Speak English. This Is China: My Reaction To Coca-Cola’s Super Bowl Commercial

SpeakEnglishBefore I moved to China, I definitely wasn’t taking my Chinese classes seriously.  I was a second semester senior, crushing my “intensive” senior curriculum, and working out 3 hours every day since the only other option was sleeping.  Why the hell would I spend the best months of my life trapped in the library with all the freshmeat?  Everyone around me continued to assure me as well, saying,

“Everyone in China speaks English.  They have to.”

Because why wouldn’t they right? America is the greatest nation in the world! We have all the power and the guns.  America, fuck yeah.  Live free or die.  We are God’s greatest gift to the world and everyone justs needs to accept that already….

Or we’ll crush you with our guns, our power, and our English.

But as soon as I hit the ground, everything just became a blur.  Every Chinese character looked vaguely like the numerical pound sign (#) and people were rushing me out of the terminal like salmon fighting against the current.  I stood there helplessly with my 3 pieces of luggage, yoga mat, and rucksack holding onto my international phone with a death grip. It was my only connection to the English-speaking world outside of the terminal.

As a former English major, decorated debater, and self-proclaimed motivational speaker, the fact that I couldn’t communicate with anyone for months was devastating.  Obviously, I have really important opinions that need to be shared immediately, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.  That’s why I got a Twitter account.

And it’s this type of helplessness that immigrants feel every single day in America; yet, we feel no sympathy and continue to criticize and demonize their culture.

When will people stop denying that we’re a nation of immigrants?  If you don’t believe me, GOOGLE it.  Or pick up a book if you’re old school like that. Because unless you’re of Native American decent, at one point in history YOUR family was fresh off a boat, scared, and scrambling to establish a life in a foreign country WHILE speaking your native tongue.  Mind blown, for sho’.

Speak English, this is America.  Why don’t you assimilate to OUR culture and OUR ways? Get a mortgage you can’t afford. Buy an Iphone 5 today and you should have started saving for the iPhone 6 yesterday. Learn a third language because once you’re stateside, you automatically forfeit any excuse not to be perfectly fluent in one of the hardest languages in the world!

Oh, and ditch the accent. That shit ain’t cute.

But that’s not how we do it in the People’s Republic.  In Beijing, the average ex-pat speaks 2-4 languages… in addition to Chinese. Ex-pats often own their own companies, are highly educated, and are acting as the change they hope to see in the world.  We recognize that business abroad is a lot like a family unit. To succeed in the wild wild east you need “guanxi,” or relationships, which will help your business move up in the world.  Without guanxi, you will fail.  Period.  So why not increase your opportunities to develop guanxi with multiple countries in their native tongue?

Point is: being unilingual cripples you abroad.  It traps you in a niche.

Guanxi has been king in China for thousands of years and it will continue to be king as far as we can tell down in the trenches.  However, when anything changes, we immediately adjust, adapt, and advance at the drop of a hat.  Some of us are Americans; others are European or African.  There are Latin Americans, Australians, Middle Easterners, and every other demographic you can think of.  But we are all part of the ex-pat family and WE would never dare say:

Speak English. This is China.

It’s time to abandon this useless and stubborn idea that America is this way, with this God, in this language.  Millennials are educated enough to see that globalization is inevitable and minorities will be the deciding force in elections in the near future.  So everyone just needs to get over it.  Let go of your fear of the other.  People need to get off their high horse and march with the beat that is inevitably in the horizon; a beat that blends all types of instruments together beyond any point of distinction.  It’s time for soloists to get over themselves.

This is why I stand with Coca-Cola.

Not the beverage (I prefer my whiskey neat), but their message.  Coca-Cola’s message was meant to be inclusive; that’s it.  Stop being obnoxious about it.

 Speak Whatever You Want.  This is America.

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35 thoughts on “Speak English. This Is China: My Reaction To Coca-Cola’s Super Bowl Commercial

  1. I’ve been so disgusted with the responses to the Coca Cola ad, but then I realize that a majority of the people who are making ignorant comments are those with their blinders on. They’ve lived in America their entire lives, have never traveled abroad and are close minded in thinking their way is the only way.

