Sunday, June 28, 2009

International Negro : Episode 3 - America's Greatest Cultural Export.

[Editor's Note: I grappled with how to best blog about my recent 10 day trip to Europe, and the various eye-opening experiences encountered. So, I present to you the latest installment a limited edition, infrequently running, and likely pointless special series called International Negro.]

You hear a lot mentioned about how much American culture is mimicked, imitated, and damn near idolized in other countries. This may be true, but after now having visited about 10 European countries, I can't really co-sign on this much, not based on my personal observations at least.

One refrain I commonly hear from black folks is that rap music is extra bad because folks overseas see this and form their perceptions of black folks as a result. I can't say I've ever had any personal encounter that would back up this assertion. Maybe nobody assumed this cause in a Polo and jeans, I don't "look" like a rapper. Maybe dressing like a rapper is what makes folks assume this. Go figure.

I'm pretty sure these young Swedish ladies didn't copy Cassie, or Carmelo Anthony's baby mama. This "half shaved head" thing was pretty popular in every country we visited.

Yeah, rap music is global in reach, but I can't say I heard "Turn My Swag On" a single time on my trip. Or much rap music, beyond some skater kids at this Helsinki waterfront park blasting Main Source (WTF? I hadn't heard "Lookin' At The Front Door" since 97'). Or rap attire. Or rappers. Or American recording artists, period.

Sure, there were the Britney Spears In Concert ads on bus stops in St. Petersburg that were a bit odd. And the Ciara Magic Ride ad at the back of an Oslo summer music guide was a little unexpected. But on a whole, other than movies, I didn't peep many vestiges of American pop culture anywhere on my trip.

Sure, there was the rare Kobe #8 jersey, a D-Wade Heat jawn, the Pittsburgh Steelers themed Gilbert Arenas Wizards jersey (huh?), or the inexplicably popular Pau Gasol #16 Grizzlies get ups, but even American sports aren't too popular.

Score one for American culture!

Familiar food was easy to spot, at least in this Polish liquor store where I found plenty of Big Red in addition to the native goods. The golden arches aren't as plentiful as in, say, Newark, but you'll find McDonald's, Dunkin' Donuts, and Baskin & Robbins if you look hard enough. Other than one memorable trip to Burger King (I couldn't resist spending almost $27 USD to try the Pinata Whopper), I didn't bother indulging, but my family said the food otherwise tasted exactly like back home. Pour out a lil' liquor for Ray Kroc... and hypertension.

Finally, American cars weren't easy to spot either. You'd see the occasional Ford subcompact, but Euros generally push European whips. Opels, Peugeots, and BMWs were the norm. And strangely, while we associate the brand Mercedes Benz with luxury, it's really and truly just another car over there. Literally. Every taxi I saw was a Benz. So, GM ain't gettin' bailed out by Scandinavians.

But I'll tell you what's really, really, really popular throughout Europe (yeah, even in Russia): Graffiti. The roots of graffiti as a whole are dubious, but the Wild Style-like tags I saw all over Europe on both trips are a definite stepchild of the American version with roots in the hip hop movement of the 70's. That, my friends, was pretty strange.

One final link to America that was pretty consistent though... you guessed it... Obama! This cool set of authentic wooden nesting dolls only set me back about $12 in Estonia. Can you guess who's nested inside the Obama Doll? I bet you'll never guess.Question: Do you think the international scope of Black American culture is somewhat over exaggerated? Can you guess who else (two other dolls) is nested inside the Obama Doll?

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