To my mind, the Kinder Surprise egg, that seamed chocolate ovoid in a shiny foil wrapper, is a perfect symbol for certain differences between the United States and Europe. I say this, perhaps, because I was in Europe when I first came across Kinder eggs—in Athens, taking a semester abroad. At a cluttered little kiosk, one of the type ubiquitous in the city, where I would grab a can of iced coffee before class, I noticed another student who often bought an egg-shaped something wrapped in orange and white foil. Eventually I asked her about it, and she replied with a knowing smile: “Kinder egg. My boyfriend collects the toys, and you can’t get them in the US.”
Later, in class, she showed me what she meant. She peeled back the wrapper to reveal a light brown chocolate egg. She shook it, and I could hear a dull rattling sound coming from inside. We divvied up the shell, and I saw the interior was lined with white chocolate. This probably accounted for the shell’s creamy taste, lighter and sweeter than what I expected from American chocolate. This left a yellow plastic pod, within which lay the eponymous Surprise: a small toy. I’ve since forgotten what it was.
That fleeting introduction was enough; if you combine domestic unavailability, plastic trinkets and chocolate, I’m captivated. I can’t say that, once I got back to the States, I went on a great candy crusade to find Kinder eggs, but I would browse in candy stores when I thought of it. I eventually found my way to Economy Candy, on Rivington Street in New York’s Lower East Side, where they can be purchased in great numbers. (As it turns out, Kinder eggs can’t be legally imported into the United States, but that’s neither here nor there.) After consuming perhaps a few too many, I began to reflect on the undeniable significance of the Kinder egg.
Let’s start with this salient fact; Kinder eggs are eggs. I’ve eaten my fair share of American candy, and I believe that we, as a people, are fairly literal-minded when it comes to our confectioneries. We like our pure chocolate mostly in bars or sticks, occasionally in kiss form. Anything fancier than that requires some kind of filling, such as mint or cookie or peanut butter. The egg shape pops up on the American candy radar only around Easter–and even then pure chocolate eggs are somewhat rare. More likely we’re talking about malted chocolate eggs, or plastic eggs filled with jelly beans, or chocolate eggs filled with a frothy creme. Kinder eggs, are, by contrast, available year-round and aren’t linked with any particular holiday. Europeans, it would seem, need no cognitive framework for their candy.
The wrapper, too, bespeaks a foreign origin; the type of egg I’ve been able to buy comes in a wrapper covered all over with choking hazard warnings in a variety of languages, including Greek and Russian. It’s impressive, really, how many languages are crammed onto it. There’s even an illustration of a sad-looking cartoon infant with a slash through it, in case you read none of the languages on the packaging, or perhaps are illiterate.
Then, of course, there are the toys. As much as I love chocolate, I must admit that I find far more pleasure contemplating the Kinder toys than I do eating the candy that surrounds them. They are roughly on par with the Happy Meal-type toys that I remember from the 80s, although Kinder must be given credit; unlike Happy Meal toys, they aren’t corporate tie-ins. From what I can glean from the entirely language-free slips of paper that come with each toy, there are a several series of toys, each with a different theme. For example, three recently-bought Kinder eggs (for research purposes, of course) yielded two athletic “cool” kids on skateboards and a mustachioed pirate gorilla clutching a barrel that hides a treasure map. These aren’t promoting the latest soulless blockbuster movie—they’re encouraging kids to be active and to use their imagination. (OK, and to eat chocolate.)
It occurred to me that the closest American analogue to the Kinder egg would be Crackerjack, which I remember fondly from its association with baseball and childhood. Accordingly, I purchased a few small packages with the intention of comparing the prizes inside with the Kinder toys. As it turns out, there’s no comparison. Kinder toys are brightly colored plastic figurines with moving parts or wheels. Crackerjack “prizes” are pieces of paper: literally nothing more. Here, for example, is the aforementioned pirate gorilla next to what I found in one of the packets of Crackerjack. It’s a piece of paper with a picture of a cow on it. That’s it. According to the instructions, you’re supposed to hold the paper between two fingers and squeeze it. This will open up a slit where the cow’s mouth is, and it will appear to talk. Would any child consider that a worthwhile prize?
In short, the Kinder Surprise egg shows up American candy culture on every front. For something mass produced, it’s creatively designed, encourages imaginative play in children, and is a pleasure for both the tactile and gustatory senses. Besides, only some place with far more lenient drug laws than America’s could come up with an advertisement like this.
First image from the German Wikipedia article on Kinder Eggs.
Second image by the author.