September 15, 2016
Premium stories from Worldcrunch's own network of multi-lingual journalists in over 30 countries.
For some, it is the most memorable Hollywood dialogue of the late 20th century. Two hitmen driving through Los Angeles (on the way to their next job) are discussing what one calls the “little differences” between the U.S. and Europe after his visit to Amsterdam and Paris.
You know what they call a Quarter-Pounder with cheese in Paris?
They don’t call it a Quarter-Pounder with cheese?
No, they got the metric system there, they wouldn’t know what the f*ck a Quarter-Pounder is.
Then what do they call it?
They call it a Royale with cheese
Royale with cheese [smiles]. What do they call a Big Mac?
Big Mac’s a Big Mac, but they call it Le Big Mac.
Le Big Mac. [laughs] What do they call a Whopper?
I don’t know. I didn’t go to Burger King.
The exchange in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction gives us a singular je-ne-sais-quoi cool from John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson, as genuine curiosity in that which is foreign meets the utterly mundane.
The movie came out in 1994, at a moment when some believed the Pax Americana was bound to last forever as the Cold War had given way to the global dominance of U.S. culture, commerce … and fast food chains. The opening in 1990 of the first McDonald’s in Moscow was hailed as bonafide geopolitical history: The Iron Curtain had come down and the special sauce was flowing.
The same Golden Arches metaphor has been hauled back out in recent weeks — in the inverse — by commentators and politicians alike, as McDonald’s closed up all its Russia-based restaurants last month, in response to Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
Putin has insisted on a knock-off Russian burger brand taking over the shuttered McDonald’s locations, with stories shared about the similar menu, subbing in a new logo and customers barely noticing the difference in the products. Had the Kremlin gotten hold of the secret sauce recipe?
For the Russian president, the rebranded burgers would be proof on the domestic front (as pumped-up energy sales in Asia were abroad) that Moscow could withstand any economic sanctions the West had to present.
As with many other aspects of the Russian war in Ukraine, it is an odd twist to events: counterfeiting American fast food as evidence of standing up to the power of the American economy.
But it’s also worth remembering that around the same time that Tarantino’s hitmen were pondering the Royale with cheese, celebrated New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman had proposed what he called the “Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention.” As global capitalism expanded, he explained, conflict would eventually dissipate because countries had too much to lose in their economic and commercial relationships. “No two countries that both have a McDonald’s have ever fought a war against each other,” Friedman declared.
Of course, the theory has long since been proven far too optimistic — and as one commentator put it, “lazy” at its origin.
I have neither the foresight nor energy myself to come up with an alternative. Still, we know that food always gives us something to chew on. The war in Ukraine has set off economic disaster that extends well beyond Russia or McDonald’s, and we’re currently seeing factors from climate change to blockades to supply chain breakdowns combine to create serious food shortages — risking famine in some places, and elsewhere leaving shoppers without some of their favorite staple goods and consumer products.
That brings us to Sriracha, Thailand’s own brand of (spicy) special sauce, which by now is a beloved condiment for a variety of foods around the world. In recent months, a series of circumstances, including drought in Mexico, have caused a shortage of the chili peppers needed to produce Sriracha, and the global supply is expected to remain severely limited for months to come.
It’s a missing squirt of spice in the lives of diners around a world where globalized cuisine has long since spread well beyond multilingual McDonald’s. It no doubt has the makings of a new theory on where our messy world is heading. Hmmm…?
In the meantime, you know what they call it in Paris: La Sriracha.
— Jeff Israely
1. The BRICS summit was held this week, gathering the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China — and…?
2. Which country just voted to dissolve its parliament and move toward a new election, for the fifth time in less than four years?
3. Twitter is testing a new “notes” feature that would let its users write how many words: 500 / 1,500 / 2,500?
4. What was caught in Cambodia, at a record 13 feet (4 meters) and weighing 660 pounds (300 kg)?
[Answers at the bottom of this newsletter]
• More than 150 cultural sites destroyed in Ukraine: UNESCO has released a new assessment of the damage inflicted on cultural landmarks during the Russian invasion of Ukraine. An estimated 152 sites have been destroyed so far, most of them in the Donetsk, Kharkiv and Kyiv regions.
• Controversial mural taken down at German art fair: A mural depicting soldiers with antisemitic attributes has been criticized by German and Israeli authorities after it was exhibited at the documenta contemporary art fair in Germany. Taring Padi, the Indonesian collective behind the artwork, denied the allegations but the mural was subsequently taken down.
• Rupert Murdoch & Jerry Hall split: Australian-born U.S. media mogul Rupert Murdoch, 91, and American actress and model Jerry Hall, 65, are getting a divorce after six years of marriage. This is Murdoch’s fourth divorce and Hall’s second — she was previously married to the Rolling Stones’ frontman Mick Jagger from 1990 to 1999.
• “Lucy” paleontologist Yves Coppens dies: French paleontologist Yves Coppens, who was part of the team who discovered 3.2-million-year-old female Australopithecus fossil nicknamed “Lucy” in Ethiopia in 1974, has died aged 87 after a long illness.
