Americanization vs. Globalization

Last Wednesday, I watched the movie Pompey. It was pretty terrible, but the main guy was CUTE and the movie theater chairs were comfy. Then we had Chilis for dinner and some of us went to go shopping in Forever 21. This may seem like a not-blog-worthy day, and indeed it wasn’t a particularly unusual day. It might, however, defy some of the stereotypes you have about what my life in Mexico is like. Hint: it’s not that different from my life in America, except we pay in pesos and speak in Spanish.

I wrote this blog more than three years ago, during a four week service trip in Solola, Guatemala. If anything, the phenomenon of Americanization is stronger in Mexico than in Guate, especially in a large city like Guadalajara. 

The view from inside the clouds. Americanization can't touch this, ya'll.

The view from inside the clouds. Americanization can’t touch this, ya’ll.

Globalization (or globalisation) describes the process by which regional economies, societies, and cultures have become integrated through communication, transportation, and trade. The term is most closely associated with the term economic globalization: the integration of national economies into the international economy through trade, foreign direct investment, capital flows, migration, the spread of technology, and military presence.

Americanization is the influence of the United States on the popular culture, technology, business practices, political techniques or language, of other countries.

This weekend, our team had the awesome opportunity to go to Xela (pronounced Shayla), a city about 2 hours from our home in Solola for the weekend. We left Saturday morning and got to Xela in time for lunch and walking around the city before salsa lessons and going to a Peace Corps welcome party for new volunteers (not that any of us actually fit into that category…). It was a great weekend, and Xela is a beautiful city filled with old gorgeous architecture and a lovely park in the middle. I also got to show off my foosball skills, so all in all a wonderful time.

One of the things that really struck me in Xela, however, was the amount of American branding everywhere. I got a McFlurry at McDonald’s, ate lunch at a Subway, bought Skittles at a store in a mall and went to the bathroom in a Walmart. We also passed a Wendy’s, a Burger King, a Taco Bell, a Payless Shoe Store, and many other familiar corporations from home. Justin Bieber often plays in the buses and people everywhere wear American Eagle and Hollister clothes that they bought from second hand stores here in Guatemala.

Solola is not nearly so americanized- there’s probably a Shell station somewhere nearby and you can buy Diet Cokes at the tienda next door, but even the men still wear traditional Mayan clothing and the only fast food place is Pollo Campero, a Guatemalan chain.

It was kind of nice, in Xela, to have a little bit of home (but also kind of hard to figure out how to ask for a 6-inch sub in Spanish when they use the metric system here…), but it’s gotten me thinking. I certainly wouldn’t want to live in Xela, and if I did, I certainly wouldn’t want to eat Subway every day, or else why would I have left home? People everywhere talk about globalization with the internet and the amazing amount of communication we can have across the world (case in point- you’re reading this, and you are almost certainly not in Guatemala right now), and in some ways I know it has been great. I was able to come to Guatemala and learn and live here because of the globalization of our world- we would never have recognized the need if we could not see or speak to the people. Yet is it really globalization we’re after, or is it americanization?

My first few days here were rough. The water only works well between the hours of 9am-1pm, then they shut it off to conserve. You have to throw your toilet paper in a trash can. I didn’t have a computer and hadn’t heard from much family or friends, and I appreciated every bit of home I could get. On tough days I would remind myself that I only had 3 weeks left. But the people who live here never get to leave, and their tiendas and water-outages are home for them. And now that I really do love it here and wake up looking forward to what new parts of Guatemala I’ll see today, I wish there was a way to share their home with my friends and family back home. I wish there was a way for you all to see the view out the window in the morning or the fog when the clouds literally float past the windows, or the huge cliffs that are supported by nothing towering over the beautiful lake below. I wish you could hear the markets or meet the people or eat the food, and I wish globalization went both ways.

I wish globalization really meant a sharing of cultures, and not an imposing of one. Maybe that’s why I love coming on these trips- because I can come home with handmade pieces of clothing, some local food, and stories and stories and stories. And maybe if more of us committed to a real understanding of a global awareness, maybe we’d start to see some Pollo Campero in the US.

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20 Comments

  1. A very interesting point; especially coming from an American :-) I come from South Africa and at the moment we’re living in Bangkok,Thailand… You will be amazed to see the Western influence here and it’s definitely ‘Americanization’ not globalization… The ‘American dream’ made it everywhere and because it’s so different from the traditional Thai culture (for example) it has a very strange effect on everyone trying to live up to it. I also have to say it is nice to be able to have a McFlurry, eat lunch at a Subway or be able to buy Skittles if I really want to, but Thai food are awesome, much cheaper and probably healthier :-)

    1. Some of the Americanization is nice, but it’s sad to buy tacos at Chilis while you’re in Mexico, especially when Mexican food is cheaper and better. Thanks for chiming in!

