with otters.
I arrive at the school to collect my students’ quota, for two classes.
“Hello, I’ve come to collect the "otter pops.”
“It’s a cool bag.”
“Oh, not ‘cool’ but er……chilled, it’s for frozen things, like a cooler.”
“A bag? I’ve never heard of those.”
“They’re just like the children’s packed lunch cooler bags, but bigger.”
“Not that big though.”
“Well it’s from England….big enough for a few ice pops I hope?”
“Oh you don’t need a cooler.”
“No, they’re not frozen yet.”
“Ah. That makes sense. Freeze them before visiting the class.”
“So……I was wondering………why are they called otter pops.”
“Oh coz they’ve got this little otter on the box. See?”
I look at the box. It doesn’t look much like an otter to me, more like a walrus. “Ah yes. But what’s the association with otters?”
“Gee, I have no idea. Hey Ginger, why are they called otter pops?”
Mothers gather and debate. We fail to reach consensus.
I move over to my own children’s class room, where an assemblage of Americans wait. “Aha! Just what I needed! Americans!”
They look at me with the usual mixture of exasperation and expectation, “not again, what is it now Maddy?” I explain about the ice lollies. They shake their heads, “where do you get this stuff from?”
“Do you think it comes from a Mr. Otter, like a Mister Heinz?”
“Maybe? I think that they were just the first ones to hit the market.”
“Ooo like hoover you mean!”
“Hoover? Whatsa…..what did you say……loll…….lolly?”
Life "continues" always with more questions than answers.