Let’s jump right in.
I love and hate the influence that the West, and specifically the United States, has on the world. I love it because I can go anywhere in the world and move around with relative ease. I hate it because I can go anywhere in the world and move around with relative ease. Essentially, it takes away from the experience of feeling truly foreign in a foreign land. I am not a native Swahili or even French speaker who has to lean on a limited understanding of English to communicate while in Japan. I don’t go to Thailand with a strong German accent and struggle to order my scotch on the rocks. I, as a native English speaker, have it easy. And not only about language.
Yesterday, Desirée and I went to Good Town Doughnuts in the Harajuku district of Tokyo. While I’m not a fan of American country music, if I were, this would be the place for me because, the entire time we were there, an American country radio station was playing. While all the customers (except the two of us) were Japanese, the decor was quintessential Americana, down to the two flags hanging on the wall (though one was pretty cool in that it had the Holtom peace symbol replacing the stars). Tonight, we sat down for dinner at a Japanese-made beer company’s restaurant and I heard Anita, Stevie, and Diana playing through our meal. And don’t get me started on hip-hop’s impact; I walked into a vintage clothing store on the day we arrived and saw that 90% of the cultural influence came from the 5 boroughs, with a few splashes of NOLA and the West Coast. From De La Soul’s album at the entrance to Dipset’s Supreme photoshoot on the wall, I felt at home.
The thing is, I don’t leave the United States to feel at home. And I don’t feel that way all the time but I also know that my discomfort is always temporary. Eventually, I will find someone who will meet me where I am in conversation, whether we’re discussing politics, music or American football (shoutout to Cam Newton, who is the sole reason my barista in Santorini knows where North Carolina is).
It is nice to move with ease but doesn’t that take away some of the fun everyone else from around the world gets to have? When everyone speaks English and knows your major notable figures, doesn’t it say something about your own society’s narcissism for knowing very little about their society? This may never change. The U.S. may be this influential until the world ends. But the least we can do is make an effort to meet them halfway, right? I mean, I’ll be honest, I can’t even ask someone where the restroom is in Japanese (and haven’t had to because there is always dual signage). Let’s stop allowing our self-centeredness be what defines us.
Oh yeah… And I’m writing this while sitting in Starbucks because I knew I’d be able to hop on the WiFi with relative ease, which I wasn’t able to do the previous establishment (pictured above) where I needed a Japanese keyboard. See? I knew the comfort would come. Lucky me.
Make researching more than tourist sites before traveling abroad a priority.