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Baby Carrots are WEIRD

By Kellie Purcill

I visited America for two weeks two years ago, and still one of the most prominent – and thought provoking – realisations about it, is baby carrots are WEIRD.

The first time I saw baby carrots my brain stuttered, stalled, and refused to move on from the peculiarity of them. Are they grown just to that size then harvested? Are they big carrots just shaved down to size? How do you pick them? Are they peeled? How many tonnes of carrots are made into baby carrots? I’ve since investigated (answers being: no; kind of; up in little bags at the supermarket; yes; and, over 172 million tonnes a year), and you know what? Baby carrots are STILL weird.

I’m thinking it’s because I’m Australian. Baby carrots aren’t available in Australia. The closest I’ve seen here to the handily packed and washed US variety are tinned carrots, which are soft zeppelins compared to the crisp Nano-technology of baby carrots. Somehow, baby carrots became the ultimate indicator of how far from home I was.

I’d prepared my boys and I for the trip in all sorts of ways: shifted our sleep patterns a week beforehand to avoid jet lag (moderately successful); packed a huge chunk of luggage with Aussie foods (TimTams, Vegemite, Weetbix, Minties and Chico Babies); tried to remember what a dime was worth and the percentage I was meant to tip a waitress.

But as soon as the ATM in LAX spat out paper money (paper!), I reverted back to being a kid at my first time to a circus. The money all looked the same! (Australian money certainly doesn’t). The brain-frying, thigh-cramping experience of driving on the wrong side of the road was breathtaking. Snow on the mountains in Summer. Lollies (candy) being thrown at a neighbourhood 4th of July parade. The bafflingly low fruit and vegetable prices, and the cacophony of the cereal aisle! So many accents and new architecture and language nuance. The bliss of so many peanut butter flavoured foods – I was a long, long way from home.

Then there were the conversations which skittered and side-tracked to allow for clarification or explanation. Asking Michelle if she’d seen “my sunnies” (sunglasses) or my boys asking if there was a “bubbler” when we were at a park. (That’s “water fountain” in Australian).  Laughing at other’s attempts at an “Australian accent” (hint: there isn’t one, American’s have the accents). The realisation of how differently sunburn is accepted between countries. Then the (far too short) comparisons and discussions of health care, politics, gun laws, education and all the ways of things which seem normal to us but fascinating/horrifying/confusing to those from – sometimes – literally the other side of the planet.

In some ways the US seemed remarkably like Australia, and in others as bizarre and alien as any planet in the Alpha Centuri system. I loved my time in the US. It wasn’t nearly long enough for the amount I wanted to learn, absorb, for the people I wanted to interrogate get to know, the things I wanted to do and see and experience. And that’s just in one country, which internationally is seen as quite similar to Australia, yet is so different in a million myriad ways to what I am familiar with. I want to go back, revisit some places, explore new ones, have more (deeper/weird/funny/baffling/challenging/enriching) conversations with the same people, and again with as yet unmet friends.

And I would really like another bag of those weird little carrots.

Have you ever visited somewhere and realised you were in some – or all – ways, a long way from home? What has made you think differently about where you live, or how others live? Is there somewhere you would love to visit/again?

About Kellie Purcill

lives way on the other side of the planet in her native Australia and gives thanks for the internet regularly. She loves books, her boys, panna cotta, collecting words, being a redhead and not putting things in order of importance when listing items. She credits writing as a major contributing factor to surviving her life with sanity mostly intact, though her (in)sanity level is subject to change without warning.

21 thoughts on “Baby Carrots are WEIRD”

  1. The first time I went to Europe, I just felt fat, frumpy, and stupid. Everyone there seemed sleek, chic, and smart (all those multi-lingual people!). And very few of them seemed to have children. Upon returning home, I realized that a European lifestyle is not even possible where I live. If I see an adult riding a bike to work here, I assume it's because they lost their licence to a DUI. No one walks anywhere here — but you can't really; everything's so spread out and separated. The buildings are short and ugly. Things are bigger and spread out here; you can't live the 'walk to the store everyday for the day's groceries' thing here. And I thought, why in the world would ANYONE ever want to come visit this brown, ugly desert I live in? But, I guess wide open spaces would be a novelty to them and everyone owning cars (large trucks and SUVs mostly), huge refrigerators and Costco memberships.

