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MAD DOG: It's the Culture, Stupid

People in other countries aren't like us. This is what's commonly called a mixed blessing. On the one hand we can take pride in the fact that we didn't come up with the concept of eating raw fish, idolizing Jerry Lewis, or dancing to a band which features tuba-players in leather shorts. Then again, we have Reese's Peanut Butter Puffs cereal, Pauley Shore, and Marilyn Manson. See what I mean?Another thing that separates us from other cultures is how we treat out children. Especially when we have them seven at a time. In Iowa, technically a part of the United States even though the rest of the country denies it, the media recently swarmed around the McCaughey family when they brought the last two of their septuplets home from the hospital so they could finally begin their Endorsement Tour '98.Contrast that with the couple in Saudi Arabia who was threatened by the hospital because they wouldn't take their septuplets home when asked. The wife said she wasn't ready to take care of the babies. The husband, well, he reportedly has two other wives with nine other children so he's probably just too tired to care for the seven new ones.Sometimes the cultural differences aren't as wide as you think they are. Take France. Go ahead, no one else wants it. Everyone knows the French cook the best food. After all, it is the home of the Cordon Bleu, Escoffier, and Julia Child's formative -- or snail -- years. Now it turns out that 71 percent of Frenchmen surveyed said their favorite food is -- hold onto your beret -- steak-frites. For those of you who don't parlez vous Francais, that's steak and French fries."But that sounds exactly like the good old U.S. of A.," you're probably saying. On the surface, yes. But it turns out we prefer our beef a little more well done. Like dried. Last year over $859 million worth of meat snacks were sold in this country. Meat snacks, in case you're not up on the latest processed food-like product terminology, is a category that includes jerky, Slim Jims, and rawhide chew bones when consumed by adults who mistake them for their aunt's Thanksgiving turkey drumstick. Amazingly, more meat snacks were sold last year than microwave popcorn, though the popcorn stunk up the hallways more, if you can believe that.In other countries, the term meat snack has a whole different meaning. In Vietnam, for example. Over there the hot food trend in Hanoi is restaurants that specialize in serving "little tiger" dishes. Having been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in euphemisms -- right alongside "not an improper relationship" as a way of saying oral sex -- it turns out that what the Vietnamese really meant to say was, they're serving cats. While this hasn't prompted the Hanoi McDonald's to start serving McGarfield sandwiches -- yet -- it has caused widespread crop destruction because all the catnapping has allowed the rats to flourish, who end up eating the rice and cereal crops. The solution? The government is now promoting rat as the "Other Little Tiger Meat."Meanwhile in England, they obviously don't care about food. Just stop in any English restaurant and you'll find out for yourself. Besides, they have other problems to worry about. You can tell because a quarter of a million people recently turned out for a political protest, the largest in nearly a decade. The reason? A move by the government to force British men to wear bowler hats and carry umbrellas whenever an American tourist is within 50 feet.Just kidding. Actually the real reason is sillier -- the House of Commons (the Monty Python of governing bodies) is considering banning fox hunting. In all fairness, not all of the marchers were there for that reason. Some were protesting the government's ban on selling beef on the bone due to the threat of mad cow disease. Others were protesting a proposal that would make it legal for people to walk on private property. Still others were American tourists scouring the Hyde Park sidewalks for half-eaten Slim Jims.Back here in the U.S. we take out protests a little less seriously. We come inches away from bombing Saddam Hussein back to his country cottage and what do we do? A few hundred people turn out in a handful of cities to protest. What do you expect from a country where 40 percent of the under-30 crowd gets their political news from late night talk show monologues?Even retailing is different in other countries. In Russia -- well, actually in outer space -- they're using cosmonauts to sell surplus, overstocks, and factory imperfects from their space program. Kind of like an orbiting Goodwill. Broadcasting live from the Mir spacecraft, the cosmonauts hawked such hard-to-find items as Mars rocks encased in plastic cubes (after all, it is the "red" planet) and three Russian-made spacesuits just like the ones worn by the Mir astronauts whenever there's an accident on board. As in, always. In the spirit of glosnost, the new-found capitalists held this sale on our American-owned home shopping network, QVC. Eat your heart out, Joan Rivers.Here in the United States we wouldn't think of selling spacesuits. We prefer educational toys that will help ensure the future of the youth of our country. That's why Madame Alexander, the last American manufacturer of handcrafted dolls, is putting out the Psycho doll, complete with a Bates Motel towel and a shower curtain with the shadow of Mama Bates herself. Really. Like it's not hard enough to get kids to take a shower as it is.It's hard to believe Mattel, America's favorite manufacturer of mass produced dolls made in countries that don't have a minimum wage, didn't think of this first. All they're releasing this year is stuff like WNBA Barbie (so the young boys won't be the only ones who dribble), Tie-Dye Barbie (nitrous oxide containers extra) NASCAR Barbie ("Pop the clutch and watch her feet go thirteen feet in the air!"), and X-Files Barbie, which comes with Ken dressed as Mulder and Midge as the Cigarette Man.Remember these lessons when you're traveling. Or when you meet someone from a foreign country. Instead of being a typical American and asking them if haggis really tastes like chicken, offer them a piece of beef jerky and a handshake. If they're smart, maybe they'll take your hand.

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