• Kate and Will’s first official portrait: The first official joint portrait of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Kate and William, has been unveiled at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England. The portrait was painted by British artist Jamie Coreth and will be loaned to the National Portrait Gallery in London in 2023 to celebrate its reopening.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has had a trial by fire since taking over for Angela Merkel, writes Claus Christian Malzahn for German daily Die Welt. With European leadership in high demand, Scholz has claimed that Germany bears “a very special responsibility.”
Read the full story: German Chancellor Olaf Scholz: A Very Special Responsibility
Understanding the unique nature of U.S. gun culture and the politics surrounding the issue can be confusing for Americans, let alone for foreigners who live there. In this essay for independent magazine La Marea, Spanish writer Azahara Palomeque, who just left the U.S. after living there for 12 years, recounts her thoughts and experiences living in a country so riddled with gun violence that she was close to panicking every time she walked out the door.
Between gun violence and the most expensive healthcare system in the world, the U.S. is governed by “necropolitics,” she says: the ruling class gets to decide who lives and who dies.
Read the full story: Real Fear, Fake Politics: How U.S. Gun Culture Looks To A Foreigner Living There
About 4,000 students have been arrested since the 2019 democracy protests in Hong Kong, and of those arrested, 1,150 have been prosecuted. Now three years later, some of those students are attempting to reintegrate into society. They may, at long last, be out of prison, but a new set of struggles await them, from finishing school to job hunting.
This piece by Hye-kwan Lee and Stanley Leung for Chinese-language media The Initium details the bitter road back for some of those arrested.
Read the full story: A Bitter Road Back For Hong Kong Students Arrested During 2019 Protests
A vintage, home-grown fast food chain in the Philippines called Tropical Hunt soared in popularity this week after a customer posted a picture showing an empty restaurant in Manila, prompting fans of the chain to post about their memories of the chain on social media. Tropical Hunt opened in 1965 and has become so popular now that some branches had to turn away dine-in customers to prioritize delivery orders. Hiring ads for the chain have also begun popping up on Twitter, so the restaurants can keep up with the increased demand.
Researchers at the Sichuan University in China have unveiled a tiny, self-propelled bionic fish robot capable of removing harmful microplastics from seas and oceans. The fish-bot absorbs the polluting particles through its soft body so that they can later be analyzed by scientists. It can also fix itself if it gets damaged thanks to the material it is made of — inspired by nacre, the interior of shell clams.
An officer from the Indian Forest Office captured a cute video showing a herd of elephants walking on a road in southern India in a very tight way to protect a calf in the middle. “Nobody on Earth can provide better security than an elephant herd to the cute newborn baby,” tweeted the man along with the viral video.
• The 2022 NATO summit will take place June 29-30, with a dozen leaders of the alliance attending the event in Madrid, Spain, and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenski virtually addressing the G7 and NATO summits.
• The 109th edition of the Tour de France kicks off on July 1 in the streets of Copenhagen, Denmark. The Tour will end in Paris on July 24.
• Starting July 1, Australian pet owners will be required to keep their cats indoors or contain them in enclosures 24/7 to prevent them from killing or hunting other animals in the wild.
• Wimbledon is set to open next week — and for the first time in over two decades, without Swiss tennis icon and eight-time winner Roger Federer who will undergo a third operation on his right knee.
News quiz answers:
1. China was the host of the 14th BRICS summit with the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa connecting virtually to discuss global economic recovery, climate action and public health.
2. Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced the dissolution of his weakened coalition and called for new elections, which will be the fifth in three years. Foreign Affairs Minister Yair Lapid will take over from Bennett as early as next week until a new government is sworn in.
3. Chatty people will be delighted to learn that Twitter is testing a new “notes” feature allowing users to write up to 2,500 words, in addition to its posts limited to 280 characters.
4. A giant stingray caught in the Mekong river in Cambodia has been recorded as the largest known freshwater fish.
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*Photo: Hiroko Nishimura
As the Supreme Court decides to overturn the 1973 decision that guaranteed abortion rights, many fear an imminent threat to abortion rights in the U.S. But in other countries, the global fight for sexual and reproductive rights is going in different directions.
As successor to Angela Merkel, Olaf Scholz is facing a wealth of challenges at home and abroad. In the coming days, he faces key international summits while a domestic energy crisis begins to spiral. Is the new Chancellor up to the challenge?
U.S. politics around gun control can be confusing to Americans but outright bewildering to foreigners living there. For Azahara Palomeque, a Spaniard who just left the U.S. after 12 years, the country is governed by a "necropolitics" that doesn't value life.
Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.
Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.
Then there is Mariupol, under siege and symbol of Putin’s cruelty. In the largest city on the Azov Sea, with a population of half a million people, Ukrainians make up slightly less than half of the city's population, and Mariupol's second-largest national ethnicity is Russians. As of 2001, when the last census was conducted, 89.5% of the city's population identified Russian as their mother tongue.
