We’ve been traveling around South America for about a month and a half and so far everything had been vastly different from the United States. None of the major stores, products, restaurants, or fast food places have been spotted, except for the occasional McDonalds, Coca-cola, Doritos, and Oreos. Whenever we would see something familiar we would be surprised and excited since we’ve been away from the U.S. for so long. This got to the point where others were willing to pay over $2 for a taste of home (i.e. a Snickers candy bar) when the local candy sitting next to it was only 50 cents.
Then we came to Lima, Peru. It is so much like the U.S. it was weird. I was put off by the city’s resemblance to something like California right on the Pacific Ocean. It still had some of the characteristics of the South American cities that we had grown accustomed to, but it was so…Americanized. There was actually a mall near our hotel with Burger King, KFC, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, Chili’s, etc. all lined up one right after another (what!?). The clothing stores looked exactly like stores back in the U.S. Our hotel had outlets with the correct voltage for our U.S. electronics and we were given menus in English (now where’s the fun in that?). It felt like being home again, but it felt so odd because I knew I wasn’t.
Why is it that culture of the U.S. has such a strong influence on other nations? How did we become this big powerhouse of a nation where success and wealth meant being like us? I have learned that we are stereotyped here to be snobbish, messy, and greedy, yet sometimes other countries or cities wish to emulate us, like in Lima. It sort of has the feel of the stereotypical captain of the high school cheerleading team—you hated her but still wanted her life.
After spending some time in South America I am starting to see why perhaps these countries value being like us instead of wanting to retain their own culture (this seems to only apply to large cities). I’ve found in South America a greater importance in family and being happy where you are; here they just want to survive. In U.S. culture we have greater value placed upon having wealth, success, and power and are constantly trying to get ahead materialistically. The media outlets of the U.S. have grown so powerful that images of what it’s like to live here are spreading out to other countries, and they see how we live and they start to want that too. The influence the U.S. has on countries of South America can make the people think maybe they shouldn’t be content with family and being happy. They start to believe they need more money and material goods, like us. They see that life can be different and naively think it must be better since our nation is so powerful economically, politically, and technologically. I witnessed this in Ecuador where it meant a higher social status for locals if they wore North American-style clothing–that type of clothing is much more expensive in South America, so if you were able to afford it, you had more money. (Ironically, U.S. style clothing is rarely even made in the U.S., but it is still considered as originating from there.)
Yet there are people in these countries that don’t like people from the U.S. I suspect that for the most part it is the older generations that tend to not like people from the U.S., while the younger generations try to emulate us. I believe the older people in these countries see how materialistic we can be and don’t like it, while the younger folk are more impressionable and so instead of disliking us, they want to be like us because of the media influence. It is also the case that different people have had different experiences with people from the U.S., whether they are good or bad. I think when people of South America have bad experiences with those from the U.S. they generalize by what country they are from instead of other influential characteristics of that person.
I do, however, have hope for a better future and more feelings of national pride for South America, as well as hope for a better relationship and understanding between the people of South America and of the U.S.