The ghosts of American consumerism haunt my study abroad experiences

It’s not exactly a revolutionary idea to suggest that American culture is, in many ways, defined by our consumer-driven economy based on branding and marketing, but it’s not very often that you get to experience it firsthand. I had my first personal insight into this phenomenon when I visited America for a couple of days this past weekend.

Well, it’s technically America, but in actuality I visited a U.S. military base located just outside of Wiesbaden. A friend of mine is currently stationed there, and a group of us went to the base to hang out with him, watch “The Lego Movie” (which was fantastic, by the way) and buy some American goods from the exchange.

It was here, standing in the front door of the small exchange, that we fell prey to some of the most devious practitioners of exploitative marketing: tiny, mousey-voiced girl scouts selling their famous cookies. I bought two boxes of Tagalongs.

I didn’t realize how much I missed certain products until I was surrounded by them. I found myself gasping with nostalgia at the Maruchan Top Ramen, Kraft Mac and Cheese and Double-Stuf Oreos (they only have single-stuf here).

It was strange, though. I’m a person who normally tries to ignore advertisements and marketing. But here I was, bowing before the alter of brand-named, processed foods.

Part of the study abroad experience is realizing that some assumptions you make aren’t the hard and fast truths you thought they were. Instead, these “truths” are culturally programmed into us. Experiencing life in another culture exposes some of the source code that makes up our cultural world views.

Especially important in today’s consumer-driven society is to understand your instinctual reliance on brand names and marketing, even when it comes to answering the most basic question humanity has always faced: “What am I going to eat today?”