U.S. culture knows no national boundaries

    “”G’mornin’ to ye. We’ll start talking today about — Oh, first I want to wish a happy Thanksgiving to the American students in the class,”” said one of my professors last Thursday. To the two Americans in the hall, this was a very kind gesture. In fact, all the Irish students were kind to us Americans beyond the call of duty. Obviously, Thanksgiving is not usually even a passing thought in Cork.

    Come to think of it, this is the first event held sacred by Americans that I have had to explain to the Irish students. “”Thanksgiving? Is that the holiday where people dress in funny hats and belt buckles?”” asked one of my friends. “”What do you even do on Thanksgiving, other than watch American football?”” asked another with a startling amount of sincerity.

    Admittedly, it’s been fun being able to share our young culture with intrigued Irish students. However, these opportunities have been few and far between.

    The reason for this is quite obvious, as most college students will tell you. Globalization and mass commercialization have brought American culture flooding to all corners of the globe. In Cork, there is a McDonald’s, Burger King and Virgin Megastore on the same street, complete with Big Macs, Oreo shakes and Avril Lavigne: a shrine to American culture. However, while the likes of anti-capitalists take to the streets demonstrating the evils of destroying other cultures through globalization, very few of us seem to be asking, “”Hey, what about our culture?””

    Protesters are so concerned with other countries’ cultures that they have completely forgotten our own. Other cultures are in no more danger than our own adolescent one, though for different reasons. I maintain that if there is a cultural problem with globalization, it is not so much because of our infringement on other peoples’ cultures, but rather because of its dangerous effect on our own.

    That is not to say that we have a weak culture. Without question, American influence is felt strongly around the world. Therefore, it’s not endangered by other countries’ encroaching cultures, but rather it is in danger of becoming a global culture that has no definite home. In that respect, our culture is the most endangered on the planet. As any European will tell you, there are very few aspects of American culture that are not already known, if not assimilated, in their everyday lives.

    For example, every country has a sense of humor it calls its own. The Irish have always been known for their down-to-earth sense of humor that is often misunderstood by foreigners. Certainly, American students have had to acclimate to this odd sense of humor, saturated by irony and cynicism — not to mention alcohol. However, every Irish student completely understands and embraces American humor, because everyone crowds around the television every Thursday to watch “”Friends.”” Also, I am convinced that the reason Europe always hits our political hot buttons is because they have all watched “”The Simpsons”” so many times that they know every minute detail with which to satirize and criticize our country.

    Secondly, because America is so immersed in the search for its heritage, no one wants to consider a tradition “”American.”” Thousands of Americans rush into Ireland every year looking for their heritage or roots. Then they return to the States eager to practice their new-found traditions, which, to them, are obviously better than the ones America has begun. Furthermore, political correctness won’t even allow us to call ourselves American. Everyone is considered Mexican-American, African-American, even Scandinavian-American. I used to laugh at this and proudly assert that I am merely American, until someone earnestly referred to me on some paperwork as Irish-American, despite my Irish ancestry being at least six generations removed. I’m not saying it’s wrong to search for roots, but the denial of what culture we have furthers the danger that our culture will never be our own.

    Undeniably, the Irish have let much of the United States’ cultural influence invade their borders. However, Irish culture maintains a strong influence on the population. Traditional music sessions can be found every night. Irish dances are still boasted to be among the world’s best parties, complete with bottomless kegs and feisty Irish women. More subtly, the Irish do not succumb to most American-English dialects and mock us as “”langers”” when we refer to the toilets as “”restrooms.”” Some of the Irish are remarkably hard to understand, even when you get past the accent, merely because they hold to their own dialect and slang, much of which comes from direct translations of Irish Gaelic. It is quite clear that the Irish will not let themselves become a virtual United States culturally, despite the acceptance of some U.S. commercial influence.

    The same can be said of almost every European country. If you think for one second that France and Germany are going to allow their traditions to dissipate in light of caramel frapuccinnos, you might as well call Joe Watson a champion of popular student opinion. No, Europeans are quite able to keep their cultures intact.

    However, the same cannot be said of us. Our fledgling culture is in great danger of never being owned by the people who continually create it. Often pride in one’s country comes from history and tradition. We have little history and our traditions are being shared world-over before they can be given a chance to be called American.

    So this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for Thanksgiving itself, one of the few bastions of American culture that is solely America’s. It has become one of the few things that separate us from the mass culture that has preceded our arrival to the European countries. Oh, and I’m thankful for “”The Simpsons,”” too.

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