The things I don’t know

Pickles are not something that I grew up with in Sri Lanka. They were a new food I encountered only once I came to the US and I found that I do not like them at all. When I find them in food, I carefully take them out before eating unless I accidentally eat them because they have been cut up small.

But for the longest time, I was not aware that pickles were just cucumbers that had been processed in some way. I had thought that pickles were a separate kind of plant. Then once in conversation with my daughters, I casually said something about pickle plants. After a brief pause of incredulity, they laughed hilariously at my ignorance and I discovered that I had been wrong all this time. I learned later that the word pickle is itself shorthand for ‘pickled cucumber’. If I had known the full name, I would have not been confused.

It makes me wonder what other things I believe that are absurdly wrong but common knowledge to everyone else. And what kind of event will bring my ignorance to the surface.


  1. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    It makes me wonder what other things I believe that are absurdly wrong but common knowledge to everyone else. And what kind of event will bring my ignorance to the surface.

    I am so with you.

    Ironically, when one has a reputation amongst one’s friends for being knowledgeable, one has more to lose by revealing that one has been making such an error … and thus the fear of this may very well be heightened for people who have a reputation amongst their circle as knowledgeable. Thus I sometimes wonder if my fear of making a clueless error is just my vanity in disguise. (though, of course, there do exist independent reasons to want to avoid error)

    On another topic, while “pickles” may have been new to you, I know that pickled vegetables and fruits of various kinds are in fact quite common in India. I imagine that to be so because the pickling process preserves food for longer after harvesting, and so before refrigeration environments that are both hot and humid (where rotting of food is more likely to be a quicker process) would have a much larger reward for the effort of pickling. You simply lose more of your harvest by not pickling than you would lose in a cold and/or dry environment.

    That is all prelude to this question:
    So you weren’t familiar with pickled cucumbers, but you did eat many foods in Sri Lanka that went through the pickling process, right? That’s not something that for some reason is common in India but rare in Sri Lanka, is it? The possibility makes me curious, especially as it has implications for my supposition that pickling would be much more likely to be common in climates that are both hot and humid.

  2. Bruce says

    Just for the record, the pickling process is simply storage in salty water. Because salt does not significantly enter the cucumber, the main effect is that osmosis causes much of the water of the cucumber to exit through the skin of the vegetable. The resulting dehydrated cucumber is called a pickle.
    Also, in the USA, some pickles are made with dill weed present as a seasoning. Others are made sweeter by added sugars. Some people like certain kinds more than others. Some people like them with certain foods only, and not alone. Some people like them when chopped finely into what we call a “relish”. If you see something green near a hot dog or hamburger, that may be what it is.

  3. blf says

    I discovered that the “Dial O for operator” did not work Scotland after several minutes of muttered curses.

    I’d been in England for perhaps a year when some individuals from the States came to visit. (This was in the pre-mobile era.) One day we went to an restaurant in Soho (London), and one individual disappeared for the longest time. I eventually went searching for them. I found them, crying, trying to operate the restaurant’s payphone. The problem turned out to be same: “Dial O for operator” is not how it was done. The embarrassing thing is I also didn’t know how it was done — apparently, I’d managed to avoid calling the operator until then-ish…


    Then there was the time I tied to use the tram ticket machine in Bratislava. The less said about that, the better…

  4. says

    This is a problem when the common name for a product now only refers to the process and not the starting ingredient. There are undoubtedly many things named this way to snag the unwary.

  5. TGAP_ Dad says

    I’m reminded of your post some time ago about dishwashers, and your fear of opening yours prior to cycle completion. I found it quaintly amusing that someone who is undoubtedly my intellectual superior, by orders of magnitude, would have failed to discern the truth about dishwashers. I guess we all have our own foci and tunnel vision.

  6. jrkrideau says

    @ 4 blf

    Re telephones, I spend a good 5 minutes trying to get a pay phone in Union Station in Toronto to work only to discover I was using a US dime in the change I was feeding into the phone.

