Lesson 6: You Want Things More When You Can’t Have Them

I never knew how much I loved salt and vinegar crisps until I moved to Portugal. Actually, I never used to eat them. When I was a kid, my favourite flavour was cheese and onion. As I got older it was the legendary thai sweet chilli, but you’ll only remember those if you lived in England circa 2015. After that trend died out, I always ate ready salted (which is what us Brits call plain salted crisps).

Actually, speaking of semantics, I might start first with “crisps”.

In the US, I think they call them chips. But that’s weird, because what we call chips in the UK, they call fries. And what we call fries, they call french fries?

I say “I think”, because this whole thing confuses me and I might have to ask one of my American friends before I finish this article. Let me show you a picture.

That’s easier.

This is what I’m talking about when I say crisps.

Now, unless you’re reading from the UK (which most people are not), you might also be confused with the salt and vinegar flavour.

I know they have it in the US (to varying degrees of popularity…), but they are very hard to come by in continental Europe. So, if you’ve never been to the UK or the US then you might never have tried them before (and that, for me, is a bizarre concept).

In the UK, there are three main flavours of crisps. Ready salted, cheese and onion, and salt and vinegar. And these are the kinds of things you just don’t question when you’re growing up. Everyone knows that these three flavours are superior, everyone has tried them all, and everyone has a favourite. If your favourite flavour was prawn cocktail, you were just plain weird. (Is that another flavour exclusive to the UK? I wouldn’t know, because nobody in their right mind would eat those.)

I never thought about it when I started travelling, either. I was far too distracted trying all of the flavours we don’t have in the UK: campesina (tomato and onion), cream cheese (weirdly they say this in English, even though we don’t have them in the UK), and my personal favourite: azeite (olive oil).

Now, if we’re going to be picky… yes, I probably could get a hold of salt and vinegar crisps in Portugal. In Lisbon, I’d surely have to go on a hunt outside of the city or order them from Continente. But, even then, they wouldn’t be Walkers (a British brand), so what would be the point? (And before you send me a message, no, Lays is not the same thing…)

Also, who wants to get on a train just to buy a packet of crisps?

Next weekend I’m going to the Algarve with a bunch of friends. I imagine British food (including the holy grail: marmite) will be easier to come by there, given the huge number of Brits around.

Yes, it’s a good thing that I’ll get my crisps, but otherwise coming face to face with a large number of British people is usually a recipe for trouble. (They’re not all bad, but Brits abroad don’t have the best reputation, let’s be honest, and usually I don’t get spotted when I’m camouflaged amongst my friends who are from *literally everywhere else*).

Wanting What You Can’t Have

If you want to know the real reason I’m talking about salt and vinegar crisps, I refer you to this conversation I had with one of our writers, Bryan, on Twitter a couple of weeks ago:

(It’s real, I promise, you can see the original thread of tweets if you click on the picture.)

I don’t think he was actually expecting me to write a whole article about salt and vinegar crisps, but I am a woman of my word.

But… Why do salt and vinegar crisps taste so damned good when I know I’ve got 12 days to consume as many packets as possible before I am banished from the only place on earth you seem to be able to buy Walkers?

Why does a romantic partner become so much more appealing after they’ve rejected you?

Why does that job seem like the best one when you know you’re up against 100 applicants?

Well, maybe we could explain it scientifically with scarcity theory, but that would be kind of boring.

(Scarecity theory: the idea that the more people that want something, the more rare it will be, and therefore the more rare something is, the more valuable it must be. Therefore scarcity = value.)

See, I told you it was boring. 

Isn’t it so much more exciting to lean out of the window, longing after my salt and vinegar crisps, begging my best friend to bring me a packet when we see each other in France next month? (Okay, no, I didn’t do that, but I did consider it. I don’t think crisps would survive the plane journey, anyway.)

Usually I don’t think twice about my morning coffee, but sometimes I have to go decaf (endometriosis 1 – 0 Isabella), and whenever I do I really pine for the real stuff. Okay, maybe that’s the caffeine withdrawal talking, but still. It’s all psychological.

At the end of the day, wanting what you can’t have is human nature. That’s why we have so many sayings about it. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. The grass is greener on the other side. You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. The longer the wait, the sweeter the kiss…

I’m sure after a few weeks back in Lisbon I’ll have forgotten all about my beloved salt and vinegar, even if it is a bit of a British institution. I only realised, after contemplating all of this, that it must be based off of the salt and vinegar we always put on our fish and chips. And, if there’s anything that’s quintessentially British, it’s that.

If you live abroad, did you ever stop longing after home comforts? I’m not sure I ever will.

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