Monday, November 1, 2010

From Afar: Tesco Lasagna Sandwich

Islington Green Metro
25-29 Islington Green
London
N1 8DU
0845 6779864
www.tesco.com

by Beau Cadiyo

One Saturday morning I took a walk with Des Ayuno and Frank Ely. We stopped at a cash machine outside the Islington Tesco when I realized I had to go inside.

“Where’s he going?” I heard Frank ask behind me.
“He's going to get a lasagna sandwich,” Des replied.
“A what?”

I marched in and looked up and down the aisles, giving each a token glance without seeing the sandwich cooler. Finally, I asked a clerk, who pointed me back to the front of the store, which I'd vigorously strode past and thus missed completely. He followed the labels with his finger, and we'd almost given up when he said, “Ah there, we have one...no, two left.”

At 11 a.m. on a Saturday, they'd almost sold out.

I grabbed one and held it for a minute, jittery with anticipation. £2.20. A triangular plastic package with a cellophane window, and, inside, white bread bookending two layers of pasta, cheese, sauce and ground meat. What kind of meat? A true pilgrim would never ask.

When I got outside, Des and Frank were still waiting to take out money. They saw my prize and Frank – a gourmet chef – shook his head. Des leaned in to look at it the way one might look at a harmless animal secure in a cage, but shrank away when it was brought marginally closer to her face.

I have learned when living abroad that it's sometimes best to play into English stereotypes of American behavior. It's a subtle but effective form of manipulation. If you defy their expectations (i.e., with nuanced insight and intelligent sophistication), they feel they can't let down their guard around you, whereas if you act as they expect of the oafish American abroad, they feel validated and are less wary. This is entirely true even of people who should know better – like Frank, whom I’ve known for nearly three years, and Des, whom I’ve known for 15. Thus, I became the aggressive, pushy American stereotype. I ignored their protestations of disgust, ripped the cellophane open, pulled out half the sandwich and thrust it upon Des. Then I pulled out the other half for myself.

It worked. Despite her natural inclinations to the contrary, in the face of American pushiness, Des took a bite while Frank watched. Then she offered him a bite. Something about her face – perhaps its surprising equanimity, the continued chewing, the lack of total repulsion – made him take a bite without even a perfunctory shrug. As he was chewing, Des grabbed it back to take another bite, and then Frank did the same. Then Des finished it off.

There was no talking. We were all shocked: it wasn't actually bad. I wouldn't call it good – to me, the processed white bread and noodles were too carb-heavy and the texture didn't sit right in my mouth – but it actually sort of worked. There was enough sauce on it that the bread did not dry out, and Frank particularly praised the b├ęchamel. I think Des was just surprised that it didn’t make her want to vomit, and kept eating out of a kind of clinical curiosity – to see if she'd have some violent, negative reaction to it at some point.

I finished my half at 11:10 a.m. - exactly three hours after I’d walked my flag to the Tube and 24 hours before I'd have to get on it myself, to head to Heathrow. Over the course of the day we got gloriously drunk, ate oysters and pork belly and fish and lager bread and watched a documentary about the life and death of Arthur Russell until 3 a.m. My duties as transatlantic diplomat complete, I got five hours of sleep, packed and came back to the US, satisfied that I'd represented my country well.

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