The sauce bottle reader

As nicknames go it at least has the virtue of being accurate, some of the time.

It was coined, and used, by a friend who has watched me read the labels on sauce bottles on restaurant tables from Hong Kong to Peru, who once tested me on the country of manufacture of the towels in a hotel bathroom in Guatamala, and screamed with frustration when I knew the answer (Costa Rica, if you’re interested.)

In the 1980s, when it was so fashionable for restaurants to lay the tables with elaborate settings which were whisked away before any food was brought, I would embarrass my dining companions by lifting up the plates to find out their make (at that time, usually Villeroy and Boch).

Why am I so interested?  I think it’s because of the stories that can be revealed, the relationships suggested.  When you see where something was made, you can imagine how it travelled to get to you.

On that trip in Guatamala, we went around the Mayan ruins with a guide who told us stories of evidence that they believe shows that people from the Far East may have landed on their shores in ancient time.

It didn’t seem such a stretch from that to ask how the bottles of Coca Cola got into the jungle; or on other trips, how Cadbury’s chocolate got half way up a mountain in Nepal, or how Laughing Cow cheese got to the middle of the Sahara.

On a trip to Cuba I was surprised to see American soft drinks and cigarettes in spite of the US trade embargo in place since the 1960s.  A quick read of the packets revealed Canadian and Mexican origin, and a tiny insight into the creativity of the legal minds operating within a couple of multi-national corporations.

At home, shopping in the local supermarket it is no longer surprising to find radishes from Morocco, asparagus from Thailand or Peru, raspberries from Spain.  Last week noticing that the butternut squash came from Egypt caused only a a momentary pause, simply because I’d never seen Egypt as a country of origin in Tesco’s before.

In 1997 I spent two weeks on one of the small Tongan Islands in the Pacific; the Air New Zealand flight from Auckland to Honolulu landed for a brief stop over on the main island late at night.

In the morning, driving from my hotel to the harbour to catch the boat to my destination, I passed a Toyota garage with around 15 shiny brand new cars sitting in the forecourt.  When I remarked to my guide on there being so many new cars on such a small island, he said

‘They’re ready for when the pumpkin money comes in,’ and pointed to where wooden crates were being loaded onto a ship.

‘Pumpkins?’

‘They’re a special kind, very popular in Japan.  They grow here when no-where else has the right season; we plant them underneath the palm oil trees.  When the money for the shipment arrives, the cars will be released.’

He turned and smiled at me.  ‘Mostly they end up in a ditch within a couple of months.  There isn’t really anywhere to go.  But the farmers think it’s good to have had a car.’

Now, that’s got to be the start of a story, hasn’t it?

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4 Comments

  1. That was a wonderful post madame! Thank you for sharing. I will definitely be more observant from now on.
    L

    Reply
  2. margaret nickels

     /  January 23, 2011

    Is there a Cinderella link here ?!

    Reply

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