Tis the season for real people, not corporate people

I’ve heard it with an American accent in Cape Town. With a British accent in Cork:

Walking down a street and behind me, a woman says – somewhat excitedly – to her companion, “Look, there’s a Starbucks!” or “Look, there’s a Costa’s Coffee!” Their following conversation usually leads to buying some overpriced, overflavoured caffeine.

What is it about predictability that attracts us? Enough of us are old enough to remember Howard Johnson’s trademarked orange roofs, standardized menus and 28-flavours of ice cream – and Mel Brooks’ take on them with orange-roofed outhouses in Blazing Saddles. Or, as Stephen Colbert has reminded us, “There’s nothing American tourists like more than the things they can get at home.”

We know little children love repetition of the same song, same story, same movie ad nauseum [to adults, anyway].

Apparently a lot of us have never outgrown that stage of our development. Be it Starbucks, Costa’s, Trader Joe’s or IKEA, it’s a personality trait that shrewd marketers have used to elevate otherwise mediocre brands to cult status.

Just like little kids who refuse to eat something they haven’t had before – a large number of Americans refuse to venture into local mom-and-pop businesses they’ve never heard of before. They’ve been carefully conditioned to trust corporate persons rather than real persons.

Little kids absorb information at a pace we can’t begin to imagine. That favorite fairy tale or food is an unconscious way to slow down and give their brain a rest. Is today’s over-stimulated world forcing adults to do the same? If we’re living in an overstressed environment, mindless non-decision making can be a welcome respite. Mindfulness is an unknown luxury.

Am I pure here? Of course not. I’ll admit many moments of ignorance and expedience. Yes, I’ve had the odd coffee and an occasional shopping visit to one of these places. As a matter of fact, until I found out that their bread was made with the same chemicals as yoga mats, I relied on Subway for cheap, filling and easy-to-find food on long highway trips where I didn’t want to wander too far from the major road. And even though they say they’ve pulled this particular chemical, a number of experts have asked if we really want to eat imported non-seasonal veggies that look just as fresh at 6 in the evening as they did at 10 in the morning.

We can’t all be perfect. But if we give a little thought to helping the real persons living, doing business and supporting communities around us – instead of the corporate persons who siphon our money to the Caymans – we might be helping ourselves, as well.

This season, think about spending your time and money with real people, not corporate people.

8 Comments on “Tis the season for real people, not corporate people

  1. An always insighful discussion .. the one I remind people is that the “big corporation” does employ lots of individuals … so of course when the big corporation is in a budget crunch, off goes the jobs of those who need it.

    Hence, I’m always a big confused on where my heart lies on this topic.

    ~Laurel <3 <3

    • Remember that it’s the local businesses who support the local organizations – charities, churches, sports teams and so on – that fall beneath the radar of out-of-town corporations. Their responsibility is to their community, not to a spreadsheet. I could go on in this vein, but it’ll be easier to write another blog on the topic. Thanks for the trigger!

  2. I know plenty of people who refuse to eat in non-corporate restaurants because they think they are cleaner (as someone who worked in many of them, I can say this isn’t true.) I understand your point, and I do shop in local business when I can. But in a small city like mine, Starbucks, Wal-Mart, etc. employ hundreds of people, who in turn support all the local stuff. If these business closed down, the workers would be devastated, and the local small business couldn’t hire all of them. We have lots of small business thriving: coffee shops, Mexican cafes, bookstores, craft stores, taverns, restaurants. I don’t believe it needs to be one or the other. I think in some communities they can exist side by side.

    • I agree that we can’t be purists – and that the big boys have a place in society. Having said that, I’ve lived in a number of places that suffered the devastation that follows when the single large employer folds. Localized diversity is always my first choice. And, when I find myself wanting or needing something from one of the national/international brand names, I try to shop the local franchisee rather than the company store.

      • That’s true. In the early 80’s, my town was devastated when the steel mill shut down most of its production. The big box stores took over the niche. Now, what’s left of the mill is shutting down for good. Many of the big stores didn’t fare well in the long run. Our city council is trying to get more local and state companies to move in in order to not get dependent on one large industry, as they did in the past. They are also trying to get the community to move more to the arts in order to promote tourism. My city has a rich Hispanic/Native American history, as well as the history of the settlers, and they want to promote this instead of just being another drab familiar town on the plains.

        • Sounds like a good plan – hope that it’s successful.

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