    In Canada, we usually take US coins at face value and I never thought to see whose face was on the coin. Nor did I realize that a US dime would be that different in weight.

  7. Mano Singham says

    Crip Dyke @#1,

    Yes, pickles and chutneys are very common in Sri Lanka. I personally was not fond of them but one would find them served at most meals. But those pickles were obviously other plants that had been cut, crushed, mashed, and spices added. The word pickle was also prefaced with a descriptive label such as lime pickle or Malay pickle. I did not associate that process with the single large item found here. I should have made the connection but did not. This may be because we used the word ‘pickle’ in the singular for the entire concoction. It may be that the use of the plural ‘pickles’ made me think that was the name of the item itself, not its preparation. It was some kind of blind spot.

  8. blf says

    This is a problem when the common name for a product now only refers to the process and not the starting ingredient.

    Or simply that the language is not understood. Tonight, in the restaurant, one diner clearly didn’t understand that plateau de fruits de mer was a plate of cold seafood, and was appalled at idea of eating huîtres and bulots (especially after the words were translated for him) — he kept asking for “normal food”, meaning beef & potatoes. Why he went to a restaurant with the English-language name “Cold Seafoods”† I have no idea… (He eventually settled on a tartare de thon salad, which I have to admit, given his apparent squeamishness, surprised me.) The maître d’ (a friend) was very patient and professional with him, albeit I suspect she was becoming exasperated with him.

      † That is not the real name of restaurant. The real name is in English, and is very very indicative that they specialize in plateau de fruits de mer. They are also quite good, so I hesitated before deciding to obfuscate the real name (mostly to protect the privacy of the various individuals).

  9. blf says

    in Toronto […] I was using a US dime

    Ah yes ! That reminds me of the incident in Edinburgh (Scotland) when I tried to pay a shopkeeper in Canadian coins… I’d just arrived after a few weeks in Vancouver(?), and neglected to switch the currencies in my wallet / pocket… the shopkeeper had no idea what I’d just handed him, and it took me an embarrassingly long time to work out what the problem was.

    Then there was the time a friend, who’d never been to France before, was trying to pay to get us into a museum. The ticket-seller was becoming increasingly irate — neither spoke the other’s language — so eventually my friend, out of exasperation, slapped a seemingly-large-denomination franc note on the counter, and got a few coins back (and the desired tickets).

    One we got inside, I pulled my friend aside — he was also a bit irate, and kept looking at the coins trying to work out the problem. It was simple: The tickets were N francs, and he’d been trying to pay with an N centifranc coin. Or, as I explained, “she wanted 20 dollars, you tried to pay with 20 cents.”

    And let’s just not, Ok, just not, talk about tram tickets in Bratislava…

  10. Jean says

    Now I really want to hear about the tram tickets in Bratislava… And I now want to eat some seafood. Tartare de thon, hmmmm

  11. jazzlet says

    Then there is the problem of pronounciations that don’t match the spelling at all. I lived near a place I assumed was called Brewood for several years before discovering it was the place the locals meant when they talked about Brood.

    I almost rejected a job offer because I was on say (can’t remember the actual scale used) grade 8.3 and was verbally offered the job at 9.1, which I heard as 8.1

  12. machintelligence says

    The things one can be ignorant of are truly numerous.Take the phrase “visualize a cow” of “look at a cow in your mind’s eye”. For about 60 years of my life, I took those to be metaphors, because I can’t do that. I am “mind dark” because when I close my eyes and imagine something, I see nothing. A few percent of the population shares this trait. On the other hand, some folks, when asked to visualize a tiger, are able to count the stripes. We all generalize from a sample of one.

  13. Dunc says

    Just for the record, the pickling process is simply storage in salty water.

    Or vinegar. (At least, in the UK…) The use of “pickles” to refer to pickled cucumbers is a US thing -- over here we call them “gherkins”, and if you ask for pickle, you’ll most likely get this.

  14. raym says

    Dunc, #14. Thank you! Now I know what I’m going to have for lunch -- a cheese and pickle sandwich (Branston, of course).

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