Whenever I ask Americans how they think the rest of the world perceives them, I'm greeted with a symphony of patriotic zeal, “Free!”, “Number One!”, “Invincible!” However, when I ask them to elaborate with a description of the average American citizen, I’m met with a nervous chuckle and an under-the-breath murmur of, "Probably fat."
Now, this article is not to meant to be a British rebuttal a-la 1776 nor a commentary on the global pandemic of obesity. It is simply an observation of one continent/culture to another.
A fascinating video by Buzzfeed (I know, I know, you don’t need to lecture me on their journalistic standards, or lack thereof) from 2014 showcases the difference in size between McDonald’s cup sizes around the world. The United States’ version of small, medium, and large is 16oz, 21oz, and 30oz respectively. Compare this to Japan where the large cup is a measly 20oz, meaning a U.S. medium would overflow a Japanese large, and you begin to see the issue.
Using global fast-food chain sizes as a barometer of ‘American supersize-ation’ is a simple quantitative (numerical) method but there are qualitative (non-numerical) aspects too. These range from lifted pickup trucks with their giant tires to massive cowboy hats. I’m no sociologist but if I were to guesstimate at the origins of the American fixation on the large it would be immediately post-WWII. The 1950s are categorized as the birth of American consumerism when America dominated the global economy and witnessed a miniature golden age.
One argument I’ve heard is that America’s continental size and economic supremacy encourages her people to enlarge. My counter would be China, Russia, and Japan.
Russia’s total area in square miles is nearly double that of America’s yet the only supersizing in Russia is done to its nukes and Putin’s ego. Likewise, in China which has a comparable land mass to the US, the only supersizing occurring is to their islands in the South China sea and Xi Jinping’s centralized power. That, however, is beginning to change with China’s increasing access to Western culture and its continued economic rise.
Japan was once touted as America’s economic successor. While the Japanese may have “slipped on their sushi roll” as my world politics professor described their recent economic stagnation, they never turned to supersize-ation, even during their economic heyday. Considering this is the nation that was renowned for its territorial supersize-ation during the first half of the twentieth century, it’s quite remarkable.
So far my article has had a slightly negative slant towards America’s proclivity to oversized everything but there are positives too. For one thing, it’s awesome to get 30oz of any type of soda for $1.49 plus those free refills. Now that’s what I call American ingenuity. In Europe, free refills are the stuff of legend, kind of like leprechauns, the Loch Ness monster, and wherever Queen Elizabeth, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Bernie Sanders are hiding the Fountain of Youth. Also, bigger things are just cooler. I mean would you rather drive a Fiat or a monster truck? Exactly.
I think it’s important for all Americans to realize how lucky we are to live where we do, how we have access to things and institutions that others can only dream of. Just think of the people who risk everything they hold dear, which can sometimes fit inside a single backpack, just to stand where we do. The next time you get that third refill of Coke in your 30oz cup, appreciate your ability to do so. And also ask yourself if you really need 90oz of high-fructose corn syrup.