This is not a story about chocolate ice-cream, although this most perfect of foodstuffs will play a central role in what we must sadly refer to as my “learning opportunity.” The lesson learned is: my family is weird. But don’t worry; your family is weird too.
Part one of our tale takes place in an Austin vegan restaurant by the name of Mother’s. My wife kidnapped me and bundled me into a booth with threats to my life if I even thought about making some wisecrack about bacon.
I am an omnivore with a tendency toward meat and cake. Mother’s menu didn’t hold much appeal, but marriage is about compromise so I agreed to not try to escape my handcuffs, to sit quietly, and let my wife enjoy whatever the hell it was that she ordered.
And then things started looking up. “They have apple pie, you know,” said my kind-hearted captor.
“Real apple pie?”
“Real enough. And they serve it with Amy’s ice-cream.”
She loosened my bonds so I could hold a menu and I saw it was indeed so: apple pie – a la mode, $2 or so more.
With my one free hand, I motioned to the kindly waitress.
“One coffee, please,” I began, harmlessly enough, “and one apple pie with chocolate ice-cream.”
She had been scribbling happily but her cruelty-free pencil came to a screeching halt, with the necessary cartoon brakes sound effects, and she looked at me confused.
I looked fearfully at my wife. Had I said something inappropriate? Had I broken a vegan restaurant code? Had I asked for crispy bacon sprinkles (because I’d certainly been thinking about it)?
She looked at me indulgently and then turned to the waitress. “Do you have chocolate ice-cream?”
The waitress nodded, apparently afraid now to talk in front of whatever kind of monster I was turning out to be. Bravely, she asked, “In the same bowl?” which at that point seemed the weirdest part of the whole exchange to my naive mind.
I nodded encouragingly. “Please.” At times like this, I try to be especially polite and emphasize my Olde World accent. It usually helps.
In due course, my order arrived, and was perfect as only apple pie with chocolate ice-cream can be. And, even when the check arrived and it showed I had been charged for two desserts, I was still content.
On the way home, my wife began to laugh. “You have vanilla ice-cream with apple pie. That’s why she was confused!” This was obviously nonsense.
“Maybe that’s just an American thing,” I suggested. And luckily, living in the 21st century, we have a way of finding out. Thank you, social media.
And so, eager to prove my point, I posted on Facebook. Apple pie with chocolate ice cream is a thing, right?
Soon, the results were in, from the USA and the UK, virtually unanimously: Good God No.
There were two dissenters: my mother and my brother. And suddenly the clouds parted and the beam of the light of knowledge hit me squarely in the face.
In essence, if I had not grown up in the same house as my respondents, then they thought my dessert combo was very very wrong.
Understanding this helped me to understand that I know nothing.
Whenever someone in my new country had asked, “How do they do X in England?”, my answers (whatever answer I’d come up with) were in fact, “I almost certainly have no idea, but this is how my freakish kin do that thing. Who knows what civilised people do?” Living in a foreign country, I’d relished being a stranger in a strange land, but I’d never realised that the strange land extended all the way back to the threshold of the front door of the house I’d grown up in.