We fooled everyone into thinking our weeks of home trip planning, 19 hours aboard two airplanes, and tongue biting as we navigated incompetent airport security, was all to spend time with friends and family. We may truly be evil geniuses. Boooohahahahahaha (evil-sounding, deep-throated, sinister laugh)!
The flight home in business class was aided by the consumption of massive amounts of champagne, an idea owed to another expat (thanks, Jess!), which resulted in the flight attendant at one point commenting to Super Spouse, “My, you guys are drinking this champagne really fast!” We were proud to acknowledge same as we asked for another glass several minutes later.
All of these accumulated airline miles equates to one very important add-on, airline status—executive platinum, gold elite, welcome to your flying kingdom, sire, here’s another glass of sparkling, fermented grape juice to drink very fast, status—meaning between flights we head straight for the executive lounge, where the open bar meets my appetite for the vin pétillant head on. Despite large quantities of bubbly, or perhaps because of it, the subsequent flight to the colonies is inevitably uneventful and relaxing.
But I digress.
Where was I? Oh, yes, Boooohahahahahaha (evil-sounding, deep-throated, sinister laugh)! Although seeing friends and family is brilliant, it pales in significance to our primary goal—the accumulation of massive amounts of stuff we can’t get in India. This should make sense to most people. After all, its cold in the northern Midwest, especially for a California kid whose blood, despite twenty northern winters, never seemed to thicken, a condition made worse by the daily three-month application of sunny, eighty degree days, and a wardrobe consisting primarily of tee-shirts and shorts. Our family and friends are all lovely people, but the idea that we would come to see anyone in that part of the country in the middle of winter is, well, insane really; however, we would come to see, and obtain, delicacies.
In expat-land, delicacies are those items one cannot obtain locally, and for which one is willing to travel thousands of miles to purchase and carry back, sometimes, due to the weight, at risk of great physical injury to oneself. In other words, things like peanut butter, soap and mayonnaise.
We are allotted seven total pieces of checked luggage between the two of us—remember, executive platinum, gold elite, welcome to your flying…heck, you remember—and each piece of luggage can be filled to 5 stone, or 70 pounds, which to Lindsay Lohan may be a lot weight, but barely scratches our collective delicacy itch. (Apologies to those readers who recognize the shameless and cheap use of Lindsay Lohan’s weight. The frozen north and corresponding lack of sun touching any part of my skin for the past nine days dulled my creative juices.) One might be asking oneself, especially an astute, critical thinker like you, ‘What specific delicacies are in the quarter-ton shipment?’ (Seems like even more when we call it a quarter-ton, right?)
Excellent question! Some idea can be gained by a sampling of items purchased during this trip.
Is mayonnaise a delicacy?
First and foremost, there is mayonnaise. I can hear the exasperated gasps through the digital ether. ‘What? You’re hauling mayonnaise all they way from the U.S.? Are you nuts?’ Yes, in fact I am nuts, and freezing, and one-quarter French, owed to my father’s side of the family, from which I inherited the French taste for mayo—as well as the French Canadian palate, as I came to find on a trip to Montreal which, by the way, was the only time I ordered mayonnaise for my French fries, or frites, as it were, and did not receive the reply, ‘For your fries?’
Despite one’s inclination for or against, mayo is a staple in the family diet—although in my later years, its been cut with yogurt to stave off some of its less appealing dietary nuances, such as the high fat content. While mayo-haters probably won’t care, purists will condemn me for defiling and diluting a perfectly good condiment with an abhorrently atrocious cow milk product. To those purists out there: This is my story and my waistline-cum-spare-tire-if-I’m-not-careful.
Despite its diminished role in Richipes—See how well the words Richey and recipe go together?—it remains at the top of the shopping list. One can in fact get the savory sauce in India in the form of American Garden mayonnaise, among others; however, whoever made this crap apparently never tasted mayo. The ingredients, with the exception of the high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), seem standard, but it tastes more like Miracle Whip, a condiment no self-respecting mayo-ficionado (see, I did it again) would ever ingest. This tends to make a bit more sense when one realizes the American Garden brand does not actually originate anywhere near America (it is based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates), which explains why they have no idea what mayo tastes like.
Mayo is only one of many home trip delicacies that make the list not because of a lack of availability, but rather because the quality of the available products is, in a word, horrible. This list of questionable products includes: peanut butter, which contains vegetable oil, sugar and salt—why on Earth does anything need sugar and salt; Dijon mustard—putting ‘Dijon’ on the label of yellow mustard does not make it Dijon; honey, although I’m not sure how they managed to screw this up, it tastes like molasses; granola, which, come to find out, is not the same as muesli, not that it matters, because whether they call it granola or muesli, in the Indian marketplace it will likely include sugar, molasses, and HFCS; popcorn—it boggles the mind, in a country with six power outages a day, the only popcorn available relies on a microwave; cheese—apparently, while happy cows make happy cheese (recall commercials circa 2004), unhappy cows make crappy cheese; and coffee, because when preceded by the adjective ‘good’, is as foreign as, well, peanut butter, mayonnaise and granola.
Some things are dual use.
Then there are the other essential non-delicacies for which we’ve developed a fondness and for which there may not be a local equivalent. For example, tampons. Apparently these little devils have yet to find there way into the Indian way of life. Here is a conversation I had a couple weeks ago while serving as tour guide to someone there on a short rotation:
Weary Traveller: Is there something like a Walgreens here?
RJR (already suspecting the path of the conversation): That depends on what you want a Walgreens for.
Weary Traveller: I just need to pick up a couple female items.
RJR (not wanting to be presumptuous, especially since we’ve only known each other for a couple weeks): Well, if the items for which you seek start with the letter ‘T’, you may be out of luck.
Weary Traveller: Hmmm.
Luckily, since my Super Spouse packed a five-year supply on the initial voyage (their usefulness extends far beyond the developers intent), the story has a happy ending. But such would not be the case if we did not plan ahead and pack essential non-delicacies, such as: sheets, which aren’t actually required, so long as we are willing to allow guests to sleep on sand paper—oh, and the only fitted sheets in the entire country are the ones people brought with them; spray bottles, because if you can find one that works beyond the first squirt, you win a prize; Tide laundry detergent—the word ‘unscented’ apparently does not exist in Hindi, Urdu, or Telegu; nail polish, nail polish remover and topcoat, none of which I truly understand, but all of which are missing or inadequate according to various women travellers; scented hand soap—sensitive noses turn up at the smell of ‘lavender’ hands; and Ziploc baggies, because the last thing anyone wants is the juice from the malnourished free-cage chicken—they are free to roam around in their eight cubic foot cage with the other chickens—purchased at a roadside stand, leaking, especially after they went to the trouble to kill and butcher said chicken at the time of purchase on the same, unclean block they’ve been butchering chickens on all day.
Are we there, yet?
Now all of these items and more—we routinely purchase gifts for our driver, housekeeper and their children—are wrapped carefully in clothing, bubble wrap, paper towels, and toilet paper and placed into our aforementioned luggage to be weighed. Some people employ the calibrated elbow approach; however, we weigh each bag with a hand held digital luggage scale to ensure we maximize our allotted weight while not exceeding it, so that when my spouse sees 65 pounds on the scale, she can say with confidence, “Five more pounds means five more jars of peanut butter!”
Then it’s off to the airport. The easy part is over. Now we need to get through immigration, claim our stuff, deal with customs, and navigate our way through throngs of travellers—all topics of future discussion—just so we can enjoy a little mayo with our eggs.
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Also posted on Medium.