Foreigners are fascinated by American diners, seeing them as icons of American culture. So says the BBCg:
Sitting in a diner, on the inside looking outside.
This is a quintessential American experience. Add a booth, a Formica counter and a cup of joe – as diner patrons call their coffee.
Themed restaurants and burger chains from Mumbai to Manchester aim to replicate this chrome-flashed experience, and diner fare such as home fries and fluffy pancakes are now global fast food staples.
So why are these kerbside kitchens a landmark of US culture?
The first such establishment opened in 1872 in Providence, Rhode Island – a “night lunch wagon” to serve those who worked and played long after the restaurants had shut at 20:00.
Its mix of open-all-hours eating and cheap, homemade food proved a hit, and the formula has been repeated ever since.
Today the diner occupies a place in the American heartland. The closest British approximation is not a retro-chic replica diner where hip patrons eat gourmet burgers, but the local pub.
Just as dignitaries visiting the UK and Ireland are taken for a pint and a photo call, no US election campaign is complete without a stop at a diner to emphasise the candidate’s everyman or everywoman credentials.
On the campaign trail in a diner (clockwise from left): George W Bush, Barack Obama, Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, Al Gore Common touch: The diner is now a compulsory stop on the campaign trail“The thing about this democratic counter is that anyone can go in and sit down. It can be a professor, it can be a worker,” says Richard Gutman, author of American Diner Then and Now.
“A friend of mine in Pennsylvania ate in a diner and he’s in the middle of two guys. One is the chief of police and the other is just some character. The policeman looks over and says, ‘Didn’t I arrest you last year?’ and the guy says, ‘Yes you did – pass the ketchup.'”
That diners are democratic is striking in countries with a rigid class system! The article goes on to survey the figure of the diner in American art (Edward Hopper) and movies (Pulp Fiction). I would say that other countries would do well to imitate our diners, as opposed to our fast food joints.