Tourists in US: complaining about food

Americans are often criticized for complaining about the food when visiting in foreign countries. (Why can’t I get a good hamburger? How come everything is so spicy? What the heck is in this? etc.) We are told to hush up and enjoy the differences. (Rightly so, IMHO.)

Recently, an internet acquaintance, was visiting the US (to be clear, not visiting me but here in the US.) She griped constantly about the quality of American food, posting about how to find “decent food” like she could get at home. There were complaints about the bread, butter, cheese, produce, fruit, milk, coffee, meats and sausages. Everyone rushed to give suggestions for finding food more to her liking. No one suggested she just try a few things and enjoy and embrace the differences.

So, why is this somehow different when people visit the US? Or have you not experienced this?

Just a WAG, but maybe it has something to do with wanting to appear accommodating. “SHUT UP AND EAT YER BREAD AND BUTTER UNTIL YOU LIKE IT!” is rude. Giving alternatives is more polite.

There’s no difference - Americans are just known as being stereotypically louder about their complaints. And, yeah, it’s impolite to tell them to shut their traps.

When my Indian relatives come to visit, they don’t like how bland restaurant food is so I usually wind up cooking for them or going for Indian or other Asian fare unless my mom happens to be visiting at the same time (she doesn’t like spice). If my FIL’s girlfriend comes along, she takes over my kitchen and I play the sidekick, which is no skin off my nose - she cooks very well and isn’t particularly mean about it. She also doesn’t like to eat out that much, so that keeps the complaints to a minimum.


Where did The Internet Acquaintance eat? Fast food or chain restaurants? Places near tourist traps? Establishments located along the highways or turnpikes (God help her!)?

Great food can be found in America. Also dreadful food. And some “in between”–as may be found in places that have a few good dishes.

Without knowing more about the situation, I can’t give good suggestions. I’ve been informed that Europe also has tourist traps; great food is not the rule* everywhere*…

I notice that the examples you gave of American complaints were for prepared food, but the complaints of your acquaintance were for produce.

It seems to me that this is substantially different. Mass market, supermarket fare may come as a shock if you’re unused to it - there’s no getting around that produce meant to be shipped great distances and stored for long lengths tends to be a little underwhelming.

I think it’s natural that people suggest alternatives for items like this - because they’re there. If you don’t like the vinyl-tasting mozzarella at the supermarket, go to a deli - they have proper sausage there, too. Wonder Bread not working for you? Try a bakery. Tomatoes don’t taste like anything? Check out the farmers’ market. Milk doesn’t taste right? Uh… that’s a hard one, sorry, you’re just going to have to adjust to that.

But when someone is in Sicily and they complain that the pizza is “wrong,” what can you say, really?

Yeah, this was more or less my thinking. I don’t know if the different experiences the OP describes are largely accurate, but if so then I’d say it speaks highly of American hospitality.

Well as to your first point, yes and no. It was “the cheese on the pizza is wrong, the butter for our bread didn’t taste right, the bread was too soft, the menu didn’t have any sausages, your coffee tastes funny, why do you people even eat cornbread?, can’t we have everything just like at hooooooome?” They ate in a range of restaurants, from fast food to fine dining. They liked the fine dining best, because it was French food. However, they complained about the price of that! I did steer them away from the Olive Garden and Applebee’s, though. Produce can be dreck in Germany, too.

My point is that eating local food is part of the experience of traveling. If I were in India, I would not expect to eat only American food. If I came here to this board and complained that the bread tasted weird, I think there would be a rousing chorus of “suck it up, buttercup” posted in response, not suggestions on how to find bread more to my taste.

There’s a difference between complaining about a difference and complaining about quality. Crap bread is crap bread, no matter where it comes from. But if you don’t like sourdough, then stay away from the SF Bay areas, because 9 times out of 10, that’s what you’re gonna get. (Maybe not so much anymore, but it used to be that way.)

Same with beer and wine. Both are wonderful in Europe, but there’s an awful lot of crap beer and wine in the US along with all the great stuff. You just have to know where to look, and maybe that’s something the locals are going to more attuned to than tourists.

I think one of the problems is the American and European food is often very different even when the dishes are supposedly the same. And this effect seems to be exaggerated in restaurants. I think this catches out people even from other continents who are used to one or the other.