Between 2018 and 2019, I spent several months in Mariupol. It is a rugged but beautiful city dotted with Soviet-era architecture, featuring wide avenues and hillside parks, and an extensive industrial zone stretching along the shoreline. There was a vibrant youth culture and art scene, with students developing projects to turn their city into a regional cultural center with an international photography festival.
There were also many offices of international NGOs and human rights organizations, a consequence of the fact that Mariupol was the last major city before entering the occupied zone of Donbas. Many natives of the contested regions of Luhansk and Donetsk had moved there, taking jobs in restaurants and hospitals. I had fond memories of the welcoming from locals who were quicker to smile than in some other parts of Ukraine. All of this is gone.
Putin is bombing the very people he has claimed to want to rescue.
According to the latest data from the local authorities, 80% of the port city has been destroyed by Russian bombs, artillery fire and missile attacks, with particularly egregious targeting of civilians, including a maternity hospital, a theater where more than 1,000 people had taken shelter and a school where some 400 others were hiding.
The official civilian death toll of Mariupol is estimated at more than 3,000. There are no language or ethnic-based statistics of the victims, but it’s likely the majority were Russian speakers.
So let’s be clear, Putin is bombing the very people he has claimed to want to rescue.
Putin’s Public Enemy No. 1, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, is a mother-tongue Russian speaker who’d made a successful acting and comedy career in Russian-language broadcasting, having extensively toured Russian cities for years.
Rescuers carry a person injured during a shelling by Russian troops of Kharkiv, northeastern Ukraine.
Yes, the official language of Ukraine is Ukrainian, and a 2019 law aimed to ensure that it is used in public discourse, but no one has ever sought to abolish the Russian language in everyday life. In none of the cities that are now being bombed by the Russian army to supposedly liberate them has the Russian language been suppressed or have the Russian-speaking population been discriminated against.
Sociologist Mikhail Mishchenko explains that studies have found that the vast majority of Ukrainians don’t consider language a political issue. For reasons of history, culture and the similarities of the two languages, Ukraine is effectively a bilingual nation.
"The overwhelming majority of the population speaks both languages, Russian and Ukrainian,” Mishchenko explains. “Those who say they understand Russian poorly and have difficulty communicating in it are just over 4% percent. Approximately the same number of people say the same about Ukrainian.”
In general, there is no problem of communication and understanding. Often there will be conversations where one person speaks Ukrainian, and the other responds in Russian. Geographically, the Russian language is more dominant in the eastern and central parts of Ukraine, and Ukrainian in the west.
Like most central Ukrainians I am perfectly bilingual: for me, Ukrainian and Russian are both native languages that I have used since childhood in Kyiv. My generation grew up on Russian rock, post-Soviet cinema, and translations of foreign literature into Russian. I communicate in Russian with my sister, and with my mother and daughter in Ukrainian. I write professionally in three languages: Ukrainian, Russian and English, and can also speak Polish, French, and a bit Japanese. My mother taught me that the more languages I know the more human I am.
At the same time, I am not Russian — nor British or Polish. I am Ukrainian. Ours is a nation with a long history and culture of its own, which has always included a multi-ethnic population: Russians, Belarusians, Moldovans, Crimean Tatars, Bulgarians, Romanians, Hungarians, Poles, Jews, Greeks. We all, they all, have found our place on Ukrainian soil. We speak different languages, pray in different churches, we have different traditions, clothes, and cuisine.
My mother taught me that the more languages I know the more human I am.
Like in other countries, these differences have been the source of conflict in our past. But it is who we are and will always be, and real progress has been made over the past three decades to embrace our multitudes. Our Jewish, Russian-speaking president is the most visible proof of that — and is in fact part of what our soldiers are fighting for.
Many in Moscow were convinced that Russian troops would be welcomed in Ukraine as liberating heroes by Russian speakers. Instead, young soldiers are forced to shoot at people who scream in their native language.
Starving people ina street of Kharkiv in 1933, during the famine
Putin has tried to rally the troops by warning that in Ukraine a “genocide” of ethnic Russians is being carried out by a government that must be “de-nazified.”
These are, of course, words with specific definitions that carry the full weight of history. The Ukrainian people know what genocide is not from books. In my hometown of Kyiv, German soldiers massacred Jews en masse. My grandfather survived the Buchenwald concentration camp, liberated by the U.S. army. My great-grandmother, who died at the age of 95, survived the 1932-33 famine when the Red Army carried out the genocide of the Ukrainian middle class, and her sister disappeared in the camps of Siberia, convicted for defying rationing to try to feed her children during the famine.
On Tuesday, came a notable report of one of the latest civilian deaths in the besieged Russian-speaking city of Kharkiv: a 96-year-old had been killed when shelling hit his apartment building. The victim’s name was Boris Romanchenko; he had survived Buchenwald and two other Nazi concentration camps during World War II. As President Zelensky noted: Hitler didn’t manage to kill him, but Putin did.
Genocide has returned to Ukraine, from Kharkiv to Kherson to Mariupol, as Vladimir Putin had warned. But it is his own genocide against the Russian-speaking population of Ukraine.