“Too often travel, instead of broadening the mind, merely lengthens the conversation.” –Elizabeth Drew
No matter where you, I’ll bet that you will be able to find some aspect of America in almost any country. Whether it’s Coca-Cola in the supermarket, English written next to the native language on a store sign, or the golden arches of a McDonald’s piercing the sky, I think it would be easy to say that some aspects of America are, indeed everywhere.
And yet, I have come to realize that they are present in different countries to highly variable extents. In Taiwan, we had a moderate dose of American culture and influences permeating the life around us. The Taiwanese people still kept their identity and culture, but the country slowly is acquiring more and more conveniences that Americans would find to be normal. There is Romanization on most, if not all, street signs. Many items in grocery stores will have English accompanying the Chinese on the labels, if not being imported completely from America and having had a Chinese sticker plastered over the original English. Costco has become a popular shopping center for many Taiwanese, as the concept of buying things in bulk catches on. Starbucks are reaching a density that once only 7-11’s could aspire to.
In other countries in Southeast Asia, the American influence seems to be even stronger. In visiting the Philippines, for example, the adoption of American restaurant chains and products is even more prevalent. There is still an aspect of Filipino culture, but there is also an integration of the West.
After being in Italy for a mere five days, I’ve come to notice a distinct lack of Americanization that exists here in contrast to some Asian countries. While there are still American items that pop up in grocery stores—like Coca-Cola or Oreos—the large majority of what a shopper sees is original Italian merchandise. Forget a Starbucks—Italian cafes are more than enough for the needs of the country’s population. And they still haven’t caved to the pressure for offering a larger sized cup of coffee that Americans are so used to, or the environmentally devastating habit of passing out disposable cups like tracts for take-out orders. Italians have no need to adopt American habits just because they have tourists visiting them and want to convenience them. Italians dub all their movies, even in theaters, whereas in Asia, going to a movie in a theater will typically involve just having Chinese subtitles pasted across the bottom of the screen.
I would assume that part of the differences between these two atmospheres created in response to American culture stem from the attitude that each respective culture holds toward America itself. On the whole, America is viewed favorably in Asia, at least in Taiwan. Many Taiwanese children aspire to attending university in America. An American degree gives a worker higher status. Most people speak at least a little bit of English. In Italy, it seems that, though the attitude toward America is not necessarily unfavorable, it is closer to neutral or simply indifferent. Americans have both good and bad reputations depending on the context. But Italians don’t go out of their way just to make Americans feel comfortable. Having visitors from another country is natural.
An explanation for such attitudes would have to go back even further, but I think it’s probably safe to say that patterns throughout history have lent themselves to such occurrences. The fact that, for much of it’s history, America was trying to be accepted by Europeans as a force to be reckoned with when a lot of times, European ideas had been transferred to America or Europe just didn’t care goes to show why Europeans would be little concerned with potentially growing American power. Asia, however, has been influenced in multiple ways by America and other European countries. Between the colonial era when the Western world tried to claims bits of Asia for themselves to World War Two where America left troops stationed in some countries, Asia was forced to rely on America. It’s too bad a lot of that attitude has continued to permeate some of those countries today.
In other news, we applied today for our permits to sojourn—basically the Italian version of an ARC. Another foreign identification card for me to add to my repertoire. We’re off to see a film in Italian this afternoon.