From the Melting Pot to the Boiling Pot: Cultural Imperialism

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(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.

 

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2 responses to “From the Melting Pot to the Boiling Pot: Cultural Imperialism”

  1. Pygmalion says :

    Just saw this and I have to disagree with some of your assumptions. Where I live in Denmark, restaurants are rarely filled with Danes . . more likely tourists looking for something to eat as the grocery stores here are still closed much of the time. Take Danish holiday (most of which have more to do with consumption of alcohol and socializing than anything remotely holy or religious) and the stores will be closed before, during and after. Restaurants can barely stay alive because the tourist season is so incredibly short (face it – why visit Denmark when you can go to Croatia for a longer season, have far more sun, pay far less and not feel you are “fremmed” or being judged). Danes I know are not eating together anyway – but not because they are out at restaurants where, by the way, people do sit down together face to face, even in the U.S.

    No, these families are busy with parents attending their weekly sports rituals, crafting meetings, or social or political events, while the children are playing on their own or with friends but are, more often, playing computer games. It is a long-shot to blame this on the U.S. If Denmark wanted families to eat together, they would encourage parents to stay home and eat together and kids to shut off their machines. If Denmark didn’t want technology and wanted family togetherness, the State, which likes to exercise its political muscle to control those within its borders, would certainly not encourage gambling (see the DR stations reporting on lotto numbers), would require families (especially those receiving aid) to sit down together and read on a nightly basis and it would not be changing the laws so that partners can divorce more easily than they can get married!

    I read your blog because the term “cultural imperialism” caught my eye – this being Denmark and Denmark having tried in recent years to force immigrants to “become Danish”, more ‘Danish’ than many Danes in fact, while at the same time making iintegration impossible by removing free will from the process and ensuring that only one wheel in the gear bears the burden. What a surprise to read your misguided digression.

    By the way, as someone personally acquainted with a Dane who has had bypass surgery to cut her weight, I would suggest you consider the influence of alcohol (yes, think Carlsberg giving out free beer at concerts) and other corporate influences such as Nestles on Danish peoples’ lives. To blame weight gain on a country, and a country’s culture, misses the point. Grotesque weight gain not resulting from imbalance in the body is best attributed to those who benefit from it – not those who have earlier fallen prey.

    • Desi Barbour, M.Ed. says :

      Thank you for your comment. I agree with alot of the points you touched on, and these are the points that hit me the most:

      “why visit Denmark when you can go to Croatia for a longer season, have far more sun, pay far less and not feel you are “fremmed” or being judged)”

      “Take Danish holiday (most of which have more to do with consumption of alcohol and socializing than anything remotely holy or religious) and the stores will be closed before, during and after”

      “If Denmark didn’t want technology and wanted family togetherness, the State, which likes to exercise its political muscle to control those within its borders, would certainly not encourage gambling (see the DR stations reporting on lotto numbers), would require families (especially those receiving aid) to sit down together and read on a nightly basis and it would not be changing the laws so that partners can divorce more easily than they can get married!”

      While it is true that when an immigrant comes to Denmark, the Danish governmnent does place stipulations on them that forces them to become Danish. That, in my opinion, is fair. However, Denmark has been strongly influenced by American culture beginning with television, movies, music and to a lesser degree fashion. What I notice, from the time living here, is the influence in the Danish diets, particularly in the amount of ‘junk foods’ in the markets. As well as, inactivity, larger portions etc.

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