I’m Dreaming of A Plain (Chocolate Digestive) Christmas

I’m not one of those expat Brits who spends his years abroad befriending only other Brits, all of them consuming British food and drink while watching British TV and football, searching out British newspapers either online or in print, listening to British music and complaining how crap the country they’ve moved to is compared to Britain. (To which, I’m always tempted to ask, “So why the f**k don’t you move back, you acne-ridden, ashen-faced, under-nourished, gap-toothed alcy.” At which I usually turn to the menfolk to say the same thing… Sorry, I’ve been reading Irvine Welsh again.)

Seriously, I like a pint of Fuller’s London Pride, I follow the Palace and I’m proud of Britain’s musical reputation (if not its turnover of trends), but I don’t need the fish and chips, the frozen Mars bars, the Lucozade and Irn Bru, The Sun, The Star, and The Mirror. I definitely don’t need ‘Cash In The Attic’ and ‘Benny Hill’ – which is just about they show on BBC America 24 hours a day – and I don’t miss the smoke, the alcoholism, and the violence.

Still, every Christmas, I get nostalgic for the foods of my childhood. So while in Brooklyn the weekend before last, I couldn’t help but visit my old neighborhood supermarket, an otherwise nondescript Key Food known for its corner full of British food and drink. (Park Slope had more than its share of UK expats to patronize such a store: this was also the street of The Chip Shop, the Curry Shop and The Gate.) There, I had a brief pang of longing for packets of Bird’s Custard, jars full of Lyon’s Treacle and bottles of Robinson’s Orange Juice and Ribena, which lasted until I studied the ingredients and remembered how tubby I was as a kid back when I subsisted on such foods.

Ha ha ha… In finding a photo of my favourite biscuit, I’ve just found out that McVitie’s parent company, United Biscuits, has been devoured by a partnership of The Blackstone Group (a private investment firm that originated in the USA) and PAI (a private ‘European’ equity firm). So much for my Brit-based nostalgia. Looks like McVitie’s is about as British as Arsenal or Chelsea Football Clubs.

I could not, however, turn down the opportunity to stock up on a miniature Christmas Pudding, a packet of Custard Creams, a box full of Yorkshire Tea, some HP Sauce and a couple of packets of McVitie’s Plain Chocolate Digestives. The others I could probably live without, but has there ever been a biscuit – I’m talking cookies to my fellow Yanks – that tasted so good? Admittedly, half their calories come from fat, but McVitie’s, like any good corporation, excuses itself by encouraging you to ‘Eat Healthily’ and ‘Keep Active’ on the side of the packet. (This only works if you a) can read and b) like to read the sides of biscuit packages.) They’re a bit of a luxury on these shores, at $4 a packet, but I’m freshly addicted. The bad news is that a store has opened up just outside of Woodstock that apparently deals in such British-style digestives. I may turn into a professional expat after all.

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December 2021