Quick! What images come to mind when you think about America? If you thought of fast food, hicks, and television, then you’re not too far off from the mindset of a European.
Despite the fact that I am nearly 4,600 miles from home (or 7,400 kilometers for the others), I still find bits of America here and there in this far off city of Maastricht, Netherlands. For example, the first place I ate at while in this city was at a McDonald’s (as you may recall). Add KFC, Subway, Burger King, and Domino’s Pizza to the list of fast food joints here in Maastricht and you got a pretty good cover of American fast food joints.
There’s even three McDonald’s located in Maastricht, which is surprising since the city itself is not remarkably big; to give an idea of size, Maastricht is roughly half the size (by area) of St. Joseph, Missouri, but with a population density that is more than three times greater than St. Joseph.
The idea of what an American is varies from European to European, but let me hone you in with a few keywords: Homer Simpson, Peter Griffin, hicks. Yes, shows such as Family Guy and The Simpsons have created a lasting impact of the view of Americans abroad, even though those shows themselves are satires of American caricatures. And some Europeans may view Americans as being largely of the cowboy rural type, though only half of that being the truth (many Americans are largely from the rural areas of the United States). As I had pointed out before, some aspects of American pop culture have probably established this (somewhat) true perspective of Americans to an audience abroad.
Now for the big question to ask: Is all of this a bad thing? You probably won’t get a straight answer from anyone, but to answer honestly, I don’t see it as being terrible. The fast food joints are visited by anyone in Maastricht, my international friends included (though we prefer to keep to cooking for ourselves at most times) and they all enjoy the food when wanted. Television shows, such as the ones listed before, are quite popular among everyone; add Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother to the list of popular American TV shows that Europeans enjoy to that list as well.
Hollywood films are also big business in Europe, with many of my international friends here being very familiar with all of the big titles over the years. While I can’t say movie theaters are nearly as common here as in the US, they are around and people do attend the movies (though pirating seems to be the most popular way to watch movies among everyone). The only downside with American films getting a release in Europe is that they tend to be delayed from anywhere to a couple of days to several months. Some films, such as Ted, don’t get a release until months after the US release, which can only be a shot in the foot for distributors since Europeans can easily find pirated copies of the film online before they’re ever released in a cinema in Europe.
One film I particularly apt at wanting to see is Looper, but I’m going to have to wait until December if I want to see it at a theater, despite the fact that it has already been out in the States for nearly two weeks.
And where do I fit into this imperialistic-apparent juxtaposition? Well, for one thing, I know I’m here to get a viewpoint that is outside of the States, though I keep finding myself coming back to it from time to time, and not by my own doing. Sometimes I probably put on the look of an American a little too well, at my dismay at times. I am easily larger than your standard European, both in height and bulk. I speak loudly and talk about my love of barbecue a little too much. I even tend to wear a sleeveless shirt that reads “USA” in big bold letters, which often leads to laughs among my friends (and I’m totally cool with this as well, it’s all tongue-in-cheek anyway).
With a little over two months left in my tenure in Maastricht, it will be interesting to see how things develop, especially with the looming presidential election in the United States. I’m commonly asked about my views of the candidates by other Europeans, who do take a very keen interest in the proceedings of an election that they have no sway in. Even the long arm of American politics has found its way into the minds of others abroad…