(Food) Culture Shock: 10 Foods I Will Never Understand

Before I moved to the US, I already had the impression that Americans had unhealthier and larger meals than I was used to. This did not, however, prevent me from having quite the (food) culture shock when I first arrived. Since Freshmen are required to live on-campus the first year, I bought a campus meal plan like everyone else. A year of mostly pretty bad food followed, although bagels should get an honorary mention, as should burritos. Here are 10 foods I will never understand:

1. Pop tarts

Pop Tarts

Perhaps the grossest thing I have ever come across, nothing could ever have prepared me for this “food”. Everyone here seems to love it, for some reason. It comes in what feels like hundreds of terrible flavors, for example confetti cupcake, peanut butter and jelly (why), and perhaps the most American of them all, s’mores.

2. Normal things but in weird and unpleasant combinations

Chocolate covered pretzels

Chocolate covered pretzels (of all things) is just one example of how Americans somehow think it’s a great idea to mix completely uncomplimentary things together. The grossest one for me would be pumpkin covered popcorn, but then I do hate pumpkin.

3. Hershey’s

Hershey's Chocolate bar

It must be the worst chocolate I have ever come across. It contains pretty much the bare minimum of cocoa in order to qualify (in the US) as chocolate. I’m not sure that it should, with its meager 11 percent… Although I’ve always wanted to try s’mores, I can’t bring myself to do it knowing it’s made with Hershey’s. No, thank you.

4. Supermarket bread…

Wonder bread

Coming from a culture in which the only meal that does not consist of bread is dinner, I have learned the hard way that any bread sold in an American supermarket is, well, unhealthy and inedible. I have now baked my own bread for two and a half years. The bread in the picture, “Wonder” bread, was something I remembered seeing (but not quite believing) in a movie as a kid. Well, it’s real. And it’s gross.

5. Biscuits and gravy

Biscuits and gravy

Just the word “biscuits” is confusing, having learned British English in school. It’s a kind of bread that you eat with a gravy that, for some reason, has sausage in it. This is a breakfast food, and it’s super popular. The day an international student says “man, I want biscuits and gravy for breakfast!” is the day unicorns come down from the sky singing Christmas carols.

6. String cheese

String cheese

This is something any international student is going to encounter Freshman year. Dorm life includes many weird surprises foodwise, but this might be the weirdest one (although admittedly not the grossest). As someone who eats a lot of cheese, this seems pretty unacceptable. But bad cheese and Freshman year are an unavoidable combination.

7. Local Indiana Wine

I’m not gonna single any one producer out here, and honestly, I wouldn’t need to. Why grow wine grapes in a climate that goes from -30 in the winter to 40 degrees Celsius in the summer..? I once had a sip of a local red wine and it tasted like a weird sangria. But without having anything added. However, when you turn 21 (or if you already are), you can look forward to great local beer, at least.

8. Root beer

Root beer

I know not everyone in the international student community will agree with me on this one. But personally, coming from a food culture that does not produce overly sweet things, this might be the hardest thing to drink for me. It’s incredibly sweet, and tastes pretty strange. In general, if a pastry or a food exists both in the US and Norway (where I’m from), the US version has three times the sugar and fat. With some sugar sprinkled on top.

9. “Birthday Party” ice cream

Ice Cream

This brand, Blue Bunny, is something you find all over campus in on-campus stores where you can spend your meal points. It’s ice cream that I’m normally super happy about (I may or may not have eaten insane quantities of their ice cream…), but this particular flavor, “Birthday Party”, might be the grossest ice cream I have ever had (and I’ve had olive oil ice cream). Once I saw the flavor by a different brand and they apparently thought it necessary to specify that there were some “artificial flavoring”. I think not.

10. Pumpkin

Pumpkin Doughnuts

Americans love their pumpkins. My first year I was very excited to try pumpkin pie, as I generally like pies and I love trying new foods. What a disappointment! It is definitely an acquired taste… During fall, everything apparently needs to be pumpkin flavored. Pumpkin flavored lattes, pumpkin pie flavored lattes, pumpkin flavored beer (why…), pumpkin pie flavored popcorn, pumpkin flavored yogurt, and of course, pumpkin pie flavored pop tarts. The list goes on.

These are mostly dorm foods that you, unfortunately, will be pretty acquainted with if you go to college in the US. For even more “exotic” gross American food, see this great list by Buzzfeed.

Idun Hauge

International Student Ambassador

International Student Ambassador from Norway majoring in History, with minors in Political Science, Arabic and International Studies.