Over spring break this year, I visited my good friend Sergio in Seville, Spain. He is a Colombian-American who moved to Seville in September to attend medical school for a fraction of the cost he would’ve paid in the U.S.
We spent 10 days exploring the city – strolling through Plaza de España and the Moorish royal palace, chatting over tapas and beer, visiting art museums and galleries and touring the former mosque that was converted into a Gothic cathedral in the 13th century.
We also saw a flamenco show, attended a Classical Portuguese opera and traveled to Córdoba, a city that was both a stronghold of the Roman Empire in antiquity and a major Islamic center during the Middle Ages.
Despite Seville’s rich history and culture, I couldn’t help but notice the McDonald’s, Starbucks and Burger Kings around the center of the city. I’ve seen American fast food chains in nearly every city to which I’ve traveled – KFC in Hangzhou and Accra, Domino’s in Istanbul and Tokyo – but every time I see such establishments, my stomach churns. Is globalization really just Americanization?
Tunisian academic Wassim Daghrir argues that globalization as Americanization is a conspiracy theory, writing that “the United States has been as much a consumer of foreign intellectual and artistic influence as it has been a shaper of the world’s cultures.” He also writes that the U.S. has “transformed what it received from others into a culture everyone, everywhere, could embrace – a culture that is both emotionally and, on occasion, artistically compelling for millions of people throughout the world.”
Daghrir goes so far as to say that the U.S.’s dependence on foreign cultures has made it a replica of the world, but I have to disagree.
In theory, the U.S. is a melting pot built upon a foundation of diversity. However, I can’t tell you the last time I heard an American raving about a non-American movie or TV show. Not to mention, the restaurants we deem “foreign,” such as Chinese takeout, are actually Americanized versions of other countries’ cuisines.
Contrary to what Daghrir thinks, Americans do not consume non-American intellectual and artistic influences. Cultural showcases on campus, such as the Persian Arts Festival last semester, attract meager audiences. Only 25 percent of American adults report speaking a language other than English. For these reasons, during my time at Ole Miss I’ve written two yearbook articles about the need to bridge gaps between international and domestic students.
If anything, Americans pick and choose the bits and pieces of various cultures that they like (Mexican food, Sriracha sauce, Louis Vuitton, etc.) and ignore the rest.
American culture is romanticized, admired and fetishized in many countries. When I was in sixth grade in Perth, Australia, girls at my private school gushed about cheerleaders and “High School Musical.” At the Contemporary Arts Center in Córdoba, a visual exhibit of American military and war movies was on display. My host sister during my stay in Italy said she wished she could have the “American college experience” like me, and I can’t tell you how many times people have told me that their dream is to go to New York City.
While I was in Seville, Sergio’s roommates went to see “Black Panther” at the movies, played beer pong and “pregamed” before going out. At a pregame with a German, a Dutch-Rwandan, two Italians and two Spaniards, we spoke English and someone shared a funny meme about Trump’s proposal to arm teachers. I felt like I had barely left Oxford.
By far the most noticeable effect of Americanization on Spain is that to sustain its economy, the country must cater to American tourists. In 2016, tourism accounted for 14 percent of Spain’s GDP, and around 2 million American tourists visited Spain that same year. There’s a reason that all the McDonald’s and Starbucks are located in the centers of big cities: to provide comfort and familiarity to tourists.
One day Sergio introduced me to his Colombian friend who had just opened up an American-style diner, reminiscent of the one in “Grease,” near the Museum of Fine Arts of Seville. He said the majority of his customers are Americans.
Jacqueline Knirnschild is a sophomore anthropology and Chinese double major from Brunswick, Ohio.