Eating Like an American by
(7 Stories)

Prompted By What We Ate

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I grew up in suburban Florida in the 1960s and early 70s, but I wasn’t having a typical Baby-Boomer life. My parents were English and they were much older than most of my friends’ parents, so our  habits at home were very different from those of “the Americans” who were my friends and our neighbors. For one thing, we ate dinner at home every day of the year except for my mother’s birthday, my father’s birthday, and, sometimes, their anniversary. My mother was a good cook and a devoted one, and she made us plain, traditional English meals that took her two hours a day to prepare. We had fairly formal meals, and our table manners were always under scrutiny. Sometimes we had guests join us for dinner, but we almost never went out. Eating in a restaurant was more unusual than a vacation (and on vacations, we usually stayed in rental cottages, so that my mother could prepare the meals).

At Burger King, we ate with our hands!

So it was quite exciting for me to be taken, with some friends, to a fast-food place once a week. This habit started when I was about 10 and attending a Wednesday-night bible school with my friends Karen and Missy; we were all taken there by Karen’s very religious mother. Mrs. H— would take us either to Burger King or Pizza Hut, alternately, on Wednesday evenings before we went to the church. Either one was fine with me, but I remember the Burger King food better. I think the usual meal was a hamburger and French fries, with a small Coke. This amazing array of salt, fat, and processed edibles was like a Thanksgiving feast to me, and the hedonistic pleasure of eating it all with our hands was as liberating and wild a thrill as I could imagine. The French fries were amazing — I’d barely ever had one before my tenth year, and they seemed like the most profoundly great thing one could eat — especially dipped in ketchup. I loved ketchup and greedily slathered extra ketchup onto the white-bread bun. I dipped fries into the little cup of ketchup with abandon. My friends said, “Jill’s a ketchup monster!” and that odd American reference to an American show I’d never seen but only heard about (Sesame Street) made me feel included in the culture and central to the experience. I was, one night a week, an American girl with her friends.

Profile photo of Gillian Kendall Gillian Kendall
Gillian Kendall is an American-Australian writer who has lived in five countries and eight states. She has been a barmaid, editorial assistant, English professor, tech writer, and parliamentary reporter. She’s called herself a feminist ever since she heard the term at Douglass College, the women’s branch of Rutgers University. The label has gotten her into a few arguments and once landed her a job at "Mademoiselle." She lives in Florida and does all sorts of writing: travel and nonfiction journalism, as well as fiction, essays, and memoirs.

Tags: Burger King, table manners, American food
Characterizations: right on!, well written


  1. John Zussman says:

    Wonderful story. I love the concept of French fries as “the most profoundly great thing one could eat.”

  2. Susan says:

    Welcome to America, Gillian! Pass the ketchup.

  3. Constance says:

    My mind boggles at the thought of your mom cooking for a couple of hours every day to put meals on the table. Trying to imagine your life before ketchup, let me guess, I’ll bet you were no stranger to HP Sauce.

  4. Gillian- I love how your story showed the contrast of your parents’ culture and the one in which you were growing up- I never would have even noted just getting to eat with one’s hands!

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