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The more I travel, the more I see that American culture is everywhere.  That’s almost a literal statement.  It’s amazing how our culture has impacted the rest of the world.  You see American stores and fast food and restaurants in pretty much every major city and even in smaller cities.  You hear American pop songs and see signs for Lenny Kravitz and Lady GaGa concerts in various cities.

There’s a good chance you’ll hear some kind of variation of english too.  Of course, some of this is also due to the fact that Britain controlled something like 1/4th of the world’s land mass at one point, so maybe the credit should be given to the Brits for spreading the language initially.

I’m not sure what to make of this cultural saturation.  Is it a good thing, a bad thing?  Or maybe it’s just a thing I notice.

I know this much, when you know english (especially if english is your native language), the world is open to you.  Before traveling overseas I never thought about this.  Why would I?  I lived in the US where just about anyone speaks english.  And our neighbors – Canada, well they speak english too.  (Unless you go to Quebec, where it’s French Canadian, but we kind of view that as an oddity and a bit snarky).  Mexico is too far away from the section of the US where I’m from (mid-Atlantic).  That’s not to say that there aren’t spanish speakers in South Central Pennsylvania – there are plenty.  They also happen to be the poorer populations in the area typically.  They are migrant workers often – agricultural workers.

English really is a global language in many respects.  In the Helsinki area, a vast majority of people speak english.  It’s not an official language, but it is taught in school along with Finnish, Swedish, French and who knows what else.  So that means there are many, many people here who are not just bilingual, but multi-lingual – speaking at least three languages, if not more. I know Finns who speak Finnish, Swedish, English, Russian and German!

And yet in the US there is a large segment of the population that thinks the world is going to come to an end if Americans have to learn a second language to be able to communicate.

When I went to Latvia and Lithuania, there were also many people who could speak english – not as well as in Finland, but still, I had very few difficulties in getting around only speaking english.

When I think about all of this, I think about history.  At one time, Greek was the “global” language.  Latin was too at one time.  Of course global meant the “known world” – Europe.  So not as global as it really was.

But english seems to be as close to a global language as I can think of.  Yesterday, waiting for the bus to take me home from the airport, a Chinese couple came up to me and asked me what time the bus was coming, in english.  This was surprising.

Should I be surprised though at how small the world is becoming?  Other questions that pop into my mind – Do I really look like a non-Finn that people just assume I am an english speaker?  Or better yet, because I’m at an airport, do people assume I am educated and therefore must know english, because “all” educated people know english?

It’s been said that when you really understand a language, you’ll understand a culture.  English is my native language and yet, when I travel and see how American culture is everywhere, I wonder if I really know my own culture that well.  What gets exported elsewhere is not necessarily the best thing to export – ie fast food.  But then again, language is also a vehicle to export some good things – ie political freedom.