Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Here and there

People often ask me if there’s anything I miss from the US; they also ask me if there’s anything I miss about the US, but my answer to that more general question depends on context. At one time or another, though, I’ve answered both questions here or in my podcast.

The question about things from the US is about stuff—products, food, TV shows, even. The truth is, there isn’t much to miss.

When I first arrived in New Zealand, there were some familiar brands—Kellogg’s, Heinz, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and so on. Later, other brands entered the market, like Ocean Spray products, Oreos, Ritz Crackers and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. The point isn’t any particular product—I didn’t, and still don’t, necessarily buy any of them. But their presence made my new home seem more familiar.

On the other hand, we don’t have all the American fast-food chains (which is a good thing), and there are some products that I certainly do miss (a couple I’ve mentioned before: tinned pumpkin and Little Debbie Nutty Bars). By and large, though, I can get everything I can think of, even if sometimes it means a local equivalent or something more creative (like making pumpkin puree for pies from scratch, as I will do someday).

So in some ways it seems like there’s very little difference left anymore. Some Kiwis have complained about “creeping Americanism” to describe alien cultural traditions, like American-style Halloween, being introduced into New Zealand. And yet, American products or influence turn up in the oddest places, not all of them obvious.

Recently I noticed that a local takeaway restaurant was putting dipping sauces in small plastic containers made by Solo Cup, either in Urbana, Illinois (pictured), or Highland Park, Illinois; the latter is close enough to where I grew up that I knew some kids from high school who had summer jobs there during their university years.

I’ve also heard evidence. When I first arrived in New Zealand, people would say they were going to go to the toilet (meaning the room), or sometimes the loo. These days I often hear people refer to “the bathroom” instead. Pronunciation of some words is slowly shifting and, thanks to “English (US)” being the default spelling dictionary in Microsoft Word, American spellings are often used in emails and other documents—sometimes even making it into newspapers.

The uniqueness of New Zealand certainly isn’t about to disappear, but to me it seems a shame that so much of American culture is being absorbed into New Zealand along with its products. Just further examples of the effects of globalisation, I suppose.

Still, if somebody could do something about getting canned pumpkin and Little Debbie products into the grocery stores here, I wouldn’t mind at all. And that’s exactly why globalisation has the effect it does.

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