    When I traveled abroad while backpacking throughout Europe after I graduated college, I was SHOCKED at how every. single. country. made an effort to have English signs and speakers. Not only were they fluent in their own language, but they were fluent in English. They went out of their way to communicate with me in my native tongue as I was unilingual. I was amazed at the generosity they extended me, because I’m sure as hell that would be seen as “insane” in America. In America, people believe that “if you don’t speak English, get out of our country”. How narrow minded and ignorant can you be? We are a melting pot, a community of people from all across the world. And those countries across the world make the effort to speak English to make communication a little easier on you when you travel and visit.

    Like you, I’m 100% behind Coca Cola. I thought the commercial was not only beautiful, but sent a message to America. And that’s a message I stand behind.

    Great post Vanessa! As always, love reading your blog 🙂

  2. I agree with you 100% I like the Coca-Cola commercial and the meaning it has about how American is very diverse so I stand by it as well

  3. Great refreshing response to Coca Cola’s Super Bowl ad. People tweeting #SpeakAmerican showed the ignorance that many people have about the world, even though the economy is becoming more and more globalized every day.

  4. Yes, The USA is a nation of immigrants, and diversity is very important to economic growth, but all the diversity in the world is useless unless we can all communicate in a common language that we all understand. In the United States that common language is ENGLISH. No matter what you plan to success is it will be easier here if you speak English. Ant the song America the Beautiful is an extremely patriotic song that is written and intended to be preformed in English.

    • have you ever thought that maybe, just maybe, that song could be intended for America (meaning North, Central and South America)? As far as I know, America is not only USA but all the countries that make it up.

    • Whichever language one sings it in, it is still deceptive. “America the beautiful”? America the greedy, arrogant, insular, cruel, unjust, corrupt, religiously deluded, intolerant, shallow, environmentally corrupt, brash, vulgar, indulgent, paternalistic, bloated, prejudiced, elitist, violent, domineering, untrustworthy, immoral, christianity infested, poverty inculcating, murderous, incarcerating, ostracising, diversity invalidating, criminalising, belligerent, undemocratic, human rights abusing, disadvantage enforcing, intimacy vandalising, dissent decimating, bully. And that’s just the politicians. I lived in the US for a number of years, and loved it. I have lived in numerous countries and hold dear my time as a US resident. But really. It is a massive generalisation, but, you american folks, I’ve gotta say, you’ve got your hand on it again.

  5. How ironic that the one person espousing an English-only approach above has numerous spelling and punctuation errors as well as below-average syntax in such a short, simple paragraph. Some of the most patriotic people I know arrived in the U.S. speaking a language other than English.

  6. Awesome post, I had a similar shift in perspective when I moved to Poland in 2012, not knowing a single word of Polish. It became an even more profound realization when I realized how even though I work in an English school, I wouldn’t even be able to get a job at a fast-food restaurant here if I wanted to. I have so much respect for anyone choosing to uproot and immigrate to any new country, especially if they don’t speak the language.

  7. I have mixed feelings about this post! I DO agree that we are a mixed bag when it comes to cultures in America. .. and yes we were founded by those who immigrated to the U.S. to flee religious persecution. That being said. . I believe that when you move to any country it is polite and respectful to learn the countries native tongue. I most certainly would not go into another country (to live) and not learn the language. Do come to the U.S., but respect should follow you!

  8. Absolutely one of the best put together summaries of “America; Get Over Yourself” that I have read in a long time. Many of my generation (Gen X) could benefit from the reminder to put in some miles in the shoes of those who traipsed across the land before them.

    The illusion of American’s being a privileged class of human that the rest of the planet should conform to is, to me, a horrific thought! Could you imagine going anywhere on the planet for business or for a vacation and all you find is America repackaged at the “Speed of Business?” I shudder to think!

    So, from my Irish, German, Italian, English, and French ancestors; and from myself as an American who understands we live in on global world that would benefit from a healthy dose of equality all around, I thank you for the reminder! The world continues to shrink each and every day and when I finally opened my eyes to the larger world unfolding in front of me; I suddenly realized the wonderful complexity and cosmopolitan beauty which existed all around me locally.

  9. hmmm, you should have learned to speak the Chinese language because you were going to their country… that would have been the smart thing to do. Anyone going to any country for an extended amount of time should learn the language of that country. For one, the people of that country will respect you more for learning it, or at least giving it your best shot. Secondly, it shows that you respect them because you are not expecting everyone to bend to you… basically it is polite. Third, you will not get very far in a country if you don’t know the language. And lastly, your experience in China should have taught you the exact opposite of your post. People in China don’t say, this is China, speak whatever you want. People in Spain don’t say, this is Spain, speak whatever you want. It is true, wherever you go, you can speak whatever language you want to, but you will only be shooting yourself in the foot. For the people that get angry when people speak a different language in America though, don’t get angry, it does not help….. perhaps you should befriend them and see if they need help learning English. After all, being nice is better than being mean.

