Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Transcending Nationalities

American music follows you everywhere. Pink is played on the same station sqeezed between a Hungarian DJ and some local music, which has similar (though inferior) production values.

Pizza and gelati transcend nationalities.

So do obnoxious drunk people.

Sports hysteria also transcends sport. Crazy wigs are not limited to (American) football.

Never doubt the ability of a hit song to bring people together. "American Boy" is just beginning to climb the charts in the States, but the Hungarians went crazy for it, whereas their English-speaking breathren in the States, Canada, and Australia all were clamoring for some Flo-Rida, chanting "APPLE-BOTTOM JEANS, BOOTS WITH THE FUR."

New York City is practically a mecca. Here, on a coastal town in central Hungary, you can eat at Manhattan Pizza, buy baseball hats with NY emblazed on the front (note: no one will ever buy that you ever bought it in NY, let alone the States), dance at Club NY, and shop at Broadway shoes. New York City inspires so much awe that when I told a drunk Hungarian girl I was from there she felt moved to kiss my entire face, as if I were her savior.

People and things do not look so different in Central Europe. Fashion, with the exception of a few rattails and mullets, is essentially the same. You cannot usually tell who are the tourists, who are the Americans, the Germans, the English, only by the language they speak. The biggest barrier is the language, and if you are in a country whose language is romance-based, you will be fine. All you need to do is look at a menu or a sign.

Speaking of signs, roads are not well marked, only occasionally posted on the side of a building. There are not many traffic lights outside of a major city. There are no big numbers or signs marking national or international highways, though many street signs (no cars allowed, speed limits, etc.) are the same throughout Europe. Pictures, even for ones explaining tanning and nail salon, are frequent. With so many people speaking different languages, this is the easiest way to communicate.

This might possibly be the longest period of time in my life that I will go without turning on my cell phone.

It is comforting to realize that gender behavior stays the same throughout centuries and cultures. Women still want pretty jewelry even if they lived in dark mud palaces in the 9th century, and teenage boys are still rowdy and annoying in a rundown train in sketchy Hungarian towns. It does not mean that they cannot be helpful, just like train security guards can be too eager to help out tourists and get information wrong.

I have seen how global we all are. American media is very insular, and we rarely care about anywhere else, at least not for extended periods of time. In the time that I have been away, we have heard inklings on the BBC of floods across the world, including Cedar Rapids, OH, and earthquakes in Tokyo. We really are screwed. I might live in the US, the dominant country of the universe, but we are not doing so well, as our dollar is now becoming a punchline.

But so far I would not live anywhere else. I like American lingerie, swimwear, music, toilets, doors, and media too much to kiss it goodbye.


Emily said...

A lot of times I forget that the city where I work is truly the greatest city in the world, and that people from everywhere want to go there. But I'm there everyday, and to me it's just a crowded, smelly place with just too much going on.

I liked this post, and I agree that we are screwed. The flooding in the midwest is getting really bad. But on a good note, hundreds of gay couples were wed this week in CA! Yay!

MediaMaven said...

Emily, I have so much New York pride now. I can't wait to go back into the city soon. It's so easy to forget how great the city is...although if you find it to be smelly and crowded, make sure you don't visit London, Bejing, or Mumbai.

John said...

What's so bad about international lingerie/swimwear? Don't we steal all of our best designs from other countries anyway?

I was about to call you a poseur, but then I remembered you actually ARE from New York originally. I'll bet I won't get the same reaction when I tell people I'm from NJ if/when I travel, but maybe they won't immediately laugh in my face either.

They say the easy way to spot tourists (at least in the U.S.) is to look for white sneakers. Was that true abroad?

Cinematician said...

Okay, well, first of all, we definitely do NOT steal all our designs from other countries, but that's another comment on another blog.

This is really interesting, since I've been wondering recently about what people in other countries think about America, and how well known New York is. I mean, everybody in the world knows Paris, and everyone knows England and Moscow, but I wasn't sure if the same thing was true about New York. I guess it is though, and from what you say, apparently they put American culture even above the culture from their neighboring countries, like Great Britain and France (maybe they're not direct neighbors, but they're closer than we are). Maybe it's the distance, stuff here probably seems more exotic because it's so far away, and not as easy to get too.

And though I knew the dollar was bad, I didn't know it was bad enough to become a joke in other countries.

MediaMaven said...

John, we might steal television concepts from other countries, but on clothing I found European designs to be oddly constructed, and they looked terrible both on mannequins and on people. Lingerie and bathing suits were cut weird, usually very unflattering, and were lumpy and just all sorts of wrong.

As for tourists, I don't recall seeing much of any white sneakers; a lot of people wore sandals. (For the record, my sneakers are purple.) Backpacks or other large bags might be a bigger indication of a tourist.

Depending upon who was asking, I said I was from New York, since I live close to the city and it's a lot easier for some foreigners to get an idea of where I'm from than a lengthy explanation.