Five things that are uniquely American

In this modern age of globalization, where a sneeze in Brazil affects wheat prices in Mongolia, and there’s a Starbuck’s on every street corner no matter where in the world you go, and brands like Nintendo and Mercedes are household names on every continent, it’s sometimes nice to see something that is particular to one place, adding a little local flavor and refreshing us with some diversity in a sea of monotony. So, here are some things that, as far as I understand, are pretty much unique to America, and you won’t find anywhere else.

The Energizer Bunny

What, you thought I’d start with the obvious ones?

We all grew up with this guy. He is a staple of American advertizing, and new commercials with him are still made today. He has a balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, references throughout pop culture, and even halloween costumes made to look like him. Yet if you fly to pretty much any other country around the world and mention “the Energizer bunny”, the locals will scratch their heads and say, “Don’t you mean the Duracell bunny?”

Wait… what?

There’s a story here. Back in 1973, Duracell launched an ad campaign showing a set of little pink bunny toys beating drums. Each one was supposedly powered by a different battery. One by one, they stopped working as their batteries died, and eventually only the one powered by Duracell still worked. It was a very successful ad campaign that went global and saw huge sales increases for Duracell. Then, Energizer launched this ad:

Ouch. Burn.

A few intellectual property lawsuits and settlements later, and Duracell got to keep the rights to “pink battery bunny” in most of the world, but Energizer got the rights here in the States. Why? Apparently, Duracell failed to renew its trademark over here, and therefore lost it. So we’ve grown up with hundreds of Energizer bunny ads, while the rest of the world grew up with Duracell bunny ads. Oh, and Energizer’s mascot abroad? This guy:

*Creeped out*

Taco Bell

Taco Bell is my favorite fast-food chain. I love the food there. And I have to give credit to their marketing team: they know how to reach my generation. They have their 79/89/99 cent menu, their $2 meal deals, their $5 box, and other stuff that broke college students can afford. They sponsor the NBA and produce ads that appeal to my age group:

But one market they haven’t been able to reach? The rest of the world.

No, really. While McDonald’s, KFC, Starbucks, and even Pizza Hut (which is owned by the same company) have successfully invaded every continent, Taco Bell’s attempts to go international have all ended in disaster. Seriously, it’s like someone put a curse on them.

Examples:

  • In 1981, they attempted to build one in Australia, but were sued by someone else who owned a local Mexican restaurant named “Taco Bell’s Casa” in Sydney. The local guy won; Australian courts said they couldn’t use the “Taco Bell” name in Australia. The company was forced to pull out.
  • In 2003, a set of “Taco Bell Grande” restaurants were opened in China, but by 2008 they had closed.
  • Two attempts to enter the Mexican market failed: In 1992, they made a big publicity deal about building Taco Bells in Mexico, but they all closed two years later. In 2007, they tried again, but they didn’t get enough customers to stay profitable and closed in 2010.
  • In 1993, they built the fisrt Taco Bell in Poland, but they expanded too fast and people stopped buying. The Polish chain was bulldozed.
  • They pulled out of Singapore in 2008.
  • They built a number of Taco Bells in the UK, but today only one remains: a franchise at a military base frequented by Americans.

They still haven’t given up hope; parent company Yum! Brands is planning a major push to have Taco Bells across the European Union, opening chains in Spain, Cyprus, and Iceland and preparing to open new locations in the UK. Excuse my pessimism about their chances.

American Football

Ah, yes. The Super Bowl, the gridiron, the College bowls that have no playoffs in spite of what the fans want, the high schools nationwide whose jocks and cheerleaders have become a staple of teen movies. Sure, people are mad about the current legal tussle within the NFL, but it’s pretty hard to find a sport that is more central to the American national character and our understanding of ourselves. Well, except for basketball and baseball, but those are popular overseas, so they aren’t covered by this article.

