Wednesday, April 30, 2008

An inalienable right to ask

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.”
“Cute bag!”
“It’s a cool bag.”
“Yeah, cool.”
“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.”
“I don’t?”
“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.


Hammer said...

I've never heard of otter pops. I'll have to go look for some.

Yes the big cooler always gets dragged across the beach but it's definitely lighter on the way back :)

Almost American said...

I wonder if otter pops are a West coast thing? Never heard of them here. I think we call them freeze pops. I've been trying to dissuade DH from buying them as most are full of food coloring and that seems to trigger some of DD's worst behaviours.

We had several coolers already when DH bought yet another a couple of years ago. I couldn't understand why until we had a party - no room in the fridge for all the beers, so they went in the cooler. Two days later, the ones still in there (out on the deck!) were still cold!

Robin said...

As an American who's been living overseas for nearly 20 years I must admit I don't have the faintest idea what otter pops are, but I do admit to shlepping the big cooler (no wheels either) to all sorts of picnics and gatherings. Only to the beach for major group events though, otherwise it's the insulated tote bag. Doesn't insulate all that well and you can't sit on it but it's much easier to manage.

Angela said...

Good memories bring a cooler and a big umbrella

Expatmum said...

Also not come across otter pops, but I have given up trying to find out who the Graham is on the cracker box.

Almost American said...

Expat mum - if you mean Graham as in 'Graham crackers' then that would be Sylvester Graham. He was an advocate of whole-wheat flour and vegetarianism.

Wikipedia says:
"The graham cracker was developed in 1822 in Bound Brook, New Jersey, by Presbyterian minister Rev. Sylvester Graham. Though called a cracker, it is sweet rather than salty and so bears some resemblance to what Americans call a cookie and the British call a biscuit. In particular it resembles a digestive biscuit. The true graham cracker is made with graham flour, which is unsifted and coarsely ground wheat flour.

It was originally conceived of as a health food as part of the Graham Diet, a regimen to suppress what he considered unhealthy carnal urges, the source of many maladies according to Graham."

Expatmum said...

Well, I'll now consider myself educated. In my defence, when I first started wondering who Graham was, I don't think the Internet was up and running!!! Thanks AA

Almost American said...

Expat mum - who knew there would actually have been a person behind the name graham crackers? I just looked up Oreo cookies and there's no real explanation for why they're called Oreos. I only knew about Sylvester Graham because I live in one of the towns he lived in, and there's a restaurant here that we like that is named after him.

Shellie said...

OK, I will explain the Otter Pops. They come in a box of about 100 and they are just plastic tubes of juice basically and you take the box home and stick it in your freezer and then the next day you have little popsicles. You cut the top off and squeeze it up into your mouth. They taste like plastic and sugar. But they're wet and cold. I HATE the wrappers all over the place. My husband buys them, not me!

Anonymous said...

...please where can I buy a unicorn?