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Anything for root beer

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"Come in the back and have a look," he invited, and so I followed. Near the loading dock, at the bottom of a stack of minicases of soda was a 12-pack of Diet A&W root beer. I could taste the root beer floats I'd be serving in my garden come summer and blurted out, "A&W! I'll take the A&W!" like I was totally barking mad. (That's something the English like to say, by the way.)

Speaking of cultural differences, most French people haven't heard of root beer because it doesn't exist in France.

A quick survey of other Europeans I knew revealed no Italians, English, or Irish among root beer's fans, either. "Oh no, no one here likes it," says my friend Margaret in Galway, Ireland. "Awful stuff."

"It's gross," chimed in Jenny by e-mail from London.

Meanwhile, back in the back at Best of British, Graham was trying to tempt me further – Tootsie Rolls? Heinz Ketchup? Aunt Jemima Pancake and Waffle Mix? Hershey bars? But I only had eyes for root beer. He carried it to the register for me.

There I was, boring Nicci with tales of childhood car trips "up north" and stops at the A&W drive-in, when she smiled sweetly and gave me my total: 20 euros, plus tax. I was so stunned at the price that I just kept on talking: Oh, the splendid greasy crispness of the onion rings! The chilly frost on the heavy glass mugs! That wonderful sandy feeling you have after a long day at the lake!

Proust with his madeleines had nothing on me. The way I was carrying on, you'd never know that every grocery store and most gas stations in America sold A&W, often on a two-for-one special. My mother bought it by the case whenever I came home for a visit – and I was heading for Wisconsin in just two weeks.

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