They Hate Us/Love Us/All of the Above

They hate us. Or, wait—maybe not. They must love us, if you judge by their fondness for things American.

I´m talking about people in other countries of the world, particularly Latin America.

Teguc fast food2

Tegucigalpa

While there are plenty of people in the world 
who don’t care for 
America or Americans, it is false to generalize that “they” don’t like us.

I can’t blame some of them for not wanting political ties with the United States; among the major powers of the world, our country has done far more than its share of manipulating the governments or affairs of other countries, and often not for the better. But I have found few people in the world who truly dislike all Americans in general. At the individual level, when you can appreciate their culture, when you can see our common ties of humanity and perhaps say a few words in their own language, they are usually friendly and kind.

Many of them may want to avoid any political involvement with the United States, but they seem to love the things we have to export and sell. They don’t want to be tied to us, but they want what we have. The penetration of North American commercial products and pop culture in other areas continues to amaze me.

That is not to say that they don’t love fine things from other areas as well—Mercedes cars, Samsung televisions and telephones, European watches and clothing. Still, it is interesting to see the inordinate influence that American fashions, products, and social trends seem to have.

Case in point: The background music in malls here, more often than not, seems to be American pop tunes. (Think “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” in Spanish-speaking semitropical Guatemala at Christmas.) Often the music was popular when I was young. This makes me wonder about the demographic they’re trying to reach.

Case in point: Looking down the street from the Marriott Hotel where we stayed in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, you see McDonald´s, and then, in a cluster, Chili´s, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and Denny’s. There are many good local restaurants, but American fast food outlets are well-entrenched in major cities of every country in Central America. The only exception seems to be KFC, which has to compete with Pollo Campero, a Guatemalan chain that got a big head start.

Pradera smoothies

La Pradera Mall, Guatemala City

Case in point: Billboards, print ads, and packaging often incorporate English slogans, phrases, and terms—but this does not seem to be a problem in selling products.

People in Central America seem to travel back and forth to the United States regularly to vacation or visit family. I think I have yet to meet a family here that does not have someone who has lived in the U.S. or is living there now. Almost all of the favorite grocery, apparel, hardware, and electronic products found in the U.S. can be found here, and many of the grocery and home products are just as cheap or cheaper. As in other parts of the world, Disney princesses, Las Vegas casinos, the Grand Canyon, Broadway shows, and the Golden Gate Bridge crop up on souvenir clothing. We often see shirts, sweatshirts, and sports jackets with the names of NBA, NFL, MLB, MLS, or even high school sports teams.

Who would have thought a few decades ago that we’d find Walmart and Payless Shoe Source in Quetzaltenango?

The little lady who sells hot lunches out of a van across the street from the offices where we work is competing with Burger King and McDonald’s down the street.

Free enterprise is a good thing, of course, and I have to give credit to businesses that have so thoroughly penetrated the world.

It’s just too bad we’ve made people wary of our democracy while we’ve persuaded them to embrace our fast food.

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