Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Back at home in the South

I'm back--a bit jet lagged, especially after taking a red-eye flight. But the title of my post is true and accurate: I am back at home in the South.

[I live in one of these "red" states--although perhaps in the next election, one or more will turn blue? Actually, I got this map from the website Carbon Tax Center. Check it out--especially if you are interested in environmental issues and ways to offset our every increasing carbon footprint]

All in all, the trip was wonderful, although this was the first time that I traveled to California with "Southern Man" and seeing familiar things through the eyes of someone else, especially an intimate someone else, is always a good exercise in reality checking.

Case in point: my rosy colored portrait of California as this Promised Land, particularly a live-action version of Disney's "It's a Small World," as a multicultural/multiethnic/multiracial paradise. We had some interactions and one pretty harrowing bus incident that threw this romanticized vision out the window. I'll write about it later--it's a bit lengthy and complicated, and truth be told, I'm still trying to process parts of it.

What I will leave you with, dear readers, is a small anecdote that happened on my flight into California. We were on Continental Airlines, and I have to commend Continental to be one of the last if not THE last airline in the continental U.S. that will serve food gratis to its passengers. We were en-route during the dinner hour and got box sandwiches (turkey or ham) and the requisite beverage. Now, I always get orange juice as a help to the dehydration of flying but I noticed that the flight attendant was handing people soda cans that had Chinese script on them--and as she got closer, I could see that it seemed to be some kind of tie-in with the Beijing Olympics--you know, Sprite and Coca-Cola cans with the Beijing Olympic symbol and the writing in Chinese. Except I think these cans were actually meant for their Asian airline route because everything was in Chinese: the ingredient list, the advertising, the processing plant.

Apparently a few passengers were skeptical about the contents of the cans--sure, it looks like the classic Coca-Cola can--it says "Coca-Cola" in English, but everything else is in this strange foreign script?! How will I KNOW that I'm getting a real Coke? And the flight attendant wasn't helping matters much--especially when she apologized for the cans--acknowledged that the soda tasted different because it was bottled "over there" and that they were Japanese and Mexican sodas.


When she approached my row she had apparently grown so frustrated over these foreign soda cans that she got another flight attendant to help her swap out these offending cans with American ones (the foreign cans were put into a lower shelf and then who knows what was going to happen to them?). I actually told both flight attendants that there was nothing wrong with the sodas--they were simply cans with Chinese script on them and were promoting the Beijing Olympics and furthermore, that I WANTED a soda can with the Chinese writing. The first flight attendant, the one who had the cans banished, told me that the sodas were Japanese and Mexican. And I said, "Well, no they are Chinese." And she said, "Well, I can't sell them to people; they taste different because they were bottled over there in Mexico, but if you want one, here you go."


It seems fascinating to me that this woman, even after I confirmed that the script was Chinese and not Japanese (I may not be able to read Chinese but after years of growing up in a Chinese American home and having grandparents live in Chinatown, I can recognize Chinese script) still insisted that the cans were somehow Mexican, and THAT was bizarre because there was NOTHING resembling Mexican references let alone Spanish on these cans. It would seem, perhaps simplistically, that for this flight attendant, anything "foreign" and perhaps "distasteful" must come from south of the border.


Matt said...

It's certainly possible that it was bottled in Mexico with Chinese script. And if so, it might very well taste different. What I find funny is that most people prefer the taste of non-American coke (or kosher-for-Passover coke), when they have the chance. Real sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup.

Brian Hunt said...

The Coca Cola museum in Atlanta has samples of Coke and other sodas from around the world, and there is a differnce in flavor. However, your flight attendant would seem a bit uncultured and out of touch with reality.

Jason Clinkscales said...

Not to make an excuse, but in general, there hasn't been any awareness about this campaign from Coca-Cola. My sister bought a 12-pack over the weekend with the half-English/half-Russian label. While I think this is pretty cool, I'd imagine that many folks are puzzled by what they are seeing.

Of course, Coca-Cola could be well aware of how folks can misinterpret these cans as "wrong".

Jennifer said...

Hey Everyone,

Thanks for chiming in. I do think that, as Matt and Brian pointed out, that soda does taste different if it has cane sugar vs. corn syrup--perhaps not as strong as the difference between fake maple syrup and the real thing, but you get my gist.

And unlike the cans Jason is talking about, I do think that these were actually made for Chinese consumers because really EVERYTHING but the actual name of the soda was in Chinese script--whereas the Coke Olympic campaign that Jason is talking about just has the Coca-Cola symbol in Russian script on one side, and then everything else remains in English (I had one at a dim sum restaurant on this trip).

What bothered me about the flight attendant was her tone--which is something I should have been more explicit about in my post.

Her tone was dismissive/condescending towards the soda can. And I freely admit that I may be reading too much into her tone--maybe this is her normal demeanor or maybe she was having a bad day. But she was subtly and not so subtly suggesting that the cans were inferior. And really, at the end of the day, we're just talking about soda!

And this is where my hypersensitivity about race comes in to play. Because it's hard for me to hear dismissive comments about Asian soda cans that are also somehow Mexican (perhaps, as Matt suggested, all she meant to suggest is that they were processed in Mexico, but I suppose a good question to ask is: does that make them Mexican? An American soda processed in Mexico, for sale/consumption in China--truly globalization at its finest).