Finding American pop culture in Europe - Curt Yeomans

I knew the world loved American pop culture when I got to Paris, France, turned on the television, and immediately found "Night Stalker," a show starring Stuart Townsend that ABC canceled a few years earlier after only handful of episodes aired.

The fact that American pop culture was popular overseas was cemented when I found "Law & Order" on the TV in London, and the first song I heard on Irish radio was Barry Manilow's "Copacabana."

Of course Coca-Cola was everywhere, a McDonald's was a few doors down from the Mercedes-Benz shop on the Champs-Elysees, and a Subway was nestled among the ethnic restaurants in London's Baywater neighborhood.

If there is one thing America is doing right when it comes to its image overseas, it's the worldwide expansion of American pop culture. We can thank Hollywood for that, through its loading of so many movies over the years with this nation's pop culture.

My advertising professor in college explained that at one time, if you wanted to sell a product in Japan, the best guarantee was to use images from the old American West (i.e., cowboys and Indians).

As much as we hear that people overseas do not like Americans, as much as we heard they protested former President George W. Bush, they seemingly eat up American culture.

The "I love NY" T-shirts, where the word "love" is replaced with a red heart, were co-opted in France to become "I love Paris."

It's a double-edged sword, really. On the one hand, it's comforting to see something from home wherever you are. But, on the other hand, if you're going to Europe, chances are you're doing it for a vacation, and you want to find yourself emersed in culture that is native to wherever you've gone.

I did go to the McDonald's in Paris, but my only reason for doing so was to say I ordered a Royal Cheese. If you've seen the movie, "Pulp Fiction," you will recall a scene in a car where Samuel L. Jackson's character is discussing with John Travolta's character how French McDonald's restaurants have Royal Cheeses, instead of Quarter Pounders, because the French use the metric system.

See, there's another American pop culture reference that came into play in France.

It's cool to see American pop culture overseas, but I found myself to be a little disappointed to see it. True, with French television, you won't understand any of it if you're not fluent in French, but you'd at least like to see what original French programming looks like.

The same thing goes with London, although I was admittedly not around a TV to see what prime-time programing looks like on the BBC. I only got to see what was on TV late at night. You see, daylight lasts a little longer in Europe, especially in the United Kingdom and Ireland. The sun was not even finished setting until around 10 p.m., so I stayed out longer in London every day.

Then, in Ireland, I turned on the radio in the rental car almost immediately after picking it up because I was dying to hear authentic Irish music. I wanted to know what people listened to over there.

Instead, I got a kitschy back beat accompanying the words, "Her name is Lola, she was a showgirl ..."

It all just left me with the feeling that I went to Europe just so I could find American pop culture.

Curt Yeomans covers education for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached at (770) 478-5753, ext. 247 or via e-mail at cyeomans@news-daily.com.