I am actually surprised that the European Union is negotiating a free trade pact with the United States, TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership). Effectively, the United States could join the most useful "layer" of the European Union, the European free trade zone.
For decades, the EU bureaucrats have been inventing increasingly complex regulations on names, genetically modified foods, concentration of one nutrient or another in each food, and so on, and so on. And suddenly, they would effectively allow the U.S. products that don't have to obey these conditions? Have they forgotten their past? Has there been a revolution in Brussels that has replaced socialists by free marketeers?
Obviously, as a free market champion, I am a defender of TTIP. The new competition could be threatening for some but it would be an advantage for others and the latter would prevail in the overall tally. Free trade makes growth faster. It pushes the people, companies, and nations to do things they're really good at. It gives the consumers more diverse options, more luxurious options, and/or cheaper options. And if corporations and consumers may become stronger relatively to the governments, it's surely good news.
Strangely enough, the main stumbling block seems to be about names of food products. In particular, Greeks hate when some American producers use the name "feta" for feta, a white easy-to-break, slightly sour cheese from the Balkans.
I have discussed a similar problem, the EU bans on the names of Czech food products, in the past. Among other things, the EU has banned the term "butter spread" for the traditional Czech butter spread ("pomazánkové máslo") because it doesn't contain a sufficient percentage of fat (this is highly ironic because some of the same people often scream that a high fat content in food is bad for you). Similarly, our domestic rum can no longer be called "rum". We call it "The Domestic One" on the bottles (pronounce: "rum").
The Greek situation is very different than the Czech one. In the case of the "butter spread" and "rum", the Czechs are clearly the victims because someone else wants to ban the widely used Czech words for some of the traditional Czech or Czechoslovak products even on our very territory. In the case of the Greeks, they want to prevent others from using the word "feta". This Greek pride about this word is ludicrously excessive. For example, the value of the word on the Czech or Slovak market is zero. No one knows what it is. It's surely not among the 20 bestselling types of cheese and we call it the Balkan cheese, anyway. Moreover, a similar Slovak and East European cheese "brynza" is much more well-known, too. In Yugoslavia, similar cheeses are called Sirene.
But yes, it would be fun if it were more common for Americans to buy common European food products and vice versa. I've tried both and they're complementary from many points of view. As an American reader, you can't imagine how many products you're overlooking – how poor your life is – if you don't have access for example to common Czech snacks. There are 1776 YouTube videos in which Americans (or at least Britons) are devouring Czech snacks at least for 5-10 minutes. A few examples. ;-)
A cute TrudTV was posting similar videos where she tasted food from various countries. But she only broke the 30,000 viewers threshold in April when she posted a story about Czech snacks. She starts with chestnuts ("kaštany"), a Czechoslovak dark (or coffee?) chocolate product we ate already during communism. She likes it but it's not exceptional.
Jojo Vexta are small sweet soft marshmallow-like colorful rubber cubes. I actually occasionally buy it, too. ;-) It is produced in Czechia but the producer is obviously Nestlé Czechia, a West European multinational corporation. I am actually not able to figure out whether Jojo Vexta is commonly sold in Western Europe, too. It could be a typical Czech-made sweet product that was simply bought and is currently controlled by Nestlé. The white one tastes like lemonade, the peachy one tastes like orange, the violet one like marzipan, and so on. Be sure that she has done some quality research. ;-)
The next product is Deli XXL chocolate bar. Again, this is something we were buying often during communism – a typically Czechoslovak product. Except that it's close enough to Mars or perhaps Milky Way so that you could suspect that it wasn't quite an independent Czechoslovak invention. But it was produced in separation and the difference from Mars and similar bars is substantial. The Deli with the green pistachio flavor tasted like mint ice cream to her. There are different flavors of Deli.
