When Foreign Countries aren’t that Foreign

by

I recently returned from a vacation with my family to the United Kingdom. This trip was the first time we took our young children out of the country, so I wanted their first trip overseas to be a little benign. I was telling people that on an “adventurousness” scale of 1-10 with a 1 being the least adventurous (think Canada) and 10 being the most adventurous (think North Korea) the UK is probably like a 3. I now propose that it’s probably a 1.5. It just didn’t feel as “foreign” anymore – at least in the day-to-day stuff. I really felt like the world is getting flatter. A couple points:

  • We all know it, but a LOT of brands truly are global. When we were leaving Heathrow Airport, almost all the billboards were adverting for US-based companies (Apple, Nike, The Gap etc.) The first US based restaurant I saw was a Burger King, which is at least trying to compete with McDonalds – although McD is still the granddaddy of places to eat when out of the country for a “taste of home.” John Travolta’s character in Pulp Fiction famously didn’t go to Burger King in the great “Royal with Cheese” dialogue. If that movie was re-done today we might be talking about “Le Whopper.”
  • They now have large bottles of ketchup at Fish and Chips places. This is s big deal. As a self-described “ketchupaholic” I remember on previous trips to the UK getting snubbed when I asked for ketchup with Fish and Chips – much the same way you would be dissed in Chicago for asking for ketchup with your hotdog. So, you’re good to go with ketchup in London (although you still can’t get it in Chicago with your hot dog.)
  • Keeping my food theme going – everyone know “fries” in the UK are “chips” and “chips” in the UK are “crisps”. Not anymore – I saw several places advertising fries as an accompaniment to a meal.
  • At numerous stores you can make your purchase in either Pounds or your local currency. No need to even bother with exchange rates.
  • Finally, communication with folks back home is now seamless and cheap. You used to have to navigate phone cards for pay phones and try to figure out which country code to use all while trying to manage the considerable expense of international communication. It was a big deal to connect with people back home. This time I got a temporary international plan from AT&T and I could get emails and place and receive calls as if I was in Dallas, Texas. It was just like being at home.

While I love the idea of the world being truly global, I hope we don’t become too homogenized. The joy of going somewhere far away is largely the excitement of things being different from home. London still has many amazing thing only found in London. It’s just that the day-to-day experience isn’t as different anymore. If “Mind the Gap” becomes “Watch out for the Space” we’ll have a real problem.

 

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