Three weeks was all it took to change my worldview forever. After 21 years of dragging myself to World History and skipping the news to catch the latest episode of One Tree Hill, I finally get it. I am not just a Braidwoodian, nor am I an Illinoisan. I am not an American, but rather I am a global citizen. I am a small part of something big, something unimaginable. I participate in a marketplace full of vast culture and tradition. I finally burst my gigantic, red white and blue American bubble. And oddly enough, it all started with beer.
Of the three sector groups, I felt lucky to be a part of beer. Not because brand tracking meant sitting in a pub all day, but because it was everywhere. In the United Kingdom, my first observation was the acceptance of beer consumption. Where were the brown bags and flasks? After recovering from the culture shock, I entered the pubs to find conversation and fraternity. Conversation ranged from world politics to sports, especially the World Cup. The beer was not the center of attention; Instead, it seemed to complement the conversation. The pubs were a social gathering ground filled with light music and heavy conversation. In contrast, the bars blasted loud music, making anything more than the occasional “HI!” impossible. The three brands I saw were Stella Artois, Budweiser and Beck’s Vier. The ads had completely different messages: Stella promoted less CO2 emissions, Bud used social appeal, while Beck’s used music. The advertisements were clearly meant to differentiate between brands, not introduce the products. The brands were well-established in the market, and had probably been promoted for a while.
Brands in the Czech Republic, on the other hand, were not nearly as established. I saw just one billboard for Budweiser, which touted one line of basic copy promoting its ingredients. The under-developed advertising is undoubtedly a result of the many years of Communist rule. Without proper advertising, brands are unable to differentiate themselves. This is horrible for these brands because over 400 brands of beer exist in the Czech market. It is not surprising that their beer is so inexpensive. Despite the advertising, Czechs continue to drink more beer per capita than anyone else. They drink at all times of the day, as demonstrated by our castle tour guides. Apparently there is nothing more satisfying than a breakfast beer. They also seem to be developing a playful attitude towards drinking. As the younger generation grows partial to wine, beer sometimes seems conservative and old. But in places like Pilsner’s Unique Bar, bowling alleys and casinos, beer is experiencing a renaissance in the eyes of young Czechs.
This experience reminded me that culture is everything. It is where you come from, where you are going, and everything inbetween. It was powerful to see how 20 years later, the Czechs are affected daily by the Communist Era. Everything from the advertisements to their attitude towards life is a result of that moment in history. Cultural codes take all of these moments and all the traditions, apply them to the present and relate them to a product segment to create one all encompassing word or phrase. I can see why all of the groups struggled at least once.
Before this class, I lived in my safe American bubble, taking for granted free water and, well, freedom. As I reached for my USA Today and hopped in my Ford car, I gave no thought to our distant neighbors across the pond. When I wrote papers, the word “Americans” was interchangeable with “People.” It sounded much better than “World Citizens” or “Mankind.” Once I got to Europe, my perspective on the world, and on life, changed for good. Once you stand under Big Ben in London and explore a castle in Prague, there is no going back. There is a world outside America that is real and alive. Some of it is ugly and needs our help; some of it is beautiful and needs our appreciation. Once I returned to America, I talked to my friends and family about global issues. I casually and unapologetically talked politics, though it is largely taboo here. I added World News to my internet news feed. And in about 20 minutes, I’m going to watch the U.S. play England in the World Cup.