Beware The Candy Store!

Nestle Butterfinger, Fun Sized BarsSo I’m walking around IP Pavlova, enjoying the sights and sounds that grace this section of Prague. Beautiful women are interspersed with hammered winos and the occasional excitement of a bum fight. Children beg cigarettes from a woman whose dress is so short that it is unclear whether her barely hidden goodies are available for a small sum of Koruna. The kids then step into the local herna – casino – for reasons better left unknown.

And then, standing on a corner like an oasis of tooth-rotting, diabetic love I see a new shop – The Candy Store.

I press my nose to the glass, disbelieving the assortment of foods in front of me – Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Butterfingers, A&W root beer, Doritos. I feel my pulse on the way in; I may have had a stroke. I run around the shop giggling like an idiot and grabbing items like I’m a contestant on Shop ‘til You Drop.

There’s too much to take in and then I want to leave. Halfway down the road I’m having junk food pangs, so I buy a Eurodog at a stand to pacify my cravings. It works.

Later on, as I’m suffering from post-Eurodog indigestion, I wonder what made me leave the Candy Store sans yummies.

My life as an expatriate living in Prague is wonderful. It is also full of tiny efforts to keep connected to the U.S. in some ways. This is easier now than it used to be, with modern technology I can chat with family on Skype and watch my favorite housewife-themed reality TV shows. But primarily, I try to keep in touch with the U.S. in two ways – food and baseball.

Upon my return from the U.S. in August, I called a meeting of the expats – well, the two who talk to me, anyway. Collin and PJ met me at the favorite pub and they entered with the pass phrase of the week – Open Window. I spoke lasciviously about the cheesesteaks, free tap water and New York pizza, and they gathered round me as if they were trapped in Stalag 17 and I was bringing news from the outside.

When a care package arrives, PJ, Collin and I gather round chocolates with peanut butter as if they are the lost ark. A packet of Tastycakes or Krimpets sends us into throes of gustatory ecstasy last experienced at one of Caligula’s orgies.

One who doesn’t share his booty is verbally flogged. The others silently agree that the withholder will serve as the evening’s major butt of jokes. Though the details are esoteric, we once made Collin cry. The next day he offered chocolate chip cookies for his reinstatement to our deranged gang.

His application was successful.

Baseball is the pinnacle of these desperate gambits in my expatriate life. In previous years, before watching games online was possible, playoffs meant waking up at 1 a.m. and watching games at small bars that would allow us. This is not an easy request in Prague, where waiters and waitresses have perfected the phrase “Not on your life, you fat bastard expat.”

During the playoffs in 2008 and 2009 I was getting home at 8 a.m. on weekends, then getting up to prepare grammar lessons. This shouldn’t be a lifestyle as much as it should be a medieval punishment for stealing goats.

During the week it wasn’t possible to watch a game that ended at 5 a.m. when I had to teach at 7 a.m.

One night in late October 2008, the phone rang on my nightstand. I was rocked out of a dream concerning me and a blue werewolf named Alfred. The clock read: 4:21 a.m.; something bad must have happened.

I picked up, “Who’s dead?” I asked.

“Oh, nobody,” PJ said, “The Phillies won the World Series, just thought you’d like to know.” Though he was delivering exhilarating news, his voice was flat with the intoxication of exhaustion.

“Mazel tov,” I said, using the same tone.

He replied, “Mazel tov.”

“Now, go the fuck to bed,” I said.

“Good night.”

So as I suffer through my Eurodog pains, I realize why the Candy Store with all of its glory sets off a red flag in my head.

Not having things is kind of fun.

Even though we don’t have access to Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, dill pickles, Butterfingers and Fruit Loops, it makes things a little more adventurous. It makes living in Prague a little more exciting and exotic than living in Langhorne, PA, or Green Bay, WI.

Access to these things is going to remove that little excitement. And soon I’ll lose the pleasure of my pre-visit meal and junk food planning. And I’ll lose the fun of running around in the middle of the night looking for the one pub that’ll put the game on for us. And it won’t mean that much when one of us brings back a bag of goodies and shares them.

It gives our boring lives an otherwise exotic flair to it.

This being said, if anyone in the U.S. (mom) wants to send me some dill pickles or a cheesesteak, I’ll post my address.

If you live abroad, what do you miss most about living in the U.S.? If you’re not abroad, same question, but hypothetical.

  1. #1 by Marcelle Cohen on September 15, 2011 - 4:23 pm

    I’m states-side these days, but in Prague, I had a tough time adjusting to their different approach to customer service. I’ve never considered myself a demanding or obnoxious consumer – nothing like my friend who won’t live in his wife’s native Sweden because “they only have 3 kinds of ketchup, and I want 10” – but getting yelled at for not having small change at a store (even Carrefour) made me long for dead-behind-the-eyes greetings at grocery stores in the U.S.

    • #2 by Damien Galeone on September 15, 2011 - 4:44 pm

      My darling Marcelle, they still do that here.
      PS: If 3 kinds of ketchup isn’t enough, your friend may need to reevaluate his priorities.

  2. #3 by Chris on September 15, 2011 - 4:46 pm

    Easy. Air conditioning. In the 30 (I think) total days I have spent in Europe in my life I needed Air conidtioning so bad and it just isn’t used. The question was so easy I think it should actually be phrased “Besides air conditioning what would you miss most…”

    • #4 by Damien Galeone on September 15, 2011 - 4:58 pm

      That’s a good one, Chris. But remember, it doesn’t usually get too hot over here and most people don’t share our sweating…curse.

  3. #5 by Peter Giuntoli on September 15, 2011 - 7:52 pm

    I visited my brother Michael in Prague 7 years ago for about 10 days. And for some reason I was craving a burger. I’m not talking about a McDonalds burger because I know they have that everywhere. And KFC seemed to be huge over there for some reason which I don’t understand and they all kept calling is Kentucky. So my brother took me to a place that boasted having “the best american burgers”. Needless to say it was the worst burger I’ve ever eaten. Why is it so hard for them to make a burger? It’s pretty damn easy if you ask me.

    • #6 by Damien Galeone on September 15, 2011 - 11:54 pm

      Peter, was it called Jama? Even if not, I know exactly what you mean. A good burger is one thing I fully, disgracefully indulge in when I come back to the U.S.

  4. #7 by PJ on September 16, 2011 - 5:47 pm

    I agree that most of the fun of getting those items is that they aren’t readily available. It takes away from it now that it’s available in the store although there’s a difference between available and worth buying. Did you look at the prices? A pack of Reese’s peanut butter cups (2 cups) costs about $2.50, so I won’t be running out to buy them here. I think I’ll still save it for when I get home. Now, if a Brother’s Pizza opens over here….

  5. #8 by Andy on September 28, 2011 - 4:11 pm

    What bothered me wasn’t so much the lack of certain items, it was finding them, but realizing it was some bastardized recipe. The first time I discovered that gherkins were the only type of pickle available, I nearly cried. Snickers bars also had that “trying a bit to hard and failing miserably” aspect. Some toppings should never be applied to pizza…ever (I’m looking at you, guy that decided corn and tuna fish made the cut). Don’t get me started on peanut butter, sushi, or burgers.

  6. #9 by will porter on October 4, 2011 - 9:57 pm

    good tex-mex. seems this is a hard one to get right – and i guess if you have a non-existant mexicano population – it just isn’t possible. that being said – here in budapest – there are a few restaurants attempting to do it kinda well. after 3 years in kenya – ill take any of it i can get…

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