Monday, September 01, 2008

"Because Education Matters"

At the Carrefour (something like a Walmart) in Tienen, Belgium, Jo and I spotted a boy, maybe thirteen, wearing a shirt that said "New York University." Such shirts are rarely seen even at NYU, so this was baffling: why would a boy so far from New York, in a town rarely visited by Americans, be wearing such an item?

One possibility is the exchange rate: everyone from Western Europe has, by now, made the rounds from Century 21 up to Union Square, so this could be a souvenir from his travels. But just as likely is, he bought the shirt right there in Tienen. For reasons I don't entirely understand, the main shopping streets of Belgium (and Cologne, so perhaps of Western Europe) are filled with shirts that say either "America" or some variant; bearing the name of an American sports team, real or imagined; or an expression in grammatical English (unlike what I've heard is the case of such shirts elsewhere in the world) that would nevertheless not surface anywhere Anglophone. An example of the last one: "Because Education Matters"--this on a new t-shirt in a department store, that is, not meant to be worn ironically. Brands claim Americanness even while serving only to make the wearer look all the more European.

The Americana-that-isn't extends beyond clothes. On the radio are songs by Belgian artists... in English. The lyrics... vary, but I shouldn't talk until I learn how to form a coherent sentence in Dutch. Also, one of the more popular foods in Belgium, one I didn't dare try, is a raw-meat based spread called "Filet Americain," which, as the blogger I link to notes, is something you'd never, ever see in America, much to Belgian expats' chagrin. France, the only other European country I've spent much time in, seems to make more of a commitment than Belgium to preserve its own culture, particularly from American influence. It could be, though, that everything designed to seem American seems extra-European simply because, in America, stores and food items (freedom fries, anyone?) claim to be European. Discuss amongst yourselves.

1 comment:

Nan said...

Oh Filet Americain...I have tried it since that post, and it was ok, but I highly recommend having someone else buy the product and make the sandwich for you if you want to eat it. Because no matter how good it may taste, it still looks rather odd.