Brumík is a sponge cake snack for children, named after a little bear or its sound. Soft like a baguette but filled with strawberry juices or honey instead of sugar, and so on. Some Figaro chocolate bar follows. You find similar chocolates in every nation, Figaro is one of the serious "brands" on our market. She tried a bubbly version of the chocolate bar. She loved the popcorn-flavored Tic Tac. I have no idea whether it's a specically Czech variation of the product. Oh my God, they are so nice! And the boxes are much bigger than the regular Tic Tac boxes. ;-)
Needless to say, her relatively successful video had a followup. 10,000 instead of 30,000 views now – still much more than her average. Jojo Hippos – like Jojo Vexta but harder, more juicy, and more similar to Haribo gummi bears. (This Jojo subrand produces about 15 similar bagged products with different shapes – snakes, fruits, whatever – and different consistency and taste.) A raspberry Deli. And a Fidorka which she sensibly describes as a round KitKat. We had Fidorkas since the communist years, too. A Milka chocolate with some flavor – in that case, I really doubt that there is anything specifically Czech about the product. Ms Milka is a purple cow who lives in the Alps (it is even mentioned in the most famous Czech rock band's song about the truth and manipulation, Jacket: "Who Knows"). Tuc crackers – well, we got used to them but they are as Belgian as you can get. It's problematic to pick a few products in a Czech supermarket because there are tons of imported products and tons of products produced domestically according to foreign recipes. But there are also many traditional Czech products. It's sometimes hard to distinguish.
These two American guys try Czech snacks. Some pretzels or whatever that have no flavor and nothing. Clearly, those were just some German products, not real Czech ones. (Oops, correction: Poex Mini is Czech but it is meant for very small children.) They continue with Vesna (a Slavic, not regular Czech, word for spring, the season) and they love it. I don't like it too much, it's kind of sour, if I remember well. Pineapple slices (surely not too refined or famous product). Cat tongues: they're not sure whether it's food for humans or cats. For humans, of course: that's just some very ordinary chocolate shaped as cat tongues. The price remained high because it used to have fancy packaging – like gifts etc. – but the chocolate isn't really expensive in any way, I think.
And a tripe soup. That's a typically Czech product – the most popular soup in cheap Czech restaurants, I think. Tripes are pieces of stomachs (they thought it was tomatoes LOL), if you need to know, but the sauce is like goulash but better. After having eaten these tripes, they revealed that they may be vegetarians! Too bad. ;-) A pudding – without rice: Why should there be rice in a pudding? Some Colgate toothpastes but with Czech flavors that are not necessarily common elsewhere.
The followup attracted 80,000 views, too. I think that they started with a typical Czech cake/broad with puppy seeds, if I saw well. These are so ordinary things from the Czech rural cuisine but it's hard for me to translate it to English because they're so uncommon in the West. They tried the buchty (cake/broad) with "povidla" (plum butter). A duck paste: in some sense, it's ordinary but duck products like that are pretty expensive, I think. Carslbad wafers (oplatky), "Colonade". You really have to love wafers, they say. I probably do because this is a fine product, I think. And maybe because we are always imagining that the most famous guests of the Carlsbad spa town are eating this stuff on the Colonade every day. ;-)
Then they drink a strawberry syrup concentrate – without diluting it LOL. I think that they didn't realize it was a concentrate in the whole video. A bizarre tea for women I've never heard of.
But then you have this supertypical Czechoslovak product that appears in many videos and that became a cult of a sort: Kofola. You have clones of Coke and Pepsi everywhere and you might think that this traditional communist Czechoslovak product is another one. Except that it's really substantially different from Coke. It's so different that some people love Coke and hate Kofola – and many others see these beverages reversed. The communist brand was resuscitated during capitalism and it became so popular again that this formerly "super cheap socialist imitation of Coke" is actually being sold at a higher price than Coke these days! ;-) It has lots of cute commercials, usually with girls who have crush on boys, often nude ones. "When you love her, there's nothing to solve," and so on. In the newest one, a hot girl tries to pick a male climber. His climbing partner suddenly drops – it's his girlfriend – and a girl battle begins. The hot girl wanted to drink a lemonade but the actual couple shares Kofola instead.
They pick Pilsner Urquell here from Pilsen as the beer which is not extraordinary because lots of it (but not enough!) is exported to the U.S. But I think it would be very interesting for Americans to try some of the other, perhaps cheaper Czech beer brands. Or the black beers etc. In Czechia, you may buy the cheapest 0.5 liter bottle of beer from $0.25 or so. Just like in Kuwait, gasoline is cheaper than water, you may get beers cheaper than water here, too. It has to be so in the beer nation.
Americans try Czech food. So they pick snacks in the supermarket, too. ;-) Some nameless non-Czech crackers start the show. It's followed by cheese bowls. And potato chips with the flavor of a typically Czech, "Hungarian" salami. She speaks Czech well – it's clearly fraudulent, her name is Štěpánka so she only sounds like "another American". She must have been Czech in her past life (maybe she emigrated as a kid?) even though her brother Matthew may speak English only. But I think that he looks Czech.
