‘Ice cream’ is a good word to teach, right? It’s a useful word, so students should learn it because chances are they will need it in real life. ‘Ice cream’ is in dictionaries and textbooks, so it is safe to say that this word must be part of students’ vocabulary.
Well, here is a small ice cream place in the city of Athens in Ohio, USA.
As you can see, it might be challenging for students to figure out that this is an ice cream café in the first place. There is no word ‘ice cream’ anywhere on the signs or windows. The menu might present even a bigger challenge.
There is no ‘ice cream’ either, there are also some weird American food names, such as ‘Butterscotch’, ‘Hot Fudge’, ‘Black Cow’ and ‘Root Beer’.
Thus, on the one hand, we sure should teach those ‘core vocabulary’ items, such as ‘ice cream’, which will be understood everywhere and which are ‘neutral’ in style and meaning. On the other hand, however, native speakers in a particular country or area may use so many ‘peripheral’ words, such as ‘frozen custard’ or ‘sundae’ instead of ‘ice cream’, that students may end up wondering why they have spent so much time learning English and yet fail to understand it and function normally.
Here are a few other pieces of realia from the topic of food and restaurants that are worth knowing and teaching, especially if your students are going to the USA.
Drinks come first! And always with ice!!!
No matter where you eat in the states, the waiter will first ask you what you would like to drink, and all those drinks will come with ice. A lot of ice. Well, unless you order coffee or wine, or ASK the waiter not to put ice in your drink. Good news is – you get free refills and water is always free of charge. Not with alcoholic drinks though…
Wait to get seated
In most casual dining restaurants (as opposed to fast food ones) you cannot just come in and take a seat you have to be seated, and you will probably have to wait in line for 5-45 min on Friday evening and Saturdays. Normally it’s impossible to call and book a table in advance unless you make a reservation for a group of 8+ people. So forget all those textbook dialogs ‘How to book a table' – teach ‘a beeper’ instead.
Make your own dish
When you order meat, chicken or fish, it usually comes with 2 sides (you can choose from baked potato, salad, mixed vegetables, corn, French fries, macaroni and cheese, etc.), so it might not be wise to order a salad separately as an appetizer.
A lot of free food
You’ll probably be served bread and butter while your order is being cooked, and given chocolate at the end. No worries – you won’t be charged for that.
Learn the names of sauces and salad dressings
When you order salad, the waitress will definitely ask you what dressing you’d like. And there are hundreds of them, literally. A few basic ones include ‘Thousand Island’, ‘Ranch’, ‘Balsamic Vinegar’, ‘French’, ‘Blue Cheese’, ‘Italian’.
Be a butcher
You may hear someone ordering a ‘Quarter Pounder’ or a ‘Sausage Biscuit’ – we all have been to MacDonald’s, so any idea what those are? Well, they have regular ‘Double Cheeseburger’ and ‘Chicken McNuggets’ as well, but the names of some burgers are different from the ones we have in Russia.
All in all, it is probably a good idea to take a look at some real menus with our students to make sure they are ready for their New York trip or California adventure. After all, we all love good food.