Ordering foreign food in a foreign language
As an autistic person, I have food issues. If we go out somewhere I make sure they have a plain burger on the menu as anything else will be too complicated to order. At home I can eat all kinds of food, but at a restaurant I can’t handle someone else’s idea of carbonara or chicken wraps. Going travelling around Europe you would be right in assuming I run into issues. Amazingly, not that many.
We travelled by sleeper train there and back. Breakfast was a hot cup of brown (coffee), a large bread roll with some jam and one of those European prepackaged chocolate (not Nutella) croissants. Absolutely fine. Breakfast in our first hotel was a buffet. Plenty of French bread to fill up on. Breakfast in our next hotel, another buffet but with the added bonus of chocolate pancakes! (… and also fizzy rosé wine, which we may have sampled for sciency reasons) Breakfast in our AirBnb was toast we made from fresh bread via the local bakery. Basically, breakfast was bread and butter and brill.
Dinner out was also super easy. Barely an inconvenience. Where we stayed the longest, a beach on the island of Hvar, had about 5 restaurants. Each one was great and offered a wide selection of food for my wife to chose from. Each one also sold steak and chips. Bosch! Sorted. Steak n chips please. “Not every night, though?” I hear you ponder. No. Not every night as one restaurant also did great Weiner schnitzel, chicken schnitzel or a burger. I was able to mix it up a little, but the steak out there is the best steak I’ve ever had and is about half the price of UK steak, so why not every night? It removes any mental debate and over thinking. Decisions can be bad for autistic people. Having a default choice that helps me avoid getting lost in my head while trying to enjoy a romantic sunset meal is something I’m fine with. Moreover, we swam nearly 3 hours every day. Those carbs were put to good use.
Problems occurred when my blood sugar dropped and I needed something quickly. Not an issue in Paris. There’s fresh bread and chocolate treats on every corner. It is an issue in other countries where you’re surrounded by restaurants and every time you try to translate the menu they’re already moving you to a table and bringing you a starter. If only my autistic lanyard worked abroad and people knew to give me time to look at a menu before telling me the specials. It doesn’t, and in moments where I’m stressed trying to work out if I can eat something on the menu, the last thing I require is a sales person.
In Munich our train arrived late at night. The only options were McDonald’s or whatever food truck was outside the station. Where possible, even with my issues, I prefer to avoid international brands. Why travel just to visit the same brands you have back home? Safety, comfort, default choice. Yeah, OK, I get it. I like to try to push myself a little if possible, so I’ll shop local. The only option here was a hot dog stand, well, a bratwurst stand. I did like the idea of having actual German sausage in Germany, but would it be spicy? I had no real choice and had to risk it as I needed food. If it was good, then I’ve had German sausage in Munich.
After queuing for a couple of minutes in the rain, I reached the vendor and asked for a completely plain bratwurst in a bun. They looked confused by my request, clarified and took payment. A few minutes later and I had a hot dog bun with an oversized novelty sausage in that tasted like every day sausage. Huzzah! I managed to control my over thinking brain and get food.
There are times like that where I manage to keep my brain under control and avoid becoming so stressed I can’t think. Other times I find myself in these situations and I’m overloaded by low blood sugar, language issues, pushy staff, noise and I have to run away. Even though I need food and they may have food, I can’t handle it. What it would be like to never have to think about these things and simply be.