When my Slovenian cousin’s friends came to New York City, I took the train from Stamford, Conn., into Grand Central Station to meet them. (Well, I took the train because I missed my bus from Storrs, Conn., but that’s another story).
The real story is this: in the bar of a small hotel near Central Park, I was given a package. Inside the package was a thick, hardback book with a plush cover that read Dnevnik. It was a daily planner, with all the dates and months in Slovenian. It made me reverse homesick, if that makes sense, for a place I had only lived for a small while—a year—that somehow felt like more, if only for the strength of the relationships I forged and for the knowledge that on the streets where I walked in 2011, my grandmother and mother had also walked so many, many times, so very long ago.
Yet now, the streets and cities are renamed: a street that was once named after former Communist president Tito now bears another name, which confuses both my grandmother and me when we talk about the places we’ve been. The shop signs bear the Euro symbol rather than the Yugoslav dinar my mother and grandmother would have known. I could go on…
And as of last year, the shop signs in grocery stores like the chain Mercator or Tus bear symbols of Americanism which relate to—hang on a moment, I’m coming back to the package I received in New York City—Oreo cookies.
Tucked inside the Dnevnik that I now use to track my daily appointments and errands, was a handful of herbal tea bags (my favorite flavors carefully selected by my thoughtful cousin)—and a Milka chocolate bar, which featured a label that said NOVO! on the front, meaning: NEW! (Milka chocolate, invented and manufactured in Croatia, was once only available in the former Yugoslavia… until Kraft Foods bought the company, and to my surprise, started stocking in my local Target the chocolate pars with the purple wrappers and the image of a cow against an Alpine scene.)
Why so NOVO!, you ask? Simple: because the new Milka chocolate bar featured a mixture of chocolate and… Oreo cookie bits.
This is significant this week because I noticed that the U.S. Embassy Ljubljana page on Facebook posted a notice drawing attention to Oreo cookies’ 100th birthday. Yet they only debuted last year in Ljubljana.
Last year, when they first came out in Ljubljana, I wrote:
As of late, I’ve noticed giant billboards around Ljubljana–which are usually plastered with a variety of local images–covered with ads for Oreos.
Gone are some of the political campaign images, concert promotions, or tourist destination ads. In their place? A royal blue background with larger-than-life (larger-than-human, actually) images of those crunchy, dry little chocolate cookie/crackers with the too-sweet white filling…
I also saw them as I was shopping recently at InterSpar, the giant grocery store at BTC (Europe’s biggest shopping mall complex) that would put a Super Wal-Mart to shame. Inside the InterSpar were giant cardboard displays of Oreos, and cards manned by pleasant-voiced sales ladies in blue aprons, handing out half an Oreo in a small plastic cup. Walking through the mall, I saw someone dressed as a giant Oreo milling about, not doing much of anything, but just kind of, you know, being an Oreo in a mall.
My friends and colleagues in Slovenia were at first convinced that Oreos were a new cookie, since this was the first time they had ever been sold in Slovenia.
“How long has the Oreo been around in the U.S.?” I was asked, as most people here thought they were just plain old new—not just new to Slovenia.
“Gosh, as long as I can remember,” I said in response. But how accurate was my memory? And, technically, having been born in the ’80s, my memory doesn’t stretch that far back. So I set about today to find out some interesting Oreos stats:
– They were first created in 1912.
– More than 491 billion Oreos have been sold since then.
– That makes them the best-selling cookie of the 20th century.
So, I wrote last year, the upshot is that Oreos existed for almost 100 years before the marketing campaign started in Slovenia.
And now, in a serendipitous moment, I received an Oreo cookie flavored chocolate bar from Central Europe at the same time that I was reminded that Oreo cookies were celebrating their 100th birthday. (Perhaps, if I’d been better at updating my old Dnevnik, I’d have remembered this sooner.)
Last year, as I was browsing the grocery store aisles in Ljubljana, I wrote: Then, I decided to buy a small box of Oreos to bring on my weekend visit to my cousins outside of Ljubljana. I won’t stand by them as the best little cookies in the world, but I thought it would be fun to see what my cousins think.
The verdict, as I remember it: they were OK. Nič posebnega, I was told. Nothing special.
But as I bit into that Oreo-flavored Milka bar that had traveled across the Atlantic to reach me, I couldn’t help but smile as its sweet taste somehow brought both of my “homes”—temporary and permanent—together.
Published this week by the Southbridge Evening News and other Stonebridge Press Newspapers.