The Sad Side Effects of Globalization
I love folk music. From any country, from any ethnic group. I love the accordion. I play it, and it is my true relaxation vehicle. When I travel the world I try to find people singing their folk songs, or just join in some community singing.
I cannot find any. Of the 62 countries I have visited, there are only three where one can still find a restaurant where people will eat and sing: Serbia, Portugal, and Mexico. That is it.
National songs are disappearing. I remember traveling for the first time to Peru. I was excited to visit a new culture. Arriving at the airport, I noticed that there was piped music playing over the PA system. I listened carefully hoping to hear some local Peruvian music. They were playing “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”
In Moscow I begged my hosts to take me to a place where I could listen to Russian songs or hear an accordion player. Nada. Nothing. You cannot find any place in Moscow where there is accordion playing or people singing. There are tourist traps where people will perform some folk dances and a singer will sign a song or two for travelers. But you will not find locals there, ever.
It was not always like this. In Macedonia, I remember, you could go to a number of restaurants that would have a quartet playing national music for the guests. Those eating would join the singing, and even get up and dance a traditional dance or two in between courses.
No more. If you want to see national dancing now, you have to ask if there is a wedding. They might dance there.
I was recently in Paris. My dream was of going to a restaurant and listening to French chansons and accordion playing. No way. I looked everywhere. I asked every concierge in the most expensive hotels. Nothing. “It used to be…” they tell me. It does not exist any more. It was like going to the Sahara and not finding any sand.
I finally heard an accordion player in Paris. It was in a subway. He was from Romania. I gave him my change.
There are no more French accordion players. Can you believe that? I could find none in Russia. One still can find some in Italy, but they are old people. I could not find someone to repair my accordion in the USA, either. I had to send it to San Diego to an old Serb man, and do it fast before he dies.
National folk music and dances are disappearing at a tremendous speed, replaced by pop music spread by compact discs and broadcast on radio and TV. Watching the local MTV in other countries is no different—in the rhythm, the way it is presented—from the one I see in the USA. Only the language is different. If I turned the sound down I would not know which country I was in.
But not only music and musical instruments are disappearing. Local national cuisine is disappearing too. Fast food is taking over everywhere. Not just the McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chickens. Pizzas are everywhere. The world is being taken over by Italian cuisine. Why? It is the cheapest to make and the easiest to prepare, and thus the most profitable to serve.
There are other national cuisines everywhere I travel, but Turkish food served anywhere outside of Turkey is not the food one would find in Turkey. It gets adapted to the local taste. One would not find easily, if at all, the Mexican food that is served in the United States in Mexico. Nor California Pizza Kitchen in Italy. National cuisines are disappearing although the names are kept.
National customs, music, food, dress, are all threatened to extinction. I see it in Macedonia. I see it in Montenegro. Three years ago one could find many local restaurants with “a national kitchen.” When I was there this February, the national cuisine restaurants were serving pasta and steaks now. That is what tourists want. That is what they get.
In Mexico there is a restaurant, La Fonda del Recuerdo in Mexico City, which serves only traditional Mexican dishes that they research and cook religiously according to the traditional recipe. The music played there is exclusively Mexican. One can feel that he is truly in Mexico.
Every country should do that. UNESCO has a system of protecting buildings and cities as the heritage of mankind. France, Mexico, Italy, and Spain have all had bids to recognize their national cuisine as “intangible” world heritage. It got rejected because UNESCO has no category for gastronomy. How sad and may I add: stupid. We need to protect not only rare plants and birds, but also our customs, our songs, our music, and our food.
The big hotel chains look the same everywhere. The food is the same and increasingly so. I am starting to wonder where am I when I travel. We are losing our diversity. It must be protected.
Ichak Kalderon Adizes, PhD.