  10. While I definitely agree that people need to be open to others, their cultures, their languages, etc., I think that those with the different cultures, languages, etc. need to make an effort to speak the language of the country their in. It’s only respectful. While America IS a melting pot and there is no official language on the books, it is widely known that we speak English. And the point about the signs being in their language and English…can you even imagine that in America if the overall point of this post, that people should be able to speak what they want, were true? We’d literally have an entire post of signs to cater to everyone. When you’re first coming to the country, I can understand that you may need time to adjust and learn the language, that’s cool. However, you need to be making an effort to assimilate to the culture. After all, you are the one who chose to come here. Like timeofyourlifehuhkid said above, in Poland she wouldn’t have been able to even get a very basic job in Poland because of the language barrier. Same goes for the US. If you don’t speak English, who do you expect to employ you? When the majority of the country speaks that language, it’s completely acceptable for a manager of a company to expect you to do the same. If you’re vacationing, that’s a bit different, but I still feel like you should know some key phrases for the country you’re in since, again, you are the one choosing to go there. When I go to Mexico, I speak Spanish…or at least attempt to since what you learn in texts is rarely how the locals speak it. But, like it was mentioned above, the people of the country respect you more if you at least TRY. I’ve literally laughed with Mexicans because what I’m trying to say based on what I learned in Spanish class doesn’t translate over. In situations like this, they often attempt to speak English to me. It may not be the easiest conversation for either party, but both sides appreciate that the other is trying. The key is being respectful to the people around you. Ultimately, that’s what makes the biggest difference.

    As for the ad, I know it’s caused a lot of uproar and I don’t get it. I can appreciate what they were trying to show there. The way I interpreted it was that America is beautiful because we ARE a mix of all these cultures and backgrounds. That’s something you don’t find in a lot of other countries and I really do think it helps shape who we are. I stand by my points above, but as for the ad, I don’t know what the uproar is about. It was beautifully done.

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  12. It’s not that people in the United States are in any way being rude or racist. On the contrary, we are proud to be Americans. Having been born in the U.S, my native language is English. I was taught foreign languages in school, as were many other Americans but I only speak English in the United States. I only utilize those other languages when traveling. People must understand that there’s 2 ways to look at everything in life. e.g. Is the glass of coke half full or half empty and is it diet or Classic? Here we have a case where CocaCola’s pathetic attempt to unite the world and SELL the world a coke has offended many Americans. Where it’s true that our forefathers never assigned the U.S. an official single language as to not be prejudice against or in favor of any race or culture, we have commonly adopted ENGLISH as the ONE and ONLY language that UNITES ALL AMERICANS. When one takes a moment and thinks about what CocaCola was doing in this ad, a person realizes that Coke’s futile attempt to sell their products across the world has seriously hurt their image in the United States. The ad effectively segregates Americans instead of UNITING THEM.
    Goodbye CocaCola, Looks like Pepsi’s making a come back or maybe I should just drink more water. It’s free!

    • I LOVE this. That was my reaction to it. I also speak another language, but only utilize it when necessary or if I’m in a Spanish speaking country. I also felt like it was a bit segregating, unfortunately a lot of actions of various groups in our great country seem to do that. It sucks when an entire company as well known as Coke decides to do that. I don’t drink any soda haha but if I did, I’d probably change my ways too. Rock on!

  13. Haha I always love reading your blogs! I’m thirteen, and honestly you’re my writing role model. Your life is so interesting, and I hope that my life is as spontaneous as yours. My favorite part of this was, “America, fuck yeah!”
    If you ever have time please check out my blog!
    That would mean a ton!
    Comment any tips! Thanks!

  14. A nation is a community of people who share a common language and culture. I would prefer that America continue to be a nation and not simply an economy, or just a set of lines on a map. I embrace and celebrate a multiethnic America, but I reject the destructive ideology of multiculturalism. And multiculturalism is what Americans were rejecting when they reacted negatively to the Coca-Cola ad.

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