Wednesday, April 04, 2007

McDonalds versus Jollibee: globalization is two-way street

The bellyachers in our midst often look at globalization as cultural invasion. It's understandable given the proliferation of Starbucks, McDonalds, Victoria's Secrets in our midst. Generally, Filipinos love Starbucks and McDonalds but some fear these foreign cultural icons are destroying local culture. Right?

Wrong. It’s because interactions among cultures are dynamic. It’s often a two-way street. Consider Joel Stein’s
observations in Time online:

"The stuff you [the Americans] invented—in this culinary case, fast-food hamburgers, fried chicken, pizza and doughnuts—gets sent out into the world, is replicated by other countries and then comes back to you all crazied up, like a giant game of telephone. And if you hold that piece of Filipino fried chicken up to your ear and are really quiet, you can hear what the rest of the world thinks about us."

His observations about the entry of Jollibee in the US market smacks of a cultural shock:

"Jollibee, with more than 1,400 stores in the Philippines and 11 branches in California, makes McDonald's look like a funeral parlor. Its mascot is a jolly bee, and the restaurants are blindingly happy, all giant, shiny yellow blocks, as if they were designed by an architect from Legoland. Even if you gave Walt Disney all the ecstasy in the world, he would not have come up with this. America, according to Jollibee, is clearly a place of childlike optimism. Jollibee's two most popular items are called the Yumburger and the Chickenjoy. The Yumburger has a weird, plasticky dollop of French dressing in the middle. The crisped-up French fries are dry inside and taste as if they weren't just double fried but dunked in oil four or five times. The fried chicken is halfway decent, but the inflated, happy fakeness of Jollibee makes you feel that the only American its Filipino owners have ever seen is Pamela Anderson."

But overall Stein seems to look at the entry of “foreign American” fastfood in America in a positive light, something that goes beyond the culinary:

"All this foreign American food seems campy fun—bright, sweet, smiley and likable. Even in a world where so many hate and fear us, they still want to be like us. To them, it seems, we're a happy, efficient, fun bunch of guys, even if we act like total jerks when it suits us. They've figured it out: we're frat boys. And we like to eat like them."


Anonymous said...

Your post reminds me of an article I read in the New York Times by Julia Moskin regarding the "new" Korean Fried Chicken restaurants popping in New York City and elsewhere.

Globalization can be a two way street, but something can get lost in the translation. Stein does not seem to realize that places like Jollibee were never meant to cater to the general American public, but rather to serve ethnic enclaves missing a taste of the homeland. I get reminded of this whenever I go to a Filipino party and have spaghetti made with hotdogs, ketchup and sugar, even though I'm sure the cook probably knows that it is not authentic Italian spaghetti.

It is unfortunate that Stein also fails to understand that fast food in America is represented not only by McDonalds and DunkinDonuts, but also by the cheap Chinese take-outs , the corner pizzeria, the bagel shop, et al. All these places have their ethnic origins but have become as American as your local burger joint.

How would the foodies around the world react to Taco Bell's "chalupa", the California Roll, the Hawaiian Pizza, chop suey, general tso's chicken, etc, etc- all of which were American inventions. Probably with the same bemusement of the author.

Dave Llorito said...

i could sense that joel stein's observations probably mirrors the bewilderment that americans feel vis-a-vis these newer manifestations of "counter cultural invasions". its no different really from our reactions when new foreign stuff comes to our shores. that's how i see it really.

Jollibee Philippine said...

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