Thanksgiving or The Can Opener Gap
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Do you remember the missile gap? Probably not, it was almost 50 years ago. Someone had counted up and discovered that the Soviet Union had more missiles than the US. Then there was the space gap around the same time—maybe before. And now there’s the health care gap, where instead of being Number Two to Russia’s Number One, the US is 37th behind almost every other developed—or even semi-developed—country in the world. And now they’re talking about the education gap, where the US ranks in the upper 20s when it comes to science and math scores.
But there is one gap that has gone almost unnoticed—or at least unremarked—until now. And that’s the Can Opener Gap.
Now this is a gap that is pretty easy to be unaware of. As a matter of fact, I only really notice it around this time of the year. And why is that? Because of Thanksgiving! Each year when Thanksgiving rolls around, you can hear my cry, “Where’s the (bleeping) can opener?” It’s become part of the holiday tradition, as much as pumpkin pie and roast turkey. Well, even more so than roast turkey, since I’m a vegetarian and I’m only willing to bend so far for my non-vegetarian kids. I do serve them turkey nuggets, but that’s as far as I’ll go.
This weekend I will stop at one of the American grocery stores in Paris to start my Thanksgiving shopping. I prefer the appropriately named Thanksgiving (that’s the name of the store) to The Real McCoy mostly because it’s more hands-on. You get to pick up what you’re going to buy and check the labels for the ingredients. McCoy’s is a place where almost all the food is behind a counter and you have to ask for what you want. At Thanksgiving you pick the stuff out yourself, so you can read the labels and pick and choose, and un-pick and un-choose. And there’s also the fact that in the 20-some years I’ve been going to these two different stores, the personnel at McCoy’s seems to be always changing—probably because the employees seem to be students—whereas at Thanksgiving, it’s almost always been the same couple who are there behind the cash register—a French man and his American wife. And when you buy enough stuff at Thanksgiving, they put it in a heavy-weight plastic shopping bag that I personally use over and over again.
I’ll get stuffing mix and canned sweet potatoes and canned cranberries and canned pumpkin pie filling—I know! I could always do what I used to do which is to buy a piece of “potiron”—a French pumpkin that’s deeply ridged, a very dark orange color that’s almost brown and flesh that’s about 5-7 inches thick. And a “piece” of it is enough! A whole potiron would probably make at least a dozen pies. It has a very tough hide, so peeling it is quite a challenge, and then even the flesh is fairly hard to cut. But cut it I could, then boil it and afterward put it through the food processor, and finally use this processed pumpkin flesh to make my pies. I used to do all that. But that’s a lot of time and work, and I’ve gotten lazy lately, so I’ll buy the cans.
Anyway, with all these cans, I’ll also have to search through my kitchen drawer where, way in the back under the tea ball and the melon baller and straws from McDonald’s and the knives I never use, there may be my can opener. The reason it’s so far back in the drawer, hiding beneath obscure kitchen utensils, is that, living in France, I never need it. And that’s because, in France, it seems that all—make that ALL*—cans have pull tab tops. It doesn’t matter if it’s Del Monte canned tomatoes or a generic brand of kidney beans, if it’s a relatively expensive can of olives or the cheapest no-name can of peas, I know that when I get back home, all I’ll have to do is to yank that tab, and the can is open. No can opener required.
Anyway. Why are the cans from America—supposedly the most advanced nation of the planet—without these tabs? Why do I—once a year, and for most Americans every day of the year—have to dig out a can opener? Maybe because it seems that everyone there has an electric can opener sitting on their kitchen counter. (I don’t have a kitchen counter in my tiny Paris kitchen. I do my “counter work” on the top of my tiny Paris refrigerator.) Or maybe they just don’t realize how much easier life can be with one less kitchen utensil to have to chase around after—or to have sitting on their counter. Or maybe they’re just afraid of the 21st century. It wouldn’t be the first time.
*Correction: According to Wikipedia France, 77% of French cans had pull tabs in 2002 and only 86% of French cans had pull tabs in 2007. I assume the other 14% could be restaurant sized cans or possibly in the last three years, the percentage may have again increased. At any rate, if there are still non-pull tab cans in France, I haven’t seen them. Unless maybe they’re counting in their statistics American cans of pumpkin pie filling. After all, I‘m not the only American in Paris.
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