Globalization: A Give & Take
Shortly after my 16th birthday, making me of legal working age in the United States, I reluctantly signed the papers to be an employee of the McDonald’s Corporation. I used the term reluctantly because to work in a McDonald’s holds deeply negative connotations in American society, especially amongst teenagers. For three years I cooked the food, worked the cash register, cleaned the restaurant, and upheld the highest of McDonald’s standards. Just before my departure to attend college in another city, I quit McDonald’s, with quite a large smile, and did not consume a single product from the restaurant until, three years later, my arrival in Hong Kong. This anecdote is an excellent example of how societal connotations shape the practices of both the business and its customer. Why did I hate my job so intently? Why was I so easily able to avoid the chain in America, its home country, but succumbed to the pressure 8,000 miles away in a foreign land? Globalization, as represented through the entry of McDonald’s into East Asia, is a series of cultural ‘give and take’, as businesses change to local preferences and consumers adapt to the various new disciplines of foreign enterprises. This combats the idea of American imperialism, as the new product formed from this ‘give and take’ is often vastly different from the original, sometimes even harboring completely adapted missions. Golden Arches East, by James L. Watson, chronicles how McDonald’s and its customers have been affected by the American firms entry into East Asia. The book includes five main excerpts from anthropologists that observed and reported the cultural changes surrounding McDonald’s in five countries: China, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, and Taipei. Each chapter speaks of the effects on the varying countries, but several common themes immerge. Firstly, in all the countries, both the company and the consumer made subtle changes to either tastes or behavior. Some of the best examples of this are McDonald’s consistent target of children, leading to the popularity of children’s birthday parties, the prolonged eating times, and the consumer belief of the hamburger and French fries as a snack, not a meal. Throughout the market entry, McDonald’s introduced many behaviors that were once unknown or uncommon. The fast food culture is a precise science, calculating every action to the second. This leads to disciplines and practices becoming commonplace, in order to maintain a corporate culture and profits. Queuing in Hong Kong, standing while eating in Japan, and the popularization of children’s birthday parties are prominent examples in the text of how McDonald’s has impressed certain disciplines upon cultures, often reaching beyond the confines of the golden arches. The introduction of the queue in McDonald’s, while often times done forcibly with markers, is often accredited with changing how people order throughout Hong Kong (Watson 93). However, there are exceptions as I find it terribly troublesome to order a pineapple bun on the streets, generally standing with a look of bewilderment until a native comes to my rescue. Nonetheless, this is an example of how native culture adapts to the disciplines of a foreign firm. Another is in Japan, as people began to accept eating while standing. Here, the author outlines two important facets of table manners: don’t eat while standing and don’t touch the food with your hands. However, with limited space, McDonald’s opted to place standing counters in their restaurants and customers quickly adapted to this practice (Watson 178). A simple idea but it challenged a fundamental mannerism in the country. This ‘give’ from the McDonald’s company can be seen on a grander scale through the popularization of children’s birthday parties throughout all of the countries studied. One of the major approaches of company was to target children because, as in places such as China, they receive exceptional...
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