  2. Americanization vs Globalization remains as relevant today. Interesting that Chinas new 10 year plan indicates that despite massive economic growth they wont see themselves as a true superpower until their cultural influence is much more globally widespread. I am more amused than distressed over the phenomenon of folks going abroad yet seeking out the brands etc that are familiar from home. Good example, many regard Tokyo as very expensive. True if you stay in an American Hotel Chain and eat accordingly. Totally the opposite if you stay at a Ryakan and eat like the locals,Not sure why many travel but to each their own,

    1. I think some people want to feel comfortable where they are, and American food chains is a way for them to do that. Not saying it’s right or wrong, just different perspectives.

  3. So interesting! I work for a translation company, so globalization is a familiar topic, but I hadn’t really considered the impact of Americanization. Thanks for this post!

    1. It just seems like a lot of globalization goes one way and I wish Americans could gain as much from other cultures as we tend to impose on them.

  4. It has been years since I went to Tikal, Guatemala which is one of the largest archaeological sites of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization. Back then it was untouched by Americanization. I have no idea what it is today but there are many places where you can really enjoy the culture.

    1. When I was in Guatemala, Tikal wasn’t a super safe area to travel to. I always wanted to visit though, it’s supposed to be amazing!

  5. It is often overlooked regarding how powerful the draw is to be what we are and have what we have. What is even more curious is the resentment that accompanies it. What’s missed is the choice on what to have or not. There is a choice that needs to be conscious not by default as it often is. If that happened there would be a blending of both, maintaining the beauty of the culture that is being affected. It is a nice dream. Just my thoughts. :-)

    1. I totally agree! I think a blending of both and maintaining the beauty of each in that would be the ideal.

  6. Very interesting points and I agree with them. Just like Susan said the choices that are made and the resentment that accompanies them seem to go hand and hand. Imposing your culture on others is wrong , yet for hundres of years this has continued and will continue unless there is a serious change.

    1. Agreed. I don’t think many Americans even realize that we are trampling other cultures by imposing “our way” of doing things. There are many right ways to do things, and Americans could certainly learn a thing or two from how other people do things.

  7. I used to teach in a rural school where lots of the students were from migrant farm worker families. It was always painful to watch the Americanization process, since some students learn the language and cultural expectations faster than others.

    1. Absolutely. It’s also hard to watch when they start to lose their first language or culture as they become more “American”. Teaching children that their home culture is valuable and important is so vital as the immigrate to a new country.

  8. I agree completely that a sharing of cultures should mean sharing – not just making other cultures more like America. The only other country I’ve been to is Mexico; we used to go often in the late 80s and early 90s and the entire appeal was the fact that it was totally different from home. At that time I never saw a McDonald’s or any other fast food there. If I went back now and saw that it had been ‘Americanized’ I would be very disappointed.

    1. A lot of Mexico has become very Americanized now, especially the tourist destinations. They have their staff mariachi band and they serve margaritas, but they also have McDonalds and California Pizza Kitchen.

  9. I really do wish globalization went both ways. I fear Americanization is the stronger force sometimes. I have been fortunate to be able to travel (my parents practically commanded it) and I think we’d all be better off if Americans spent some real time in other countries and cultures.

  10. Rachel, great point you make. To be honest I’ve never traveled like you (I’m born, raised, and still live in Southern California) but I have many friends who have expressed some of the same things you do. America is everywhere. But I have to imagine, is this Americanization or simply corporations making more profits? These are american companies, absolutely, but I wouldn’t say it is America doing this. Our free market system, perfect or imperfect as it is, has allowed these companies to grow to a point where they can reach beyond our own borders. If those companies are there, and stay there, that means that the local economy is supporting it (people are buying the goods). In that I don’t see a problem. But if those companies (McDonalds, Subway, etc) start changing the culture as a whole, then yes there is a real problem. If families start going to McDonalds instead of the family gatherings they once had, that is Americanization that should never happen.

  11. I love to soak in the culture when visiting another country. I avoid the American companies when not at home. What is the point of being in another nation if we stay at an American chain hotel and eat at McDonalds?

  12. […] sparked this idea was a post by Rachel Haltiwanger over at The Inspired Story. She makes a very simple statement about the difficulty of ordering a 6-inch sub at Subway in […]

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