Cultural difference 1: Pizza

As a German writing in English for a mostly American audience, I depend on my beta reader for a lot of things. I’ll write more about my writing process and the role of my “creative staff” later, but for now, I’ll focus on cultural differences. At times, I have written scenes that left my beta reader baffled. Things that I take for granted turn out to be very different in the US. Since I have never lived in the US and never even had the chance to visit, writing about American characters can be an adventure — and sometimes quite funny.

When I was working on Conflict of Interest, I had Aiden and Dawn order pizza while they babysat Dawn’s niece and nephew. And I had Jamie, Dawn’s niece, shout, “I want pineapple and mushrooms!”

My niece would eat that, no questions asked. The pizza I ordered last night — for the sake of research, of course — looked like this:

mushroom pineapple zucchini pizza

And German home-made pizza looks like this:

That’s ham, pineapple, mushrooms, cheese, and mozzarella. In Germany,we put a lot of stuff on our pizza that apparently is not a proper pizza topping in the US. Where I come from, there’s a Black Forest pizza with bacon, chanterelles, and onions.

But here’s what my beta reader said to my choice of pizza toppings:

Here’s a passage of our e-mails:

I should have known you would say that! Someone who lives in a country where orange juice for dinner is “gross” would probably think the same about one of my favorite pizza toppings! ;-) I guess pizza with broccoli and sheep’s milk cheese is also not on your list of favorite things to eat, huh?

What would most people in the US prefer on their pizza?

Hehehe. There’s the ever-present pepperoni. Mushrooms are a favorite. Most kids would NOT prefer anything green near their fast food #1 of pizza. Now, some people love Hawaiian pizza – ham and pineapple. Some people don’t know what to do with that flavor. There are TONS of combos.

Some kids, especially girls, are funny about “meat” and meat products. There’s no winning, but pepperoni is sort of an overwhelming favorite to pair with mushrooms.

I’ll explain that “orange juice” comment in a later post.

So I changed the scene and had them order a pepperoni-and-mushrooms pizza — even though I found it pretty amazing that American kids would eat something like that. They must be tougher than German kids, I thought.

I found out later that a pepperoni pizza looks like this:

So apparently, “pepperoni” is a spicy kind of salami in the US.

Here’s what pepperoni means in Germany:

That kind of vegetable is called hot chili pepper in the US — not “pepperoni”! Phew! So Americans aren’t any tougher than we are. :-)  If you ever order a pepperoni pizza in Germany, you better be prepared for what you’ll get.

Another thing that my beta reader commented on is the number of pizzas my characters ordered. It seems Americans tend to order one large pizza for two or more people, while most Germans I know would order a smaller pizza for each person — probably because they wouldn’t be able to agree on pizza toppings.

So, what kind of pizza toppings are most popular where you live? Did a cultural misunderstanding like that ever happen to you?

Check back soon. I’ll try to post a new cultural difference every day.


11 thoughts on “Cultural difference 1: Pizza”

  1. In my family, the pizzas we order have mushrooms and black olives (always), sausage or crumbled beef, and, occasionally, ham.

    It in interesting to learn about the different names for European versus American comestibles.

  2. I never acquired a taste for olives, but I know a lot of Germans who would enjoy the kind of pizza you described.

    Thanks for commenting.


  3. Pineapple and mushrooms is a combination that even for (some) Germans is pretty… adventures. My partner would throw me out of our flat if I’d order something like this.
    My favorite pizza is one with plenty of vegetables (mushrooms, onions, garlic, red pepper, etc) or one with mushroom and tuna. Love that one.
    But the more important question for me is – how thick is the crust.
    I like mine really thin :-)

  4. Cheese pizza with slices of tomato added AFTER the pizza comes out of the oven. Sometimes anchovies too. Yum!!!

    And I agree with Astrid’s comment about the crust being most important. Thin? Really? No, no, it’s gotta be thick and doughy.

  5. Tomato slices added after the pizza comes out of the oven? Interesting. I’d try that, but I draw the line at anchovies. :-)

    Ah, so I neglected the importance of the crust in my post. Most older Germans I know prefer a thicker crust, while the younger generation prefers a thin crust… Astrid, I guess that makes you young :-)

    Personally, I’d be happy either way.

  6. And I thought I was being inconspicuous about it :-)

    But since you are not German, the correlation between crust thickness and age might not be true for you.


  7. Gosh… and here I thought cosmetics would make me younger. But if a thin pizza crust does the trick too – who am I to complain :-)

  8. Jae, great blog BTW. My favourite pizza toppings are a combination of Ham, Pineapple, and banana with mozzorella cheese. I prefer a BBQ sauce as the souce topping. The base needs to be what we in Australia call ‘Clasic crust’ which is in between a thin and crispy (thin base) and a deep pan pizza (thick base).
    Some days I do have vegemite and cheese pizza though.

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