Sunday, March 9, 2008

"America runs on Dunkin."

There's a Dunkin Donuts commercial airing these days where there are a bunch of people standing in line at some Starbucks-esque coffee shop with confused expressions on their faces. The jingle then goes -- "My mind can't form these words. Is it French? Or is it Italian? Perhaps Fritalian?"

Now, I'm no loyal devotee of Starbucks (or as I call it, "Starjunks" or "Starblech"). Heck, we don't even have Dunkin Donuts in California. However, given that millions of people go to Starbucks everyday, sometimes multiple times a day, it's a bit late in the day for Dunkin to be ripping into the vaguely Italian feel of the chain. Most people who order coffee can, in fact, pronounce "macchiato" or "espresso," and that is usually the extent of drink name complexity. French terminology is generally not used in coffee houses unless it's a French cafe or restaurant. Then you'll get cafe au lait versus cafe latte. Even then, because French and Italian both stem from Latin, words in both languages are similar enough for someone to deduce what a coffee related word means.

Going back to the commercial, it is slightly amusing at first, but it's also a bit disturbing because, the way I see it, this commercial is a microcosmic reflection of American society. Everyone else in the world is bilingual, learning their native language and at least another language to function in the wider, global business world. That other language is usually English. However, most average, non-immigrant Americans can barely speak English, let alone another language. We get the option in high school to learn another language, but usually there's no real effort to really learn the language; the kids just take the class to fulfill a requirement and graduate. There's no real retention of the language learned.

The problem compounds when Americans venture abroad or encounter people who, though intelligent and capable of learning English, may not be very fluent. The usual image foreigners have of Americans are fat, sneakers-, shorts-, and baseball hat-wearing tourists who think that speaking English slowly and loudly counts as being able to communicate. This, coupled with fantastic flubs in foreign policy, has lead to a general disdain for the American public. Yet, people are still bewildered as to why the world doesn't hold America and Americans in high regard.

Hello? It just takes a bit of effort, people. If rest-of-the-world can make an effort to learn English, it's not asking much of us to learn just one more language. Sure, we can start the public education system blame game, which is a whole 'nother can of worms, but just a little effort goes a long way. It's not that hard, really.

So Dunkin Donuts' whole tag line plays into the "America! F*ck YEAH!" mentality, yet they still serve lattes. Go figure. America runs on Dunkin, indeed.

Meanwhile, I'm off to get a nonfat, upside down caramel macchiato and practice my French.

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