For the past 6 weeks, I’ve eaten a primarily vegetarian diet, and have really enjoyed it. I’ve had no cravings of any kind for chicken/beef/fish.
For much of the past 16 weeks, I’ve been in many places that are still authentically the way they have been for a long time.
And so stepping off the plane into Bahrain’s airport was a bit of a cultural shock.
No one ever said that an airport was a good place to get an authentic experience of a place.
But from 8 hours in Bahrain’s Airport, I’m surprised about a couple of things:
-How quickly the brands I’ve seen and foods I’ve eaten most of my life can become somewhat foreign to me (good thing if you’re anti-globalization)
-How the airport terminal I was in had nothing that could be considered Bahraini, other than the people and styles of dress (bad thing if you’re anti-globalization).
I think the people protesting against globalization outside the G8/G20 summits have a valid point.
Global companies can wreck the authenticity of a place and put local retailers out of business quite quickly.
But protesting in Canada, Europe, or the U.S. (against government support of companies expanding their reach) may not have much effect.
Global companies ARE expanding aggressively in Bahrain and India and Vietnam and China, and will continue to do so. The markets of these countries have too much money and are too big for the companies not to expand.
This push has been so complete in Thailand already that we felt like it was quite difficult to have a truly authentic Thai experience, because someone was always talking about Facebook or text messaging, things which, to me, feel inherently like western-world activities.
Globalization is well on its way.
In some of the more authentic places we’ve been (Bilaspur, India comes to mind) many locals are proud of and excited about having global brands build stores and bring their merchandise to their town. This is true even if the merchandise that will be in the stores has been produced across town for the last 20 years and will be sold at a 4-5 times markup in the store.
Around the world, many people are excited about learning English, and most people we’ve seen (even people you might consider really poor) are using cell phones.
Here are some simple and amazing stats on that:
-China has 5x the number of people learning English as England has people.
-India has 2.5x the number of cell phone users as the United States has people.
-A younger generation, all around the world, has grown up only knowing a time when the Internet existed. I’m almost in that group, but can remember seeing the Internet for the first time in 6th grade and realizing (even then) how amazingly powerful it was. In places we’ve been, this new generation has much of its cultural identity from their parents. At the same time, many of this generation has adapted to western styles of dress, communication, and styles of living. It’s unclear what that will mean for the next generation.
Anyway, after spending 8 hours in the airport, I have no idea what a typical meal in Bahrain might be.
That’s because the airport (at least where we were), is a collection of brands and restaurants I recognize very well.
There’s even a Macaroni Grill coming soon.
That makes mesad because I think it doesn’t have to be EITHER/OR when it comes to companies and brands expanding their reach. I think it can be AND.
I’ll be keeping my eyes more open in the future for companies that are doing this well. I don’t know of any right off the top of my head.
Globalization has allowed us to travel the world reasonably comfortably. It has allowed us to connect with people in amazing ways. Through the tools of globalized companies, we’ve been able to travel the way that we have (relatively inexpensively and (once we got things down to a system) relatively easily).
It’s the globalized tools which have led to us having experiences that no global company could change or perfect, because the homogenized globalized nature of the brands could not duplicate or mass-replicate the uniqueness of eating a home-cooked Nan and curry on the floor of someone’s home with your hands.