    I would love to go to Europe again. Maybe northern Europe/Scandanavia. My sis lives in Switzerland, so we have been able to visit her (and surrounding countries) 3 times so far, the last time being a whole family affair. I haven't felt out of place the last 2 times we've gone — even with 4 kids in tow. I am OK knowing that people will be able to pick out that we are Americans, while at the same time knowing that I don't totally stick out and feeling much more comfortable there.

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  2. My mom is Canadian, and when I was young, we'd visit my grandparents in Alberta every year. We were always delighted to exchange our boring, green dollars for Canadian dollars. My dad would always sing the line from the Beatles song, "You never give me your money, you always send me your funny papers…"

    I loved all of the candy and treats we could only get in Canada — we were eating Cadbury chocolate long before it came to the States. The food, the different brands, the French on all of the packaging — it was all exotic to me as a little girl, but it was also home.

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  3. I am American and have lived in England for 13 years. When I first moved here, apple flavoured soda pop was AMAZING. I also marveled over money, and spent far too long counting it out at the checkout counter. Squash was another baffling food item – a super concentrated "juice" that you combine with water. When we first encountered it, my brother drank an entire glass, undiluted. The look on his face is a memory I will keep forever.

    I have kept my accent and certain slang words and colloquialisms of my youth, which makes me stand out from the crowd pretty much wherever we go. I have grown used to being stared at, whispered about and having strangers ask me where I'm from and do I know so-and-so from Florida? (for the record, no.)

    When I went back to America for a visit a few years ago, the feeling of freedom and release, of being anonymous, was astounding. I loved every second of it.

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  4. Great post! I love your humor. "Bubbler" = water fountain in Rhode Island too! Except it sounds more like "bubblah" with the RI accent…

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  5. We visited Victoria, BC and I was struck by the sausages served with our eggs. Huge! and yummy…..also they seemed to love walking. Big on exercise, those folks. I would never fit in.

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  6. Internationally, my experience is limited to tourist Mexico. But man they had good fish! Fresh does make a difference. I also found that I like shrimp if I don't think about it too much. And that I genuinely don't like salmon, but I do like flounder.

    When my husband went to London on business, he thought it was funny to hear everybody speaking English, but not his kind of English. And he hated the chips – they were soggy and tasteless. Then his coworkers talked him into trying marmite on toast, which he couldn't even swallow. 🙂 he couldn't believe they ate it so much.

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  7. I lived out of the US growing up (but was an American). When we would come visit, the US meant really hot cars when you got back in the car, bad chocolate, life savers, A&W Rootbeer, sales tax that you had to add in your head, large stores, cold air-conditioning (can you tell we always visited in summer), TV with more than 3 channels, wide WIDE streets, big cars (it was the 70s and 80s), large stores, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese (extras taken home in a suitcase for birthdays), the money was still exciting just because it was different.

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  8. Strollerblader, you need to go visit Oregon. One of the weird things about the Us is how wide it is and how many different cultures are within it…. In Oregon, half of my friends biked to work because they wanted to, and then did fiftymilers on Saturday…for fun. And, interestingly, the climate and land there is a lot more similar to, say, Southern Italy, than most places in the US. Here, in SC, if someone is biking to work it's because they live within a mile, or because they were dui'ed out of a license. ACtually, here in Sc, most people that lose them try to drive even without a license, and then are irate that they get caught. Not all of us here are idiots, but I sure wondered about that growing up…

    I love going to the World Markets and such here because there are SO many things that aren't available here in US. But why I wish I could travel more involves the reasoning that there are so many ideas and concepts that we Americans should be exposed to all over the world, but aren't in our daily life… concepts like helping others, like being fiscally intelligent, like communities that work together…. things that happen in small enclaves here, but not in general. We try to fix our homes, and are thought of as completely insane. I mean, I do weird things like offer stuff to other people for free, just to get rid of it. I am giving fabric to the middle school for a project they are doing, and I think the art teacher is surprised… happily, but still. There is so much which SHOULD be part of our culture but is not.

