I bought ice cream.

Visiting another country is a great experience in itself – everything feels new, even if in reality it isn’t too different than what you’re used to. For example, I bought chocolate ice cream at the corner store the other day. When I approached the ice cream freezer I was just absolutely overwhelmed with a sense of excitement for what creamy treasures may lay inside. Well, actually I feel like that every time I’m about to browse ice cream but this time it just felt different in a way that’s difficult to explain but was present nonetheless. Looking at the ice cream I was bewildered by the words inscribed on the packaging (as they were all in Estonian and the only Estonian word I know is, “tere” which means, “hello” and would in no way help me to make an educated decision regarding the purchasing of sweets) but nevertheless I moved bravely forward. Browsing the selection of ice cream in the 7-11-esque corner store I was not surprised to find pictures of animals and young children adorning the sweet treats and making my decision even harder to make. To buy the ice cream accompanied by a picture of a monkey swinging from a vine, or to buy the one with a child smiling so hard that you’d think he was just given a lifetime supply of Chicken McNuggets? Well, I was in the mood for Chicken McNuggets since the kid gave me that particular impression I could only assume that choosing his ice cream would be the wisest choice. Besides, who can trust a monkey’s opinion regarding ice cream? Not me. I’m an advanced Russian student so the transaction to buy a single ice cream cone was not an issue for me – let’s move on. Once I exited the store my excitement for this new and foreign ice cream beat out my sense of patience and I immediately tore the packaging off.

….so what did I find?

A plain and unimaginative chocolate ice cream cone.
Hold back your tears.
Давайте дальше.

So why is this important to me? This is my first time ever going overseas. As a small town American boy, I’ve had very limited experience with foreign countries, foreign people, and foreign food. Aside from my studies in college, the local Mexican restaurant, and Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmerman, my time with the little things, such as an ice cream cone, has been sub-par. We all have certain expectations of what different things we may find overseas, and often times we overestimate the differences between one country and another. My chocolate ice cream cone tasted fine, but it only made me realize that a different packaging and location separated it from something I could buy at the Riner Food Center in my hometown. My hamburger at the local McDonald’s didn’t come with a side of борщ nor does the water taste particularly different. Well, it’s bad in Narva but it’s good everywhere else in Estonia. Bad examples aside, it’s fun to see how some of the more minute details of everyday life are just about the same here as they are back home. 

– Chuck Knowlton

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