On our first day, we trekked one tube stop down from the school to the largest mall in Europe to find bedding. The size of the place was unbelievable as 300+ shops loomed over us on multiple floors all boasting their January sales. We walked down the center of the mall trying to find stores that would sell pillows and I was struck by how many stores I recognized. I mean I really didn’t expect to see a T.G.I.Fridays in the middle of England. Some stores that I had known to have gone out of business back home were here showing off products from catalogues past. Levi, Hollister, Build-A-Bear, Claire’s, Pizza Hut, Urban Outfitters, KFC, Krispy Kreme, and of course McDonalds to name a few. What were these doing here in a British mall? All around me were the brands I was familiar with, some even advertising their Americana image.
Did they all simply hook onto the American image? Or back home am I really experiencing an international palette. As Robins points out, “The globalization process can equally be associated with confrontation and the collision of cultures” (2002, pg. 240). Maybe we choose the best of each culture to morph into our own cultural identity. Does this mean that there is a piece of every culture in every corner of the globe?
According to the documentary Travels of a T-Shirt in a Global Economy, this is not the case. This film depicts the flow of the second-hand American clothes traveling to Africa where their economy has fallen as an aftermath of the first world intrusion of import/export and slavery. This is not one person, nor one country’s responsibility. As mentioned in the film, the World Bank tried to enact economic policies in order to try to get the economy functioning again. However, they did not take into account the country at hands’ needs but rather their own. This only left the countries further in debt.
I once thought of globalization as a natural side effect of creating a global community. By global community, I am referring to our class’s definition of “All people around the world living by and fighting for similar social values and basic rights”. Globalization seems to me to be the merging of different cultures into one mass culture. To me this doesn’t seem right. Aren’t we proud of our own individual identities? Sure, we love to travel to experience difference cultures, but to me this would eliminate travel if we can experience a taste of those other cultures down the road in a restaurant. Do I really need to go to Rome and Florence if I can get all of that in in the Italian restaurants in “Little Italy” in NYC? This is what the Muslim culture is pushing back against so much- what they see as the West ‘infiltrating’ their culture and influencing their people. I don’t really blame them when the American culture seems to spread as far and wide as it can.
What do we do when there are countries and cultures that cannot afford to say no to influencing cultures? It’s hard to step back when economic deals push forward at a break-neck speed. But it is the right of those people to be able to take their culture into their own hands and choose what to and what not to allow into their country. However, there is no direct way to do this I am afraid; economic dealings come with supply and demand. The more we give into these businesses, the more they will thrive. The only thing to do in order to see these influences slowly go away is to put your money elsewhere. That is part of the reason I have vowed to not try to buy or eat anything that I can get at home. I want to experience the culture in the places I visit for what they are stereotypically known for. So, I will not be stopping into the Starbucks down the street or the Urban Outfitters when I am trying to find something new. Instead it’s Nando’s and Primark.
I cannot decide whether I like seeing American Apparel stores in the UK. I appreciate the global reach that this company has been able to spread to, but at the same time I see it as an infringement on my time here learning about a new country. Perhaps this is making a big deal over something insignificant but it does make you wonder.
Robins, K., 2002. Encountering Globalization. In: C. Held & A. McGrew, eds. The Global Transformations Reader. Cambridge: Polity. Ch. 20.
The Travels of a T-shirt in the Global Economy