    And baby carrots freak me out, too. I mean, there are several types, and some aren't shaved, but the cheap ones mostly are, and SERIOUSLY? We won't eat the peelings and we are too lazy to chop them up and we don't like slightly misshapen carrots, so we're using a ton of electricity to make them all standardized and regulation shapes and sizes? Just like our people? Who won't eat carrots anyway because they prefer twinkies?

    I want to visit you, Kel. You can giggle over my accent, btw. (It's not much, nobody here thinks I have one, but if I visit Utah, they giggle at me a bit)

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  9. For me, I feel farther from home when I go back to it. Kyrgyzstan is supposed to be completely different from the US and everyone expects that, but when we're back in the US, it seems like we ought to be regular Americans and we're not. My littlest is having the hardest time adjusting- Kyrgyzstan is all he knows.

    I wish I could have brought some Central Asian food back with me, but most of it is fresh- convenience food isn't common there, or it's usually nasty. I miss the naan, the laghman, the spice and vegetable bazaars, jusay, samsas, oromo, borsak, ashlyamfu, and so much more. I can make a lot of it here (and I found jusay and garlic stalks today!), but I miss eating it there.

    And the carrots look so weird to me too. Even the regular carrots are way skinnier in the US and it's harder to julienne them. And they're always orange. In the south of Kyrgyzstan, they're yellow.

    It's also hard when you love a place like Kyrgyzstan (or nearly anywhere in the Muslim world), but nearly everyone in the US either knows nothing about it or has a negative impression of it.

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  10. .

    Being from Kern County (where baby carrots come from), the whole process of growing a carrot three babies long, cutting into thirds, and spinning (originally done in machines designed for string beans) is the normalest thing possible.

    I am shocked—shocked!—to learn the rest of the world is not the same as Kern County.

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  11. Ha! I love this post. We still need to co-write a screenplay revealing all the funky US/Oz differences.

    Your visit gave us a permanent and undying love not only for you and yours but all Australians. Any time we meet an Aussie we feel sure they must be cool since they come from the same continent as you (though I can think of a few who most definitely are NOT COOL, off to comment on your other blog.).

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  12. This was a fun post. I really haven't been anywhere except most States in the western United States. There is so much to see and to know and experience. Growing up in Washington State on the west side just south of the Canadian border was a completely different experience than what my husband had in Yuma, Arizona (one of the hottest places in the States). We laugh at some of them. For instance, he spent far more time in the water (water skiing, swimming, you name it) than I did. It was hot and that is how they cooled off. The water in the NW is cold and the weather had to be really hot to want to swim in it. For all the dry sunny weather they had, they did not spend tons of time outside. It was too hot. We spent as much time as we could outside, (even in the rain). Very few events and outings were canceled because of rain. My old roommates say I had an accent – it tended to lean toward Canadian. My old roommates also thought big open fields were incredibly beautiful. Me? Give me green, water, trees, and big, pointy mountains. Even though I have not traveled the world every place I go has something to good to offer.

    Baby carrots are weird and a staple at this house. I am thankful that I can save a few minutes and just grab a few when packing for a school lunch.

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  13. Wonderful post. I can relate in many ways. So as far as living in different countries. . . I've lived in Sweden, Israel, and now Saudi Arabia. I still get culture shock when going back to the U.S.

    I would love to write more, but I should be finishing up my primary lesson preparation!

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  14. I love to go to grocery stores when I travel. It's so fun to see the different types of food that people live on in different countries. I always stock up on candy and treats – it's a great way to use up extra currency and makes for cheap souveniers (if the chocolate lasts long enough to actually make it home, which it usually doesn't)

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  15. We had to move several times when we were raising our family, and so we lived in different ecosystems of the US. I tried to find the unique things about each area in which we lived. Everywhere has something that they are proud of and love to share. I miss some of the food that I learned to love, and that you can only get in that area. When you embrace the things that the locals love (sometimes they might seem odd) then you endear yourself to your new neighbors and make new friends. I loved the adventure of it all.

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