Starbucks Nation: A Neo-Colonial Empire?

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If someone asked what best represented U.S. culture, what would you say? Our intern Aditi, while waiting for the bus after the famous “Black Friday”, reflected on what she thought perfectly represents American culture.

So let me tell you something interesting. As I sit and write down my fortnightly assortment of gibberish which you are kind enough to call a column, I know that this one is epic and you deserve to know why.

Firstly, it is 4:17 a.m., Thanksgiving Break; the day after the phenomenal Black Friday. Most of you are probably in delightful delirium, the best portion of the night’s slumber, nicely snuggling in your own beds at home under the watchful eyes of your pets (okay, if you have cats, they are probably as delirious as you right now!). On the other hand, your faithful columnist, who is a hopeless wanderer in this magnanimous nation of yours, is sitting at the Manhattan Port Authority Bus Terminal waiting for a bus.

international student voice thanksgiving 2
Aditi celebrating Thanksgivng in the U.S.

I waited for an hour pretending to sleep with my eyes open. I tried concentrating on an invisible point on the yellow wall in front of me. I tried to sleep but foreigners are too wary to sleep. I started gorging on those exquisite things you guys call “peppermint bars” (my next favorite thing about this country after marshmallows) which my friend’s mother had packed and re-packed for me as a part of a ravishing care package.

As I ingest more than half of my pretty package, which, by the way, was supposed to last a week, I remember what she told me. She said she was being my remote parent and it made her so happy feeding a college girl obsessed with anorexia. It struck me that I had heard that before. A year and a half back, I was in England and my exchanger’s mother had packed cous-cous and Cornish pasties for my trip back to India with the same sentiment. Moreover, in India, mothers will stuff you with food as if it was the eve of Acopalypse and today was the last opportunity to drain the pantry. However, this sentiment was conceived by unconditional love, of course, and the Indian tradition of transporting their guests to the Aiden of food, which even dyspeptics cannot escape.

Therefore, by the time I finished my container of peppermint bars, I realized that mothers are made of the same stuff, irrespective of whether they were from Sierra Leone or say, Burkina Faso or upstate Virginia. Ladies and Gentlemen, do you not discern a sense of globalization in that notion which settles with you much better than the notion of consumerist homogenization which we equate with globalization? My bus to Ithaca does not arrive till the nest hour, so I think I will go ahead and establish my point.

When people ask you what is Americanism and what is American culture, ceterus paribus, such that the White House, democratic ideals and politics cannot be in the set of responses, what is the most popular response you’ll extract?

I have a couple of answers for you. People will probably point out French Fries and Cheeseburgers, the cult of McDonalds and Starbucks and say, Apple as American culture. However, nothing could be further from reality. Cheeseburgers are not an American novelty and nor is coffee. Apple does not count because it is integrated in the Chinese culture as deeply as it is in America, such that the key difference is that the manufacturers and producers of intermediate parts are vested in China whereas the markets and consumers are predominantly American. I am not negating that Chicago has the most exemplary pizzas and Philadelphia the most remarkable cheese steaks. I am pointing out that relying on pizzas to define American culture is an example of ignorance and derision of a culture which exists, does have a foundation, but people refuse to notice it simply because it has always been there.

Celebrating Thanksgiving
Celebrating Thanksgiving

For instance, let us capitalize on Thanksgiving itself as the holiday spirit permeates between the layers of mist to linger there till Christmas arrives. No other country celebrates Thanksgiving as a prima facie festival. The meaning being that the discovery of the “New World” and the conflict with Native Americans, the lore of pilgrims and the hallowed boat are exclusive to the Americas alone. There is, of course, an indelible dark element to the legend and lore of the Americas as well, but it is the same with every country and every culture. However, the form Thanksgiving has assumed and adopted over the years is something which calls for acknowledgement as it is, to the mind of an extraneous element in your country, a beautiful thing.  The concept of grandmothers being driven across States so that they can get inebriated on wine and fish out fascinating stories at the dinner table after the Turkey has found its niche in every member’s appetite is simply remarkable. At the family where I spent my “first Thanksgiving”, the most beautiful grandmom broke into an Italian dance at the table in a burst of exuberation brought about by some impeccable turkey and wine. I was thinking of how inspiring and thought-provoking it would be to just walk on the roads outside and peer through windows on Thanksgiving and see families huddled around the dinner table and then setting up Christmas trees in their living rooms. It would, of course, be heart-wrenching for the lost vagabond, but would be a distant dream even so. This, I would say is a spectacle of American culture.

It is distinct and can be distinguished.  It can be seen in the coherent voice in literature and poetry, where the American writer and Americanism cannot be misconstrued (Walt Whitman and F. Scott Fitzgerald, for instance).My contention is that the world is not flat. The similarities do exist among cultures in familial bonds and social structures but that similarity is not reflected by the cult of Starbucks or the truth behind Gangnam Style, which is actually a social parody on an increasingly consumerist culture in Gangnam, Korea where the people are willing to forego meals to save up for a cappuccino at a Starbucks outlet. Globalization is not a pervasive process of homogenization. It stands for the concept of integrating and acknowledging differences and similarities and celebrating both. Unity in diversity does exist and can be pursued. However, let us not become victims of yet another age of imperialism where the power is wielded by consumerist warlords. The rest, of course, is silence. Happy Holidays!


international student voice AditiWritten by Aditi Bhowmick, Blogger/Writer intern for

International Student Voice Magazine




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