Ok, so it was not the actual Justin Timberlake but it was his voice crooning, “Can’t stop the Feeling”, over the music system of the Israeli restaurant in the Jewish quarter of Budapest.
As we tucked into delicious Za’tar sticks and Merguez sausages paired with Hungarian wines, our fellow diners, equally diverse and international, were a part of a true global experience! As my family and I traveled through various cities in Europe this summer, now more than ever before, it was evident that we live in an increasingly global world.
Thanks to the internet and social media, trends in fashion and beauty are now global. Beauty influencer and Instagram inspired strong drawn brows, faux eyelashes and luminous skin is everywhere. Sushi, Indian food and yoga are now ubiquitous. Small towns in Czech Republic now get a majority of their tourists from South Korea, inspired by a popular soap opera shot in Prague. All hotels now have hyper-local, experiential spaces with Nespresso machines and social hours for guest to mingle.
So, does this all mean that the world is going to look, feel and sound the same? Have cultural differences shrunk and is that a good thing?
As I thought through these, a few things came to mind:
Democratization of information leads to vibrant economies: The internet and social media have democratized information. Anyone with a smart phone can now access vast amounts of information. Large swaths of the world population now have the same information available to them. This was not the case even 20 years ago when access to information was controlled by a few. The economic impact of this information availability are evident in the growing number of people joining the middle class in the developing economies and the vibrant start-up culture worldwide.
Customization of culture broadens appeal and availability: Even though sushi, tacos and Indian food can be found everywhere, recipes are customized to local tastes that broaden the appeal of these cuisines. McDonald’s and Pizza Hut offer localized menus and hip bars now make cocktails with local ingredients to concoct new recipes. This has happened for millennia as cultures inter-mingled through either trade or conquest. The very popular Chinese Food in India is an amalgamation of Chinese and Indian spices creating a fusion that is unique and pays ode to both cultures. In LA, you can now find multiple Mexican sushi restaurants that offer rolls like quatro queso that is more burrito than a sushi roll.
Culture inspires entrepreneurship and new ideas: People travel, encounter something interesting in a different culture during their travels and before you know it a new business is born out of that. These ideas enable more people to get cultural experiences sitting in their hometowns, not to mention the economic opportunities that these cultural entrepreneurs create. The ‘local’ tour guide I found on the Salzburg Airbnb experiences turned out to be a Hungarian who fell in love with the city on a trip and the guide who took us on a hike in Germany is an Ecuadorian who moved to Austria and now guides tours in multiple countries.
Globalization is enriching our cultures, making it available to increasing numbers of people to add to it, give it their unique twist and create new versions of it. Our identities are no longer monolithic entities and the people, the cuisines, the music and places we come across, all evolve our identities. And we are all the richer for it!