Mobility, trans-localism, and Taco Bell

I've been reading 'The Sociolinguistics of Globalization' by Jan Blommaert lately, and while I don't always see eye to eye with Blommaert that book is amazing. Anywho, in that book, Blommaert goes into this whole web of 'trans-local, local' blah, blah and while I was on my way to ye local taco bell I couldn't help but stop and think, "Hey, Taco Bell is sort of trans-local." Which led me to some interesting thoughts regarding mobility and Taco Bells trans-localism. It is the very fact that I can drive from Manhattan to Kansas City and then fly to LA and I can expect (nearly) the same thing from every taco bell in each local. Each Taco Bell while spatially separated is linguistically the same. And in a way, isn't our mobility and semi-nomadic lifestyles helping to feed these brands of globalized entities? This expectation of sameness across spatially separated locals? I mean, I know where to go to buy everything no matter where I am (Walmart) and I know where to go to buy fake Mexican food anywhere I am (Taco Bell or Taco Tico). Or how about used stuff for cheap (Goodwill)? Is that not weird? And enabling too. I mean, because everywhere is, in a strange way, local, I can have these expectations wherever I go. I can probably even carry them all the way to Europe, China, Jamaica.

I honestly don't know what to think behind that though. Part of me is sort of shivering in the corner frightened behind it. But, I guess, that's the double edge of globalization.

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Comment by John McCreery on July 18, 2013 at 4:22am

Aareon, interesting post. Allow me to recommend sociologist George Ritzer's  The McDonaldization of Society (1993). A critical point in considering these issues is social class. Family restaurants and fast food both cater to social segments that lack the financial and cultural capital to indulge in the pursuit of taste and innovation when looking for a meal. Their more upscale equivalents — I think of Tony Roma's and the Ruth Chris steak house in Tokyo—cater to those with financial resources but lack of cultural capital, (or perhaps just time), who are looking for something familiar instead of expending the effort to seek more exotic alternatives. It is important to note that in all these cases, restaurant customers are looking for dependable quality at what, given their financial resources, they see as a reasonable price.

But why look for dependable quality? That non-chain restaurant you discover may be fantastic. It may also be horrible. I recall family trips as a child where I was taught that, as an alternative to Howard Johnson's (an early and now defunct family restaurant change), we should look for diners at truck stops with lots of trucks parked outside them. The assumption was that the truckers who frequently drive up and down a particular highway will have learned where the good places are.

I suspect that the rapid spread of fast-food and other chains around the globe is not simply the result of a bogeyman called "globalization," but the result of canny business people picking up on these trends, building global networks of restaurants to supply the relevant market niches, then, as is now increasingly the case, facing local competition that adopts and localizes the basic business model. 


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