Rees’ Pieces

Ben Rees, Writer

My shoes adhere to the blue-and-beige-specked linoleum of this hotel’s floor. No snow falls outside, so there has been nothing wet to clean off the gum from the underside of my sneaker. On the radio blares Bing Crosby’s rendition of “White Christmas” in its original English recording. Despite the lack of snow on the ground, nothing–and I mean nothing–stops the general populace of Munich from loving Christmas.

Being in Munich during Christmastime is truly a one-of-a-kind experience. Everybody adores this holiday. Nothing is open on the day after Christmas because the day after is also a national holiday. Christmas seems so true and pure in Munich. Everyone is merry and spends the day with his or her family. Everything is so wonderfully untouched and German, or so it seems, until you turn on the television, tune in on the radio, or walk by the American stores in the city.

As a nation, we are net exporters of two products: liquid natural gas and Christmas. If you turn on the television in Germany on Christmas morning, you will be bombarded with SpongeBob Christmas specials, Claymation Christmas episodes, and “Miracle on 34th Street”—all with German voice-overs. Few, if any, of the programs I can find are originally in German. The same goes for the radio, except hardly any of it is translated into German from the English recording. Think about that. “All I Want for Christmas Is You” is such an iconic song—for what reason I do not know—that in other countries they don’t even translate the song! That would be akin to reading the original Goethe in your English courses, even though we don’t know what the words mean.

How did we convince the world that our pop-culture renditions of Christmas deserve to be broadcast over their traditions? Is it for the same reason that our clothing fads become cool around the world a couple of years after they die out here? Even worse, is that really how Americans are known across the globe? Even though we invented the telephone and assembly line production, are we really most well-known for How the Grinch Stole Christmas? A clever anthropologist would wonder whether other countries enjoyed our Christmas goods simply because of their quality, or whether we imposed them on the rest of the world. Consider things like Euro Disney or the Hard Rock Café Dublin, and I think you will find your answer.

The moral of the story is that it’s hard to listen to Beethoven’s No. 9 playing from the 15th-century cathedral across the street when “Jingle Bell Rock” won’t stop oozing from the radio. Oh America, what have we done?

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