Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Obligatory reflections on globalization

The thing about globalization is that it, by definition, is not a unilateral phenomenon. Full disclosure: I say this as I sit sipping a venti Vanilla Black Tea Latte & listening to smooth jazz in Rayong's one and only Starbucks (the one place where I can see not one shred of support for the following argument).

When a company goes global, it must necessarily adapt to the culture & tastes of the countries it wants to do business in. There can be no true cultural imperialism - the inhabitants of new lands (new markets) will pick and chose what they like and wise companies will adapt accordingly.

At McDonald's for example, I can order a Big Mac, fries, a Coke & an apple pie. But I can also order the Samurai Pork burger, Fanta, a tuna pocket, and a corn pie (corn is considered a dessert food here). I can dip my fries in catsup... or in sweet chili sauce (before I leave here I intend to send back a crate of sweet chili sauce in case I can't find it in the states). I've noticed similar changes at KFC. They don't serve biscuits or cole slaw (which broke my heart), but they do serve shrimp rings and terriyaki chicken with rice.

I understand that one of the downsides of globalization is that the cultures of smaller/poorer countries get squashed by the cultures of bigger/richer countries, and this is a valid concern. But since the invention of culture itself humans have been evolving and changing; adapting and being adapted by their environments. Exposure to other groups of people with different cultures (either through trade or battle) has always led to an exchange of information & ideas. Sometimes the exchange is more aggressive and one sided... but I think even the most aggressive conquerors learned and absorbed (stole) something from their victims. There has never been such thing as a "pure" or "authentic" unchanging culture of a people. (Although, at the moment, I feel myself strongly embraced by the pure unadulterated form of NW coffee culture.) I think the biggest change in this process of exchange is simply the speed & the scope at which it occurs.

It feels, sometimes as though we are moving more and more towards a kind of global homogenization of culture. But I just don't think that's what's going to happen. As long as there is human diversity of taste & opinion, no matter how uniform the dominant culture is, sub cultures and counter cultures will always exist. It just may be that geographical limitations stop being such an important determining factor in defining a culture. Kids in Los Angeles are hard core Korean boy-band addicts. Thai kids are devoted to Japanese Manga, German women sport Thai tattoos, Englishmen go to Buddhist meditation retreats, and I.... I may never be able to eat fries or an omelet without sweet chili sauce ever again!!!

And that's the kind of globalization I hope for - increased exposure to all the unique arts and foods and music and religion , and styles of the world, and the freedom to pick and choose the ones that suit me best. I realize this is a first-world luxury, and that some countries/religions/political ideologies prohibit such cultural experimentation. But it's nevertheless my hope that it becomes accessible to the rest of the world someday.

TAG: Code Watermelon


Melissa said...

Well put!

Bezzie said...

Interesting. Very true in many regards--but Fanta? I see that everywhere around here. That doesn't seem to regional.

Jonathan said...

Well put, but then what happens to the idea of 'place'? If there are no geographic limitations to culture, then does that mean there is no such thing as place? Only sort of representations of places that use to be?

Batty said...

I think it's interesting. Also, the definition of one culture in other countries... when you travel to different places, it's interesting what ideas people have of American food, American culture... a lot of it is movie-based or stereotyped. I was very intrigued by the "American Food" aisle in a German supermarket! Very little of that stuff is anything I buy on a regular basis here in the US.

Rebel said...

Thanks Melissa.

Bezzie - yeah, I remember seeing Fanta in the States but here it's like equal to Coke in popularity, and there's another drink - Miranda that I see everywhere.

Jonathan, that gets into a whole nuther issue doesn't it. How *do* we define a place? By geographical features (and which) or by lines on a map (and who's map)?

Batty, it's true, and I eat a lot more campbel's soup and Jiff peanut butter than I did back in the states. What did you see in Germany?

Michael5000 said...

"How do we define 'place'?" You clearly haven't read chapter two of my dissertation. You lucky stiff.

Sarah Nopp said...

I think you need to post a picture of this vaunted sweet chili sauce so we can find it at the local groceries for you! (And try it ourselves, as we do love the rooster sauce ever so)

mlle b said...

Random fact to support your argument: McDonald's, if possible, uses only locally grown ingredients. And in France, they now have a "racelette" burger.