Upon my arrival into Budapest in August 2018, my thoughts and feelings around globalization are even further confounded. I regularly think about the implications of globalization and its complexities, and as a result, some people may argue that my mind thinks too much. In 1999, I wrote a persuasive essay to outline ten reasons why the US should reject China’s admission into the World Trade Organization, and in 2008, I supported Dennis Kucinch on his campaign platform to remove the US from the WTO. Globalization is more than economic policy; it is cultural, religious, at points deeply hegemonic, and always in favor of a dominant perspective.
I am pretty sure that Ed Sheeran’s song “The Shape of You” was not pumped into a Budapest street cafe simply because it is that much better than a central European artist’s song. In my opinion, I would much rather hear Pavlov Stelar. At least he is Viennese. I also find it suspect that twice now, in Krakow and Budapest, I have heard Shaggy’s hit from the year 2000 remixed on the dance floor. I must wonder, has the world not produced any more danceable or likeable music since “It Wasn’t Me?” Similarly, everyone knows the McDonald’s brand; I have now sipped a Starbucks latte on three different continents; and Facebook is available in at least 101 languages. On the streets of any random cosmopolitan city on the planet, hats say “NYC,” and t-shirts say “Los Angeles.”
I am now attempting to resolve some of the disparities of global travel. Clearly, the power structure is real. One of my dollars is worth about 221 Hungarian Florint. 1100 Hungarian Florint is a bag of groceries. 4000 is a day at the wellness spa. 19000 is a week at a hostel-sans-bedbugs, where everyone speaks English. Travel is no longer an adventure into the underbrush of the great unknown; it is a right of passage. The other lodgers at the hostel are about ten years younger than myself, and I have to wonder, who in their mid-20s has money for international travel? To travel, you no longer need the guts of steel of a rugged explorer, or the mental resolve of a seasoned monk; you only need cash for an interrail bracelet, and a smart phone to coordinate your logistics. Travel could become the other resource to consume, to venture to a remote corner of the planet, to speak to the natives in perfect English, and still keep the morning latte and the evening Big Mac habit.
And yet, here I am, another American butchering Hungarian to order my latte, and feeling stressful about how to find my Euro Rail transport to Bratislava. I met a local on the dance floor, a 14th generation Budapestian. He had been so impressed that I was not only “American,” but even more, that I had been living in “California,” that he invited me to his flat to talk about politics and culture. I accepted his offer, in part because I was curious about what a standard flat for a 23-year-old Hungarian male would look like. It looked exactly like one would expect, maybe slightly better. A leather couch in the living room, a work desk with a computer, a washer and dryer in the apartment, and no roommates. During the conversation, I had to use the restroom. He apologized saying, “sorry, it is not like a California bathroom.” I wanted to ask, “What do you think a bathroom in California looks like? Life is not like the magazines or the television shows,” but I let it go. Maybe we need to believe that somewhere, something, is better than what we already have.
Economic policy and its system of power aside, globalization has its positive qualities. The young man asked me about my religion. I was surprised with the question, and he explained, “here in Hungary, we are either Roman Catholic, or Roman Catholic.” In America, we are free from the pre-subscribed definitions of religion. I can define myself using whatever weird combinations of rhetoric that I desire, and it is my right to believe it. Political affiliation is the same blurry-edged gray area. Even if only a handful of others, who mostly all live nestled deep behind the Redwood Curtain in the Siskiyou-Trinity Alps, maintain the same political platform, I am free to defend to my death my right to be an earth-based, gnostic panentheistic christian social ecologist with leanings toward anarcho-feminism. The upside of globalization is that, as a member on the receiving end of hegemony, I can piece together my identity from the muddle of history that has brought us to this point, post-post-modernity; otherwise we might lose track of on which side of the millennium we stand, and the street cafes in Budapest would sit silent.