July 13th, 2010 5:33 pm | by RUTH BROWN News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP

Diary of an Immigrant: It's Peanut Butter and Jelly Time!


WW Presents another installment of our Australian music intern's diary of moving to Portland.

Sunday, July 4 was my one-month anniversary in Portland. There were fireworks and concerts and the whole city came out to celebrate, which I thought was lovely.

Anyway, I decided to commemorate my first month as an honorary Seppo by doing something quintessentially American.

I thought about buying a gun or a Hummer, but I can't shoot or drive, so instead I bought my first peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

To me, the “PB&J” (as the kids say), epitomizes the weird relationship most Australians and other non-American Westerners have with the United States.

Australians grow up surrounded by American culture. Saturated in it, even. As a kid, I watched Sesame Street and Disney, ate McDonald's and Kraft Mac ‘n Cheese, listened to Public Enemy and wore Charlotte Hornets jerseys — even though I'd never seen an NBA game in my life. As a teenager, I watched MTV and Hollywood blockbusters, idolized American rock and punk bands, ate Pizza Hut and nachos, and played Tony Hawk and NBA Jam.


“Bloody cultural imperialism,” older Australians would sneer when they saw us wearing White Sox baseball caps and Pantera t-shirts covered in confederate flags. But they were just "dags" — although most of us had never seen a baseball game outside of the movies, and definitely had no idea what the Dixie flag meant, we felt intimately familiar with these logos.

And so it is with the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Every Australian knows what it is, but none of us has ever eaten one. Even though “jelly” is what we call JELL-O, I guarantee almost any Aussie kindergartner could tell you that it's a sandwich filled with peanut butter and jam, because that's what kids on Nickelodeon eat.

Anyway, I'm not trying to guilt, criticism or blame anyone. It is what it is. But many Americans I meet either presume that I've just stepped into a totally alien new world (“Wow, you speak such good English for a foreigner!”) OR that I come a culture that is totally identical (“You don't celebrate Fourth of July in Australia?”), and it's difficult to explain that it's both: I'm experiencing things I feel completely familiarity with “for the first time”.


My workmates were shocked I'd never eaten a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Yes, I know what they are. Yes, I've had a peanut butter sandwich. Yes, I've had a jam sandwich. No, I've never, ever even contemplated putting them together. Because we just… don't. We eat Vegemite and cheese (or Vegemite and lettuce. Or, my personal preference, Vegemite and avocado.)

But in the name of cross-cultural harmony, I decided to try one. I'll be honest with you: it wasn't your mamma's PB&J — no amount of seeing Wonder Bread on TV could prepare me for how sweet most American bread is, and life's too short for cheap condiments. This was a fairly gourmet version from Kenny and Zuke's on artisan bread, with what appeared to be good quality peanut butter and jam (jelly, whatever) made from something that may have actually grown on a tree in a previous life.

And it was pretty damn good. The flavour confused me at first: was it sweet or savoury? Fruity or nutty? The jam and peanut butter battled it out for my tastebuds, but ended up surrendering into a delicious alliance of sugary, salty, fatty dough. I'd rather eat it for dessert than lunch, but I would probably eat it again.

Next up: Twinkies. All in the name of multi-culturalism, of course.
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