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American Cultural Knowledge for Confused New Zealanders

Note: I am starting this after 6 years in the US, so there are things that I have doubtless learned and forgotten. It is highly editorial. It is also ©1993 Michael Witbrock.
  • Twinkies Are cylindrical sponge cakes filled with an extremely sugary white paste (I hesitate to use the word cream or even creme to describe the substance, but, be warned, it's usually what's in things described as "creme filled" in the US). Popular belief is that they have a shelf life of around 40 years. In fact, it's about a week, but I don't have the reference, and anyway, no one will believe you.
  • Pop tarts These are flat pastry pockets filled with a substance like jam but with more sugar and less flavour. For good measure, they are coated with extremely sweet icing. Sounds reasonable enough so far, doesn't it but ... get this... they are actually designed to be heated in a toaster and eaten for breakfast. I sent some of these to my sister in NZ. She wrote back saying "these explain a lot about Americans". And so they do.
  • Fruit Roll up A fruit roll up is coagulated sugary fruit pulp on a wax-paper backing, rolled up. I would like to point out that even though I am an native of this country, I am not responsible. (Though I will admit to a slight guilty enjoyment of them)
  • Graham crackers are digestive biscuits.
  • Chemists aren't called chemists. They are called drugstores. This is, no doubt, because they sell cigarettes. Have they no shame?
  • The term "Doofus" is pejorative, meaning, approximately, "idiot". It is in the register used by impolite children. (this is to explain some usage on S.C.NZ). The adjective is "doofy" e.g. "My friend is a doofus. He wears a doofy tie." (thanks to pelms@canterbury).
  • The term "Cooties" refers to an unspecified disease, somewhat like "the dreaded lurgy" in NZ English. Its most common usage however, is to denote the "boy germs" or "girl germs" that children expect to get off each other. Given the countervailing trend on US sitcoms, to insist on an active (sexual) interest in children of the other sex from children as young as 7 or 8, belief in cooties could do with some encouragement.
  • Turkey Butterball is a large manufacturer of poultry. Their toll free number is 1-800-323-4848. They will tell you that you should get a pound to a pound and half of turkey per person.
  • Attitude, when used as a noun describing a quality possessed or projected by someone, means something akin to "arrogance". Examples "He's got attitude". "He was throwing attitude". Being described as having attitude is not a compliment.
  • Mr. Bubble is a brand of bubble bath.
  • The Lucille Ball show, and all other of her performances are held in high esteem (or at least remembered fondly). Mock them at your peril.
  • People from New York generally regard people from Los Angeles with disdain, which is reciprocated.
  • You are supposed to hate the telephone company. This is for historical reasons which ceased to be as valid after the forced break-up of the Bell System Monopoly.
  • Ralston Purina makes dog food. (this is to explain a post on
  • ©1993 Michael Witbrock

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