From the Melting Pot to the Boiling Pot: Cultural Imperialism
(Picture from: Gourmet Live Blog)
In 2004 when I first moved to Denmark to play American football, one of the biggest adjustments I had to make was adjusting to food shopping in Denmark. It was hard for me to fathom the idea that I could not shop at a grocery store past 7pm on weekdays, I could only shop for about 5 hours on Saturday and in most cases, I could not shop at all in a grocery store on Sunday. The gas stations, on the other hand, always offered a variety of grocery items for a slight markup. Bear in mind, I lived in Helsingør, a small town about 40,000 people an hour north of the capital of Copenhagen. I asked a teammate of mine, why were the markets so restricted in their business hours. He stated that the government wanted to make it fair for the ‘mom-and-pop’ stores to compete with the big chains. As a result, every store had to close at a certain hour, no matter how big the market chain was. I remember walking through the streets of downtown Helsingør at about 6pm and besides the pizza and kebab shops still open, the town felt and looked like a ghost town. Even 7-11 closed at a decent hour. Besides adjusting to the market hours, I had to adjust to the food portions in relation to the price. I remember after buying the ingredients (bread, meat, mustard) and opening the package up to make the sandwich, I felt like I got punk’d when I saw how many and how thin the slices were. It took the whole package of chicken breast to make enough of a sandwich as to where I would not have eaten just mustard and bread!
In U.S., on the other hand, there is ALWAYS a market open. If I feel the need to buy an iPod at 3 am, there will be a 24-hour chain of some sort open for me to make that purchase. If I need to go grocery shopping at the same time, usually there are several chains that would allow me to shop for groceries and an iPod at the same time if I so desired. How convenient!
Over the last 6 years of traveling and spending time in Northern Europe, I have seen a transition in the type of foods sold in markets and a transition in culture. More and more, the portion size of foods served in Denmark is getting larger. Likewise, food in restaurants is becoming more reasonable, thus, more people are eating out. The unfortunate result is families are not connecting and spending time at the dinner table as much, compared to what I experienced when I first lived in Denmark. In the U.S., Americans have long walked away from the traditional nightly dinner, where the family sits down and eats without distraction from technology or the television. It is a rarity for an American family to have consistent meals together at home. Also, with so many restaurants offering ‘can’t-pass-up’ deals at very low prices, it is easier for a parent to buy food, saving time and energy, rather than make food at home. Americans have long sold out their family values for what is easier and what is convenient.
Ironically, most of the world is following in the footsteps of the U.S. Even though the U.S. is on a conquest to control the world militarily, it has also continued to influence the cultural integrity of the entire world through cultural imperialism. Americans have long been fascinated with big cars, big houses, big consumption, winning at all costs, greed, gluttony, success, pushing the envelope in a variety of ways (ethically, morally and so on) the list goes on. When an artist, T.V. show, movie, or product is a hit in the U.S., you can be sure that the rest of the world is soon to have its own version of that artist, T.V. show, movie, or product. Likewise, if an artist, T.V. show, movie or product is a hit in a foreign market, the U.S. companies will make a bid for the rights. I find it funny how most of the world complain about U.S companies raping the natural resources of the nations, yet their citizens do nothing to protest their governments from preventing it. It seems that even most of the Middle East is beginning to switch and adopt the ideas and culture from the West. Hence, the recent clashes in the Middle East against the old regimes for the adoption of a government run by the people. Have these countries adopting American ways or an American idea of democracy really thought about the price tag? It is a matter of time before we see a Jamba Juice in Bagdad. How about a Cold Stone Creamery in Tehran or a Texas Road House BBQ in Oman?! If the world is ready to make the purchase of the U.S. culture, make sure the warning label is read first. WARNING: Adopting the ideology of this product could lead to a nation of expanded waistlines, white chocolate mochas, reality television, dumbed down education, pay-first or die health care and Wal-Mart.