I think you are running into the stereotype that US tourists abroad are spoiled rotten and should get with the culture, whereas Europeans traveling here are just running into our bad food, so we should help them.

Also, some people are just better travelers than others. The more I stifle that urge to compare and just enjoy, the better.

Try organic milk, but it’s going to cost you. For regular supermarket/big brand milk, I vastly prefer whole milk, or the fortified 2%. I can’t stand the regular skim milk. But organic skim milk actually tastes good to me, and I’m happy to drink it.

I think there’s an American attitude that permits criticism of other Americans while discouraging the same criticisms of non-Americans. If I visited China for two weeks and only ate in American-style restaurants, or lived an expatriate existence in Japan where I didn’t learn to speak Japanese, ate an American diet and only socialized with other Americans, I would be criticized by some of the same people who would never criticize people from other countries who do the same thing when visiting or living in the US.

One thing that may be contributing to this: I’ve noticed that fresh vegetables, fruit and even meats and poultry I’ve consumed in foreign countries have more flavor than the food we buy in stores. Americans tend to forget that most of our foods come from enormous commercial food factories and factory farms, where the same additives are used and often the same seeds used to grow things nation-wide. There is precious little genetic variety in our food and massive amounts of additives and treatments in the food to make it less perishable and supposedly taste “better.”
In the end, the food from some foreign countries is less adulterated and this may account for much of the difference that foreign visitors perceive in American foods.

I do think that most of the fruit, vegetables, meat and milk you find in supermarkets in the United States is of inferior quality, and that while the same inferior kind of stuff is widely available in the rest of the world there is also a wider availability of good-quality stuff. People who complain about the poor quality of these items in the US just aren’t looking hard enough or paying enough.

Having said that,

I also agree that Americans are more likely to take criticism and less likely to tolerate others being criticized, and that many other cultures are more likely to criticize and less likely to be polite when being criticized. Basically, I think America lets itself get a worse rap than it deserves.

I don’t think that’s a universal value. In my experience in China, for example, local integration just isn’t really considered a valuable activity. The perspective is that everyone has their culture, and so why would you need to act like another culture?

I’d have people ask me, completely genuinely, why I was bothering to learn to speak Chinese. They pointed out that there were tons of translators around, and there really wasn’t any need for me to go through all the work. Likewise, people were often surprised/tickled/baffled that I ate Chinese food every day (I’m not sure what they thought I ate- we didn’t have much in the way of Western products in my town.) Why would I eat Chinese food all the time, when I’m clearly not Chinese and I have my own, presumably perfectly tasty, traditional cuisine? The foreigners who tried to integrate were generally seen as amusing eccentric and a curiosity, but not really as more respectful than the foreigners who spent most of their time in expat circles.

On the flip-side, when my Chinese friends studied abroad, they were often confused by the common criticisms launched at Chinese students- that they spend a lot of time with each other, that they only really want to eat Chinese food, and that they prefer to speak in Chinese when they can. To my students, these were perfectly natural preferences, and they couldn’t figure out why anyone would fault them for it.

Incidentally, the top complaint from Chinese students studying abroad in the West was that the food is bad, and many of my students complained that they barely ate the whole time there. Our food is seen as obscenely heavy, sweet, greasy, bland, unwholesome and bizarrely obsessed with putting rotten milk all over everything.

As far as I can tell, the average person living in Berlin, Brussels or Barcelona is every bit as likely to do their shopping in a huge, corporate mega-supermarket as the people in Philadelphia, Portland or Phoenix are.

The idea that all Europeans (at least the ones living in large cities) are shopping daily in quaint little farmers markets to make wonderful, healthful, nutritious meals (like you would see on some cheesy American ad for an imported Italian olive oil) for all of their friends and family in the village is just a pretty fiction…

There’s plenty of crap beer & wine in Europe, too. The US doesn’t have the market cornered on having a mixture of good & bad examples of various food/drink products. The notion that every X you put in your mouth in Europe is automatically a great example of X is a bit… romantic?

FWIW I lived in Turkey, and while I *liked *the food, I can’t say I noticed it was of particularly higher quality than anything I could eat in America.

To me, this just sounds like whiny pouty bitchy people, irrespective of whether they’re from overseas. I suspect their fellow Germans (French? Europeans? Whatevers?) would rather not be lumped in with them.