Rebecca and I have seen a lot of sports fans here in Asia. Or at least, that’s what we thought we were seeing when we saw lots of people walking around with American sports team merchandise. So, seeking some kind of community with these fans, I began shouting, “Go ___________ (insert team name here),” hoping the person would turn, find me, and smile or give a thumbs up at the very least, like what happens in the US. Instead, what we get is a confused, perhaps vaguely frightened look. It’s because they have no idea that they are wearing a Yankee or Dodger hat. They have no idea why I’m shouting at them.
Baseball, basketball, and football hats are a common sight in the US. I would venture a guess that most people have a team that they like. Many have more than one, or at the very least one from each sport. Usually, but definitely not always, it is a team from somewhere they live or used to live, that they followed and cared about, and they bought the hat because they wanted to show a little pride. So when you yell, “Go Dodgers!” typically someone will turn around and yell back, or smile knowing that another fan has found them and expressed admiration.
In our Asia travels, lots of people wear American sports gear, but most of them are not Americans. We haven’t run into a great number of Americans overall here, maybe because of how we’re traveling. But we are constantly surrounded by people wearing Yankees, Dodgers, Lakers, even University of Alabama gear. You can buy American sports team gear everywhere. It’s completely ubiquitous.
I am constantly amazed by how much of this stuff there is out there, and that people are willing to purchase something that they recognize is American, even if they have no idea what it means or says about them. It doesn’t matter that Yankee fans are jerks, or that Oakland Raiders fans are a little crazy (we stopped one guy wearing a Raiders hat and had to explain that Raiders fans are… a special breed); foreigners know they are American sports teams, and that’s all that matters. It has cultural cache.
In many parts of Asia, British things also have that kind of significance. Despite Britain’s colonial legacy in many of these countries, there is no shortage of union jack bags, purses, t-shirts, shoes, etc. People have short memories, I suppose.
British flag t-shirts combined with American sports hats on a petite Asian girl is my personal favorite combination from a branding perspective. There’s something weird to me about it. Maybe it’s all the associations I have with each. Sports hats bring to mind beer drinking, partying, and male gender stereotypes, while British things are more refined and effete. It’s a great vision to have these competing brand associations on a tiny Asian chick who has completely different reasons for wearing them.
There’s something great about seeing so much American paraphernalia around. It makes me feel better about being an American, for one thing. Despite our faults, people still want a piece of us. It also reminds me that even though I am far away from home, the world is a lot smaller than I think. Now when I go home, I want to buy a shirt or a hat from my favorite team. That way, when other Americans yell at me, I can yell back, which will definitely be more satisfying for both of us.