(not) localizing happy hour

I popped over the local brewery across the street from MultiLingual just now for the reduced-price appetizers and a greasy jolt of pub food to get the neurons firing. Amid the hummus and calamari and pot stickers, I came across the following description for Irish Chips: “hand-cut chips smothered in cheese, black olives, tomatoes, green onions and sour cream.”

Yes! I thought, I love hand-cut potato wedges and I’ve certainly never tried them with all that on top! When the order reached the table, however, I was horrified to find that the succulent home fries of my imagination were in fact thin, crispy little disks more akin to pure lard than anything of actual substance. Essentially, I’d ordered nachos on Lay’s.  Much to my chagrin, “chips” had been of the US definition rather than the UK one.

Now, I’ve only been in Ireland and the UK for a grand total of about three weeks, so, in retrospect, I have no idea why the only thing conjured up by “Irish Chips” was “Chips as defined by the Irish.” Except that I was in an “Irish” pub, just having come from a job where I’m supposed to think multiculturally all the time.

Which raises an interesting question. Here we have a clash between what is acceptable to the local market and authenticity; the true flavor and vocabulary of whatever you’re importing. How authentic should ethnic food be? For most markets, probably not very; US Chinese food is different than Chinese food in China, in the same way that the American cafes in China will probably be quite different than the local food here.

Katie Botkin
Katie Botkin is a freelance writer. She has a master’s degree in English with an emphasis on linguistics and has taught English on three continents.


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