Tatranka, traditional Czechoslovak wafer bars with chocolate. "Tatranka is energy packed for your journey" – recommended for trip to mountains (such as the High Tatras, therefore the name). Surprisingly, Orion cat tongues are exposed again. I think that this product is heavily overrepresented. And they try some other chocolates and sodas and the Czech M&M's which have been called "lentilky" for decades (like "lentils" or "lenses", according to the shape). Again, they're substantially different from M&M's. Various Orion's chocolate products – Orion, like Figaro, is another major "chocolate brand" here. They find a surprise toy in a Kinder egg-like egg. Matthew hates the liquid chocolate. And kolaches which are well-known in the Czech countryside and parts of Texas...
Their followup was dedicated exclusively to Kofola. They drank it and it's so terrible that it's good! ;-) They try it and spend a long time by figuring out what's going on. She (I think correctly) says that they tried to make a replica of CocaCola but something went terribly wrong. ;-) Well, in 1960, they actually wanted to find a usage for some excess caffeine from coffee roasting. It's so bad that it's good! It's more citrusy, more liquorishy, more caffeine, plus caramel etc. Maybe cinnamon is inside (only Xmas edition!). Paranormal healers love to present it as the most deadly drink in the world but all of it was probably pseudoscience. If you've never heard of Kofola, you must try it sometimes!
(Japanese women love some Czech food, too – 100,000 views – and they're welcome to the free trade zone, too, LOL. Wow, Part 1 actually has 250,000 views. That could be a promising start for exports to Japan.)
You know, there are some habits what people eat, what tastes they expect from food of some given shapes and colors, and how they mix it. But I think that most of it is culture that may be reprogrammed.
Companies have to know this culture, however. So in numerous tests, we've been told that the products sold in Germany and Czechia under identical names in identical packages actually have a substantially different chemical composition. The usual Czech comment is that "Czechs are being served trash and the quality products go to Germany". Except that the detailed descriptions of the differences confirm this simply rule only sometimes. Sometimes, it may seem to be the other way around. There is really no reason for a monotonic inequality – the products are sold for approximately equal prices in both countries and there's competition on both sides. But the producers just say that they've investigated the tastes of the nations and they got different results! I guess that Czechs may toleratee e.g. more chemistry etc. but they're more sensitive about some cheap industrially produced types of meat and Germans are sensitive about other things.
It's plausible that there's a biological reason for the different national tastes but I actually doubt it. I think that the people in the nations are trained, since their childhood, to eat certain things and to claim that certain things taste great. And most of the widely shared opinions about "this food is junk" is a matter of group think, too – and group think usually stops at the language borders. But if you live in a different country, you may get reprogrammed, too. I largely did.
I don't remember too many examples but I know that when I was doing my first shoppings in the U.S. supermarkets, I was simply missing many ordinary things I would normally buy in Czech supermarkets. The selection looked so lousy in the U.S. of the late 1990s. In some cases, I found some approximate equivalents. In other cases, I reprogrammed myself to eat something substantially different.
Needless to say, I faced some of the similar (but less pronounced) problems when I returned to Czechia, too. So when I got used to buying squash at Rutgers (learned it from Zuzana S.) but this squash just isn't common in Czechia, here. Similarly, one has to get used to very different hierarchies of the prices. The cheapest Czech-like lunches from Czechia would be very expensive in the U.S. On the other hand, the McDonald's and even Mexican burrito etc. chains – cheapest in the U.S. – belong among the more expensive ones here in Czechia (the culture is arguably higher here, however). Many things are reversed in rather arbitrary and crazy ways.
Those are some of the reasons why I think that the greater diversity of the products on both continents would ultimately be good for all the consumers as well as almost all producers. Here in Czechia, we actually have lots of food from other countries. This is particularly the case in Lidl, a popular (originally German) supermarket chain, that is organizing a "U.S. week", "British week" (now), "XXL week", "Greek week", "French week", "post-Christmas week", "Italian week" etc. etc. every week. So every week, you may find some national products to be overrepresented, you may buy something that wasn't available in previous months.
I think that such things should be common in the U.S. supermarkets, too.