Posted by: patenttranslator | July 18, 2018

The First Time I Saw a Box of American Cereals

I still remember when I saw a box of American cereals for the first time.

It was in the spring of 1982 and I was eating my breakfast in a military dining hall in Kaiserslautern, West Germany, where I was working as a civilian employee for the US Army while waiting for over a year for an immigrant visa to move to America. My benefits included not only free healthcare and vacation, but also free meals three times a day as long as I lived close to the military base.

All of us working there were recent refugees from Central Europe, mostly Poles, Czechs, Slovaks and one lonely Hungarian, whose name was of course Attila. That was where I started learning Polish – Poles appreciate it very much when you try to talk to them in their own language, even if your Polish is pretty horrible. Every nation in fact appreciates foreigners who bother to try to learn their language.

The cereals tasted pretty awful, but only because coming from a country where cereals like this did not exist yet, I did not realize that I had to add milk. I should have bothered to read the instructions to the end.

But I ate about a half of the small box of dry cereals anyway, so big was my admiration for America, the superpower that had the courage to stand up against another big superpower that was at that time occupying my country with more than two hundred thousand soldiers and five thousand tanks, that I would not admit to myself that the stuff tasted just awful (which, without the milk, it sure did).

A Polish guy who was also working with me for US Army in Germany while waiting for immigration to Australia pointed at the back cover of the box, where all the ingredients and the country of origin were listed …. Actually, I remember now that although I met some Poles who emigrated to Perth, Australia, this one was waiting for an immigrant visa to Ontario, Canada, where he had a sponsor.

He told me that the law for all food sold in America said that all the ingredients and the country of origin had to be identified on the product. Wow, what a country, I thought to myself. That’s how democracy should be working. To my knowledge, no such law existed in communist countries, although some products were provided with some pretty descriptive information already back in 1982.

Although the Poles and Czechs who were working for the US Army in Germany were civilian employees, (basically all of us were trying to get immigrant visas to America, Canada, or Australia), we were issued US military uniforms and we wore them while working at the military bases.

Once when we were being transported in open military trucks to another town in Germany in our US uniforms without any insignia, (my official job designation was “cable splicer”), we saw a van coming from the opposite side, full of cute, young girls.

We had no idea who these girls were until they started pointing at us and talking excitedly among themselves in Polish. Some of the girls were waving at us – the US Army was very, very popular in Poland back then. I wonder whether this is still the case.

This was during the time after the Polish communist ruler general Jaruzelski had declared martial law in Poland in the December of 1981, while Soviet tanks were waiting for instructions to cross the border at the Polish border and start dispensing “fraternal aid” to their brethren in yet another country again.

Some among us started yelling in Polish at the girls that we were not going to let the Russians do in Poland what they did in other countries. The girls stopped talking. They were looking at us with big eyes, unable to speak, finding it impossible not to believe that the US Army was moving Polish-American troops to the German border to support the pro-democracy Solidarnozc movement should the Soviet Union try to quash the timid beginnings of democracy in Poland with its military might the way they suppressed similar movements in other countries.

They were probably wondering: “Is this the beginning of World War III?”

Fortunately, it wasn’t the beginning of World War III. The pro-democracy movement was quashed by Polish police and military, general Jaruzelski made sure of that. But the communist regimes were living on borrowed time. The Berlin Wall fell seven years later, the dysfunctional economic and political systems were dismantled in all of the client states of the Soviet Union and I was finally able to see my mom and my sister and brothers in Czechoslovakia again, after nine long years during which we all thought that we would probably never be able to see each other again.

Since Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia joined NATO and then European Union a few years later, I guess it could be said that those of us who were sitting in the US military truck that day, yelling at the Polish girls that we were going to stop the Soviet tanks, were just a few years ahead of our time.

I did not know it back then, of course.

Neither did I know that more than three decades later when I would be buying a box of cereals at Aldi, Inc., a German supermarket chain in Virginia, the country of origin would no longer be listed on the box as it was (because the law said so) when I opened a box of cereals for the first time in 1982, and that the place of “distribution” would be indicated instead as “distributed by Aldi, Inc., Batavia, Il., whatever that might mean.”

They don’t tell us anymore where our food comes from, only where it is “distributed from”, without saying what it might mean, most likely because if we knew the origin of the food that we eat ourselves and give to our children and grandchildren to eat, we might decide not to buy the stuff, no matter how cheap and well packaged it may be.

And if they don’t have to tell us anymore where the food comes from, I wonder whether the box really contains the ingredients that are listed on it.


  1. When I arrived in Prague in 1991 I saw that the Czechs still hadn’t got the idea of putting milk in breakfast cereal. Cornflakes had become a fashionable bar snack, poured into little bowls and put out like olives on the bar so you could pick ostentatiously at the expensive new American delicacy. In fact there was one bar in central Prague that had done out the whole place with Kellog’s Corn Flakes boxes on the walls as decoration.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You know the Czech proverb “Nové koště dobře mete?” (A new brooms sweeps very well?”

    But after a while you need yet another broom.


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