Foreign microwave cultures

We’re settling into a new place, deciding where to put our stuff, and developing routines. We’re also learning how to use unfamiliar appliances. El Guapo makes oatmeal for breakfast frequently, so one of his first jobs is to figure out how to get the microwave to cooperate in that endeavor. He wants high power for some amount of time, followed by low power for some amount of time (lest breakfast become Vesuvius) which doesn’t seem too much to ask.

This microwave didn’t immediately give up its secrets, so he went searching the web for our particular model’s instruction manual. While his search did not reward him with the right manual, it did yield a blog post kernel: instructions for some random microwave sold in the UK.

During our various travels we’ve had opportunities to see (and traipse through) quite a few different airports, a bunch of museums, various restaurants, any number of parks, and lots of city streets. Often they taught us something about the culture of the place we were visiting. When I get a chance, I like to practice grocery store anthropology (wandering the aisle of the local market), because that tells me a lot about the way ordinary people eat in a given country. It turns out that microwave instructions can add to that knowledge in a way I hadn’t anticipated. Here’s a close-up of the control panel:



I know that Indian takeaway places are very popular in many parts of England, and the first auto re-heat button is confirmation. As a young man many years ago, my dad spent two years in Great Britain as a Mormon missionary. When I asked him his impressions of British cooking, he said they ate a lot of Chinese food; the second pre-heat button provides confirmation of its popularity. The fact that there’s no “fish and chips” button is a blow to the stereotype, but I can’t have everything.

Still, there are limits to the inferences I can realistically make based on the control panel of a microwave marketed in the UK. I know this because the microwave marketed in America that sits in our current kitchen isn’t necessarily eloquent about my eating habits. It also doesn’t necessarily make sense.


microwave control panel

Sure, the popcorn button fits. But what do I make of the buttons for breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner? Given the variety of foods that can be eaten for those meals, and the very different cooking times those foods would need, how can that possibly make sense?

I’m not going to lose sleep over it–when using the microwave, I’ll probably just stick with the number pad and improvise. What I will spend a little time on is contemplating one other button on that British microwave:

Doesn’t that conjure up some interesting possibilities?



4 thoughts on “Foreign microwave cultures

    • I’m always trying to find a way to describe my everyday experiences so that they can be fashioned into an interesting story. Glad you liked it!

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