I’m sure pretty much everyone reading this knows that American football is pretty much a sport reserved for this country. There are people that play and follow American football overseas, but they are like rugby fans and players here: a tiny, dedicated minority. The NFL has talked about expanding internationally for a long time, but so far it is just that: talk. Apart from the odd preseason game in Mexico City, London, or Tokyo, where the game has novelty appeal (“So, how does this game work again? I don’t understand what’s going on.”), the NFL remains a US-only club. The only country that might be a natural expansion choice, Canada, has its own football game and league, and the Canadian government has made it absolutely clear they will not allow competition from their southern neighbors.

R.I.P, 1991-2007

So, where did this odd, uniquely American game come from? Back in ye olden times, “football” was a label applied to a multitude of games with widely different rules. Each town and school had its own variant. Playing football was pretty much like playing Calvinball, you made up the rules as you went. Then, during the Victorian years, a group of college students from across England got together and founded the Football Association. Its goal: create a single set of rules for football so that teams from different schools could compete against each other in tournaments and stuff. The problem: trying to create a single set of rules from the wide variety of traditions that existed. The group eventually split over the issue of whether players could pick up the ball with their hands or not; the game that didn’t allow that became soccer, and the game that did allow it became rugby. Rugby wound up the more popular sport here in the States, and one very successful player was a guy named Walter Camp.

Camp decided that just plain old rugby rules weren’t good enough for America, so he convinced the rules committees in charge of U.S. rugby competitions to reduce the number of players from 15 to 11, add forward passes, lines of scrimmage, and the 10-yards-in-four-downs rule. Thus, American football came to be.

Our system of measurement

Yeah, yeah. The rest of the world uses metric, while we use the old British imperial system. I know.

Except we don’t use the British imperial system.

Wait, huh?

See, the British imperial system wasn’t standardized until years after we won our independence, so the system we use is pretty much unique. For example, our ton is 2,000 pounds, while the British ton is 2,200 pounds. Our gallon is slightly smaller, too:

See that? One U.S. gallon is 0.8 imperial gallons

Our system of length is the same, though, because of an agreement we signed with the British Empire in 1959. Except that this would have meant all the maps that define the state lines and property lines would have needed to be recalibrated, so out of laziness and cost-saving we basically preserved the old system of measure as “surveyor’s measure”, which is still used in deeds and property rights disputes today.

Socialism equals demon-spawned system

If you go to most democratic countries around the world, you will have a variety of political parties to choose from at election time, but usually two main ones will get the most votes: a conservative one and a socialist one. Wait, what? See, in most countries “socialist” and “left-wing” are pretty much one and the same. Liberals proudly and unashamedly identify themselves as socialists. But over here, if you call a Democrat a “socialist”, he or she will be offended; most liberals prefer a label like “progressive”.

NOTE: I am not passing judgement on anybody’s political views; I am just stating what people’s attitudes are.

Why is this? Well, back in the late 19th century, socialism was actually quite popular among the working classes over here; most trade unions were started by socialists. There is one tiny detail though: many of these working-class people in the trade unions were immigrants. This meant socialism always had a connotation of “foreignness” in the minds of many native-born Americans. So when the Bolsheviks took over Russia, and a series of bombings took place at Wall Street and Washington, D.C. in 1919, “foreign radicals” were blamed and an up-and-coming J. Edgar Hoover (you know, that FBI Director from “Untouchables” and “Public Enemies”) launched a series of sting operations against major socialist groups. A few decades later, and this guy showed up:

 

Sen. Joseph McCarthy led a now-infamous series of attacks against anyone suspected of being a communist. This meant that liberals were forced to deny that they were socialists, at least in public, to avoid suspicion.

It must seem weird to foreigners that we are so vehemently anti-socialist. But that’s America for you: just doing our own thing.

Information mainly from Wikipedia. Credits for the images can be seen when you hover the mouse over them.

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4 Responses to Five things that are uniquely American

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