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Glocalization: Taking the edge off Globalization

– Do you know what they call a Quarter Pounder with cheese in France?
– They don’t call it a quarter pounder with cheese?
– Hell no, they got the metric system. They don’t know what the fuck a quarter pound is. They call it a royale with cheese.

The term globalization is becoming increasingly common around the world. For some it represents the future and how the world may change to become more equal, with merging cultures, ethnicities, economic systems, social justices and political ideals. For others, it is a pernicious force that poses a danger to local markets, domestic culture and unique customs. Either way, no matter what you think, it is happening.

Sometimes, foreign customs may seep into a culture naturally. When something is practical, it makes sense to follow suit. For example, using knives and forks began somewhere and spread throughout the Western world and eventually spread overseas and across distant continents. Actually it is thought that forks were developed in ancient Egypt and knives were a product of France, yet this perfect couple met somewhere along the lines of history and we take their practical use for granted.

On the other hand, global trends may barge in on a culture regardless of their ultimate use. Think of the McDonalds and Starbucks around the world. We see them everywhere whether we want to or not. Franchises are not always welcome and small Italian city showed this when locals opted to continue eating local goods back in 2002. After opening in 2001, the McDonalds restaurant in Altamura shut its doors in only 2002 (1).  In light of the various attitudes regarding embracing globalization or protecting traditional heritage, there is one thing that helps bridge that divide: ‘glocalization.’

Glocalization is, as the name suggests, the mix of both globalization and localization. This process involves localizing a foreign ‘product’ to keep local elements intact. Glocalization takes the edge off the product and makes it more palatable for native mouths, eyes, ears and minds. The most common place we see this is in food. Let’s go back to McDonalds and Starbucks, two experts in glocalization. South Korea is home to the Bulgogi Burger, the Kimchi Burger and the Shanghai Spicy Chicken Burger (2). In Thailand, Ronald McDonald is seen bowing down to local customers, as is local custom (3). Going one step further, McDonalds in France got rid of poor Ronald and replaced him with Asterix, the well-known French kids cartoon character (4).

Glocal goodies await inside!

Similarly, Starbucks is another fox when it comes to entering foreign farms. Living in Korea, I have noticed that Insadong in Seoul is a major tourist zone, bustling with traditional arts, crafts and food. When Starbucks tried to set up shop here, local residents and store keepers were greatly annoyed, as referenced in this. In order to succeed, the store name Starbucks has been written in the Korean script hangeul. The interior also matches the local mood, with Korean rice cakes (deok) and lemon teas on sale inside.

On its latest expedition, Starbucks also made a foray into the Muslim world but angered locals in Saudi Arabia with its smiling mermaid logo. As local residents have strict views on the role and place of women in soceity, the logo has now been edited with the mermaid removed (5).

Starbucks has even managed to set up a store right in the Forbidden City, Beijing, China. Starbucks attempted to adjust smoothly by making things appear somewhat local, however this particular example shows how glocalization doesn’t always succeed; Starbucks eventually shut up shop after intense protests from Chinese locals.

Fobidden City. Forbidden Cafe? Nope


Glocalization is not only limited to food. In the music world, South Korea, which for me is majorly over-globalized, is another expert at localizing foreign products. The success of Korean pop, or K-pop as it is better known, has spread to other Asian nations like Vietnam, China and Taiwan. The spread of K-pop brings economic and cultural advantages for South Korea but undermines local talent elsewhere.  In fact, due to K-pop, which is supposedly Korean, is being limited in China as it is bringing in Western fashion styles, music and consumerism with it. However, clever marketers in Korea saw a perfect chance to seize upon; EXO – the Chinese/Korean boy group (6).

Moving onto the film world, Hollywood also smartly conceals localized content in its films to boost worldwide sales. For example, it may be hire a Korean actor in a Hollywood blockbuster to shore up sales in Asia. The actor may not be the best for the position, but it will guarantee big cinema attendances in Korea (7).

Even if you have watched the same movie, drunk the same cup of Starbucks’ coffee or had the same Mcburger in two countries, perhaps you could see that not every aspect of your experience was identical in both. Glocalization may seem like something sneaky that is used to make more money, and yes it may be. But like the knife and the fork, new things can be practical for us and we need to embrace them. As globalization increases, I think we should enjoy watching how a product or service adapts to local needs.

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Written by Peter Walsh

Hi everyone, my name is Peter. I'm from Ireland but I'm currently living in South Korea where i work as a teacher. I love to travel and meet new cultures. I've had a colorful past which included farming pigs, working in a power plant and running a reggae bar in Thailand. I want the world to get along more and learn from each other to erase our prejudices.

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