The English don’t eat English muffins, the Russians laugh at what we call Russian dressing and the French wouldn’t recognize a piece of French toast if you wrapped it in a crêpe and threw it at ‘em. Why is that? Because we just make this stuff up, that’s why.
Nothing illustrates our pseudo-naming practice more vividly than the humble little French fried potato, or as we more commonly call ‘em, French fries. The rest of the English speaking world call them chips. Chips of what, they never say, but chips none the less. First off, French fries are not French at all; they were first prepared in Belgium back in the late 1600’s. Although the French enjoy these wonderful sources of sodium and fat they more correctly call them pommes frites which literally translates to fried apples. Fried Apples, you yell. Yep, the French have a charming name for a potato. They call potatoes, pomme de terres which translates to apples of the earth. Isn’t that cute? Shouldn’t they then more correctly call their French fries pommes de terre frites? But who am I to tell the French anything.
Then there is the class of food products that remind us of some foreign culture so we just name our stuff after them whether they like it or not. Like French bread, Swiss cheese, Dutch chocolate and Italian sausage. To be properly named after these countries this stuff would have to had come from that country, like Canadian whiskey or English tea. No we attach other people’s names to our products without regard to what that nation thinks or without their approval. Take the Swiss, they don’t have a national or “Swiss cheese,” they have a number of wonderful cheeses including an Emmentaler which has those funny little holes in it. I know, let’s call all white cheeses with holes, Swiss cheese. And while we’re at it, I’ve eaten all over Switzerland and I know a bunch of Swiss people and never once have I ever had a Swiss steak in Switzerland. Why we have the nerve to call cubed steaks cooked with onions in a tomato sauce Swiss steak is beyond me and the seven million people of Switzerland.
How about the balls of 3M? Way back before political correctness they named their new cellophane tape, Scotch Tape. Did they seek the approval of the United Kingdom or did they care what the Scottish people thought? No, the story goes that a customer complained that 3M was manufacturing its new cellophane tape too cheaply, and told a 3M engineer to, “take this tape back to your stingy Scotch bosses and tell them to put more adhesive on it.” Take that Scotland, we named a cheap and stingy product after you. So there.
This naming habit must have come to us from England. I think they used to sit on their stuffy little island looking across the channel to see how much fun the natives were having on the continent. Everything they saw that was a little different from their stodgy ways or seemed the least bit naughty they called French. Who else would have named all of these things after the French: to French-fry, a French cuff, a French curl, a French kiss, French doors, French vanilla, French chalk, French Dressing, a French curve, a French horn, French onion soup, the French Quarter, French lingerie, a naughty French postcard and God forbid a French tickler.
Oh and while we’re talking about the frogs, that small town that Larry Bird hales from, French Lick, Indiana, is not named after what you might think. It was originally a French trading post built near a spring and salt lick. Got it . . . a salt lick.
We’ve named some unusual things Dutch that don’t seem to have anything to do with tulips, wooden shoes or windmills. How about: Dutch treat, Dutch doors, Dutch Elm Disease, Dutch ovens, Dutch kettles, and a Dutch uncle. Having an elm disease named after them, like they invented it, is a low blow. Is this any way to treat our friends?
And every once in a while we do something great and give the credit to someone else. Did you know that hard taco, with its crisply fried corn tortilla shell, was invented in the US. Yep, we did it, and we also invented sukiyaki, albeit they were Japanese-Americans that did it, and we introduced sukiyaki back to Japan where it’s now a popular native dish. We didn’t name these inventions Gringo Tacos or Nisei Sukiyaki did we? No, we let those folks take credit for our creativity and originality. Aren’t we great?
And who can not take pride in what we’ve done with the simple pizza pie. Did you know that the Ancient Greeks covered their bread with oils, herbs and cheese and they called this πίτα or pita, meaning pie. The Neapolitans invented the modern version of the pizza pie and they finally got around to adding cheese in about 1889, but that was the extent of their imagination. It wasn’t until our own Italian-Americans went to work on pizza that it became the world’s favorite junk food. The old Greeks would roll over in the crypts, as would the modern-day Neapolitans, if they ever bit into a Domino’s Honolulu Hawaiian Pizza with its sliced ham, smoked bacon, juicy pineapple, roasted red peppers and two kinds of cheese. Now that’s progress.
There you have it, we should take pride that the rest of the world hasn’t named a bunch of undesirable or disgusting things — American whatevers. They seem satisfied with just referring to us ugly Americans. Maybe, just maybe, we’re too ugly to name things after or they may have secret names that they won’t tell us. But maybe it’s better to be forgotten or overlooked than be remembered as others have been for their not-so-nice contributions like: the German Measles, a Mexican Stand-off, an Irish Car Bomb, or my favorite, Chinese Water Torture.