I grew up in a part of the U.S. where “Coke” is a generic term. Like when you go to a restaurant and the waitress asks “What kind of Coke do you want?”. Sprite, Dr. Pepper, and root beer are all appropriate answers to that question, as is, of course, Coke.
I’ve had Coke all over the world. It doesn’t all taste the same, but it’s still Coke enough, and it’s one of the safest things to order when abroad, especially for a picky eater like me. [I once packed 48 Pop Tarts for two weeks in rural Russia; my traveling companions made fun of me at first, until by the end of the second week, they were sheepishly asking if I had any left.] I’ve seen some funny foods in other countries. Horse meat in Belgium (a delicacy), mystery pork (we think) in Russia, duck feet and “fake shrimp” in China. The fake shrimp is hard to describe: it looked an awful lot like those pastel, speckled jelly beans we find only at Easter…the pink ones, except larger and slimy. I didn’t try them. I also skipped the fish brains at a dinner party in Japan, though I knew it was impolite. A colleague’s response when I later told him I hadn’t tried them was “Good call.” He said they were just what you’d expect fish brains to be like. I have no regrets.
Another of my colleagues was a very flexible eater, willing to try anything. He’d declare his ordering strategy just before we headed to dinner. On any given night it might be ordering the third item down on the far right column of the menu, or ordering whatever the person at the table directly behind him was having. I was in awe of his bravery. But my bravest coworker was hungry enough to eat a hot dog at 2 a.m. at a 7-11 in Thailand. He survived.
I eventually stole a technique from a big, burly Southern boy from Louisiana who was living in Singapore. To avoid being rude when offered unidentifiable food, he would simply say he was allergic. So today when I’m faced with unfamiliar food in an unfamiliar part of the world, I just smile and shake my head and say “Oh thank you, but I’m allergic.” And then I order a Coke.
“You know more of a road by having traveled it than by all the conjectures and descriptions in the world.” –William Hazlitt