The Peanut Butter Experience

June 4th, 2007

Dear Mum,

One of the things I’ve always loved about travelling is soaking up foreign cultures and food. But I’m sure I must be in a minority as far as British people go. You only have to look at all the British pubs in European destinations, along with the quintessential English breakfast, fish and chips etc., which are readily available in most holiday resorts.

And Cyprus is no exception. Especially with the large British community here. So many bars and restaurants cater for what most British people seem to want when they go abroad. It’s very sad. Especially on the seafront, where McDonald’s, KFC, TGI Friday, Starbuck’s, Häagen Dazs, Pizza Hut (all tacky American companies) have all got strongholds. Fortunately, they’re nearly all next to each other and only ruin a very small part of the seafront.

There are plenty of independent shops in Larnaca, where you’ll see a lot of stuff not available in the UK. Loads of clothes and shoe shops. Female shopping paradise! But there are also plenty of retail outlets that are very familiar. Marks & Spencer, Next, Mothercare, Debenhams, Clarks, Body Shop, Top Shop, Benetton, Sock Shop, Dorothy Perkins  –  just some of the ones that I can remember off the top of my head.

In supermarkets, you’ll see hundreds of familiar brands too. Bird’s Eye, Findus, Iceland, Tate & Lyle, Marmite, Kellogg’s, Heinz baked beans, Campbell’s soup, PG Tips, Typhoo, Gold Blend, and many, many more. It’s a very long list.

Global markets, global economies and the EU are all to blame for it I suppose. I’m very much pro-EU, but I guess everything has a downside. The trouble is, most British people regard all that as an upside of living here! Home from home.

All of which has very little to do with the fact that I came home on Saturday night with one more jar of Dutch, Calvé peanut butter than I went out with!

I’d popped into the Blarney Stone for a swift one, and there was a guy I know sitting on his usual stool, drinking his usual drink, looking unusually pleased to see me.

There you are!“, he said, and gave me a plastic carrier bag from behind the bar containing aforementioned jar of peanut butter, and looking very pleased with himself. “This has been sitting here for a week!

I probably didn’t look as excited as he expected me to be. Mainly because I didn’t have a clue why he’d just given me a jar of Dutch peanut butter! What I actually wanted was a pint of Cypriot Keo beer. That would have got me far more excited!

But something rang a bell. Something from a previous conversation a while ago. Couldn’t remember. But I thanked him profusely anyway, hoping that it was the right reaction, and hoping it would all come back to me.

Well you said you couldn’t find any peanut butter anywhere, and I saw this in Carrefour and picked it up for you“, he said. “And it’s a crunchy one!

Ah! Louder bells now. Not quite a full peal, but a definite clanging going on inside my head that any campanologist would be proud of, as the previous conversation began to surface in my Random Access Memory chip. Not sure what the significance of the crunchy bit was though. What if I preferred smooth?

I recalled that we’d been commenting weeks ago about how so many familiar brands of foodstuff were readily available in the supermarkets here. I’d said that I was surprised not to see Sun-Pat peanut butter on the shelves, as it was the market leader in the UK and so many Brits live in Cyprus. At no point did I say that I wanted some, or that I missed it, or whatever. It was just an observation. I can buy peanut butter anywhere here if I want it. Just not Sun-Pat. And I have to confess that it’s not something I’m losing any sleep over. I haven’t bought any since I’ve been here, and I haven’t wanted to. Stuff I can buy in the UK is the very last thing I want to buy in a foreign country. I want their culture and food  –  not mine.

So it was just a case of wrong stick-ends and assumption-leaping. But how nice of him to think of me. I was actually quite touched. Probably should have bought him a drink!

Mind you, I’ve never seen Calvé peanut butter in the UK. Perhaps I’d better try it. Be right back…

[cross-fade from Priapus getting up from computer to taste peanut butter, to him sitting down again, licking his lips, unwilling to relinquish grip on can of ice-cold beer in order to start typing again, so types with one hand]

Fantastic! Finest Dutch peanut butter I’ve ever tasted. The only Dutch peanut butter I’ve ever tasted! Dark in colour, rich and really creamy. It gets the paws-up from Cleo too. Much tail-wagging and cries of “Please Sir, I want some more“.

So a simple misunderstanding has introduced me to a new product which I’m sure I’ll be purchasing again. I’m indebted.

I wonder if it was Calvé peanut butter that Brad Pitt developed such a liking for in Meet Joe Black. If it was, I understand now!

And I’m so happy that I’ve finally managed to overcome my arachibutyrophobia!


ps  sorry Häagen Dazs for lumping you in with all the other tacky American companies. I love you really…


©MPB 04/June/2007


2 Responses to The Peanut Butter Experience

  1. Helen Rainey says:

    Really like reading your blog about Larnaca.

    The peanut butter story was really funny. Was the guy, drinking at the Blarney Stone bar, a local Greek Cypriot dude? If he was, the fact that he went out of his way to “procure” this jar of peanut butter for you, in essence, afforded you a taste of some of the local “culture” for which you so yearn while in a foreign land.

    The man’s gesture of offering this peanut butter, however weird and out of place it may have seemed, possibly served as an example of the now out-dated classical Greek traditional culture that always seemed overly hospitable… {given to a generous and cordial reception of guests}.

    Anyway, if the man was NOT an indigenous Greek-Cyp; well, I guess that would blow my stupid comment right out of the water then, wouldn’t it?

    On a special note, you were not wrong on your original assessment of the beloved ice cream outlet. I was horrified to learn, a couple of years back, despite it’s “European-sounding” name, that everyone’s favourite Haagen Daz store is wholly an American owned and operated company. I think corporate headquarters is somewhere in New Jersey, or even worse: Pittsburgh (the armpit of America). So, you see, it does belong–firmly ensconced–on the list of “tacky” big corporate American companies.

    One of these years I’d love to visit my father’s homeland. His family had to flee way back when, you know, in 1974, when the friendly Turks rolled into Karavas. In the meantime, I’ll keep up with day-to-day life through your blog site. Please go have a piece of haloumi for me, would ya?

  2. Priapus says:

    Hi Helen. I’ve actually no idea what nationality he is. I think he speaks Greek fluently, but his English has no trace of an accent. Maybe a British-born Cypriot. I must ask him sometime. But you’re right – Cypriot hospitality and the way they welcome guests is legendary. They’re such nice people, the ones I’ve met anyway.

    And yes, I was aware that Hag and Dazs is an American company, although I only found out a few weeks ago, much to my surprise. I just felt guilty about tarring them with the same brush because their ice-cream is so fantastic! I’m such a hypocrite. 😆

    You really should make that trip sometime. It’s such a lovely island.

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