People say that being away glorifies being at home; you don’t really appreciate it until you’ve had to live without it. Well, after being away at school and then traveling abroad over the course of a month, I’ve realized this is indeed very true. After two weeks in Italy and Spain, I stayed another two weeks in France with my friend Pauline, a golf teammate from school who lives in Nantes, a town two hours by train west of Paris.
While being immersed in European culture, I found it a little hard to get used to all of the differences between the United States and Europe. From meal times to the general energy of the people, things took some getting used to. Nonetheless, one of the many things I did learn during my time there — something I was happy, even proud to find out — is the enormous influence American culture has abroad. Our social studies books describe it as “cultural imperialism.” Every aspect of American culture from books, movies, television and music to fashion, food and art has made its mark across the Atlantic Ocean. And while there’s no place like home, when traveling abroad, there are plenty of things to remind you of it.
In France, I was surrounded by French culture, especially since I was hanging out with Pauline and her friends. I went to a movie with them, I went shopping with them, I went to the beach, and I even caddied on the golf course. I learned so much about France’s young people, including that many are very familiar with American culture. They use a lot of American slang like “cool” and “okay” and then such “Franglais” phrases as “allez, we go!” They like drinking the “Monaco,” a drink with grenadine and lemonade that I’ve only had in France, but their favorite eatery is McDonald’s. Why do they love it so much? It’s cheap, fried and delicious, and totally American. During lunch hour people of all different ages wait in line to buy a McFlurry or a Big Mac.
Of course, the Europeans have put their own unique stamp on McDonald’s. For example, in Spain, they have a menu item called ConoKitKat, which is basically a vanilla ice cream cone with a Kit Kat chocolate bar stuck in it. I’ve never seen that here. The prices are much different as well; people pay more than six Euros, the equivalent to about nine dollars for a combo meal. But all in all, it’s still the same McDonald’s you’ll see on the street in just about every city in the United States.
The food isn’t the only thing that’s been adopted by the Europeans from the United States. While I was spending my two weeks in France with my friend and her family, I cheated my immersion experience a bit and went insearch of American literature — in English. In the bookstore, I was shocked to find that there were a multitude of books in English as well as a number of popular English books translated into French.
Teenagers in America are obsessed with “Twilight,” the books and now the movies. I mean, who can blame them, handsome vampires falling in love with mortals? And it is no different with French teenagers; they love the Twilight series too! Not only that, but they are just as fond of American stars as they are of French stars. In tabloids there are stories and pictures of the all-too-familiar Jennifer Aniston, Cameron Diaz, and Robert Pattinson. And if they like American movie stars, it seems only natural for Europeans to love American movies.
During my time in Europe, I only went to see one film, and it was a Swedish film translated into French called “Millennium.” Although this was not an American film, that doesn’t mean that Europeans aren’t following America’s entertainment industry with a close eye. In fact, most of the films I saw advertised in France, Spain and Italy were translated American or British films such as “The Hangover,” “Terminator,” and the much anticipated Harry Potter. And when I was traveling between hotels in those countries, the only consistent television channel in English was CNN. It was strangely comforting to be up to date in current events from the presidential election in Iran gone awry or the shooting at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.
When I got to France, however, I watched television in French to help me with my comprehension, and I have to say, it was pretty amusing to watch familiar shows like “Desperate Housewives,”
“The O.C.,” and “Friends” in a foreign language. It was fun to hear my favorite characters speaking French, and it showed how fascinated Europeans are with American entertainment, especially with popular American television shows and movies.
Of course some things are quintessentially European, like Italian fashion and pasta or Spanish tapas and flamenco. France, above all, has more than its fair share of culture, with names like Louis Vuitton and Chanel lining the Champs-Elysees. For Baroque architecture, ancient and medieval ruins, and Renaissance Art, the United States cannot even come close to comparing with what you find in Europe. But what I didn’t realize until my most recent visit is the extent of the influence of American culture, and there is no shame in it.
This past weekend was the Fourth of July. I know that our country is not doing terribly well right now, with hostile nations such as North Korea and Iraq on our bad side and the economy in shambles. But we remain strong just as our culture does, because our culture and people form the backbone of our country. It took a month in Europe to fully appreciate it, but I’m really proud to be an American.