American culture embedded in international experience

Presenting his book In An Antique Land at NYU Abu Dhabi on Sept. 4, Indian author Amitav Ghosh shared with students his perspectives on topics ...

Sep 14, 2013

Presenting his book In An Antique Land at NYU Abu Dhabi on Sept. 4, Indian author Amitav Ghosh shared with students his perspectives on topics concerning cosmopolitanism, including the insularity of American culture and the effect that Americanization may have on the diversity of a community. Ghosh raised a valid and relevant point to consider, especially in the highly international community of a U.S. institution abroad: are we globalized, or are we Americanized? Where do we draw the lines between the two?
Americanization, a term that once indicated the assimilating process of foreign-born citizens to the customs and beliefs of the United States, has evolved to pinpoint a similar yet different phenomenon in modern day. Even though it is still associated with the introduction of American culture to foreigners, it has come to mean the transnational spread of American culture and the cultural assimilation that lies within.
As the economy and politics of the United States grow, their influences on the world also skyrocket to reach further and deeper into populations of countries thousand miles away. As a result, much of what we call globalization, the process in which the world becomes integrated, can be seen as examples of americanization. When globalization happens and people try to find a common ground to understand each other, that common language, in many cases, happens to be the popular American culture. That leads to people willing to be americanized, since it could get them closer to the rest of the world.
A clear example of how the world eagerly becomes americanized can be seen in the recent appearance of U.S. chain restaurants in Asian countries. When the first Starbucks cafe opened in Ho Chi Minh City back in March, the line for drinks spanned several blocks in the most populous and central district of the city. Situated in the ground floor of a five-star hotel, the first Starbucks in Vietnam has clearly carved out its demographics: young people, white-collar workers with decent salaries, and Western tourists who crave the taste of home. Standing in the long line under the unforgiving heat of Saigon were students and young people waiting to order their first Starbucks drinks and Instagram the cups with green logos. A Starbucks coffee costs five to six dollars — a relatively small amount, but when converted to Vietnam Dong and compared to the living standard of Vietnamese people, the number is bizarre. A tall frappucino at Starbucks could buy two adequate meals for a family of four. Despite the ridiculous overpricing, Starbucks continues to attract a large number of customers, creating a trend among Vietnamese youth. Almost the same situation happened in Pakistan a few years ago, when the first McDonald’s was opened. In many countries, there was an influx of people into McDonald’s, Starbucks, KFC, Taco Bell and other fast food chains, sometimes because of the food and sometimes because of the americanized atmosphere that is associated with dining at such places.
In a less superficial way, americanization manifests itself in the way people act, talk and think. Having spent almost four years in a U.S. boarding school, I have grown to associate certain concepts, actions and phenomenons with the country, for I adopted them mainly from my exposure to U.S. society. To me, americanization is writing the date as month, date, year and expecting people to read 09/01 as the first of September instead of the ninth of January. My americanization is using lol, wtf and hashtags everywhere, inserting the word like after every three words in any sentence and complimenting people with awesome and cool despite the context. My americanization is the ubiquitous use of OK as an expression of agreement and satisfaction in many places around the world. My americanization is speaking English back in my hometown and expecting people to understand. My americanization is wearing short shorts because I feel good in them despite my parents’ disapproval.
With all that said, the question remains: how americanized is the NYUAD community, considering the school is a U.S. institution abroad? That I have yet to decide for myself. However, I do hope that with the conversation between people from different backgrounds happening every day in the community, NYUAD can help reverse americanization from a side effect of globalization to a meaningful, intentional part that contributes to the overall exchange of world cultures.
Thinh Tran is a contributing writer. Email her at
Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled the name of author Amitav Gosh. 
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