Geopolitics

Pasta In Italy. Rice In China. Guns In U.S.: A Hoarding World Tour

People around the world have been rushing out to buy 'essential' products, a concept that varies from culture to culture.

A shop assistant in Hong Kong, China, moves freshly supplied rice in a supermarket.

One of the more striking outward signs of these troubled times are the ravaged grocery store shelves. Across the world, one of the first reactions people had to the quickly spreading pandemic was to make a rush on basic necessities. Even more troubling, however, are empty warehouses, as anxious demand combines with interrupted supply chains. But just as every country differs in how it tries to control the coronavirus, there are also nuances, from place to place, when it comes to hoarding supplies.

RICE RICE BABY: Fears of a looming food shortage during the coronavirus crisis spurred China — the world's largest grain importer — to make a serious run on rice. In March alone, the country purchased some 50 million metric tons of it, reports Radio Free Asia. But this is not necessarily national policy orchestrated by Beijing, says Fengrui Niu, the former director of the Urban Development and Environment Research Center at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Many imports are from individual businesses "profiting from the raging epidemic to hoard food in order to cash in huge profits," he told the U.S.-funded news outlet.

PASTA PANIC: The Italian staple of choice likewise showed a major boost in the month of March, a 59% increase as one in three families bought pasta supplies every 72 hours, reports Agrifood Today. For those old enough to remember, the buying frenzy may spark memories from 1974, when government price controls caused a nation-wide pasta scarcity. Mamma mia!

BUYING UP BOOZE: Down under, in Australia, it's been bottoms up. Data compiled by the Commonwealth Bank suggest that Ozzies have turned from stockpiling toilet paper to hoarding alcohol, the Sydney Morning Herald reports. As pubs, clubs and restaurants closed down the last week of March, spending on alcohol was 86% higher compared to the same period last year, leading the government to impose limits on alcohol purchases. Now, people can only buy up to two cases of 24 beers or a case of 12 bottles of wine — or both.

ZUMA_US_Hoarding

Cars line up at a drive-up food distribution center in a parking lot in Palm Beach, Florida, United States.— Photo: Gregg Lovett

COLD HARD CASH: Rather than food, Germans appear to be hoarding the money used to buy it, as the country has experienced an unprecedented level of ATM withdrawals. Cash was already the most popular means of payment before the crisis, but was expected to shrink as supermarkets encourage card payments to lower infection risk. According to the Bundesbank, there is no economic or social explanation for hoarding money, as the cash supply is ensured even in times of crisis.

WIPES AND WEAPONS: People can be forgiven in this period of such uncertainty for wanting to feel safe and secure. And for many Americans, that apparently means having an ample supply of... toilet paper. Lots and lots of it. So much, in fact, that stores are facing drastic supply shortages, both online and off. There's also been a rush on (what else?) guns. In March alone, the FBI reported 3.7 million gun-purchase background checks, not only a 41% increase from the month before, but also the largest number of background checks conducted in a single month ever. Gun and ammunition dealers are also facing a shortage of supplies.


JAVA JITTERS: The whole world apparently can't imagine starting its day without that morning coffee. "Panic buying and stockpiling" has led to higher demand in some countries, according to the International Coffee Organization (ICO), and prices have surged as a result. In the U.S. alone, weekly sales of coffee increased as much as 73% in March. But the underlying fear behind this compulsive consumerism may not be so unfounded, as the current pandemic is leading to supply disruptions due to lockdowns in coffee producing countries. In Colombia, for example, the usual coffee harvest is in April, yet the country is set to be under a nationwide lockdown until April 27.

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Society

Oui-haw! American Country Music Has Global Appeal

Some might ask: Why is there such a thing as International Country Music Day? Turns out the American musical genre has pockets of popularity around the world, from twanging sounds in Japan to South Africa to line dancing in France.

Japanese cover of a Dolly Parton album

To the rest of the world, there may be nothing more American than singers with acoustic guitars crooning about beer, trucks and Southern living. But the longstanding genre has had surprising relevance faraway countries. Academic papers have even been penned on why these cultural symbols — so specific to the Yankee experience — have such global appeal.

The examples abound of the traveling power of this popular music genre that blends folk, blues slavery-era spirituals and Southern gospel. One famous story recounts that during his time as a political prisoner, South Africa's Nelson Mandela was allowed to play one song over the loudspeakers. What tune did he pick? The Dolly Parton classic "Jolene," in which the Tennessee icon pleads with another woman not to take her man.

Tokyo Sexwale, a fellow freedom fighter in the cell next to Mandela, told the podcast "Dolly Parton's America" that the choice was somehow perfectly natural: "We are all human beings. The jailed and the jailer. But we all come from one country, but we all don't want to lose. Whether it's a man or your country, nobody wants to be hurt. Don't hurt me."

With this theme of art's ability to transcend geographic boundaries in mind (and to mark International Country Music Day, here's a swinging tour of country music's worldwide influence.

Africa: Classic Country Imports And Kenya's Own Elvis

Nigerian country music singer-songwriter Ogak Jay Oke — Photo: Mgbo
  • Back in 2007, NPR reported about the popularity of country music in Nairobi, Kenya — particularly Dolly Parton and Texan singer-songwriter Kenny Rogers, who received extensive television and radio play. Reporter Gwen Thompkins highlighted how, despite cultural differences, Kenyans found strength and a common ground in songs about agriculture-based economies facing societal and political challenges. As Henry Makhoka, the head of programming at the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, told Thompkins: "Most of the country music we play talks about country life, talks about the farm life and so on. That kind of environment was abundantly available where I was born."
  • In fact, country music has been popular in Africa since the 1950s, with local artists across the continent interpreting the genre's musical and thematic elements (see Ivory Coast duo Jess Sah Bi & Peter One and Nigerian country-disco pioneer Emma Ogosi). Many harken back to country music's roots; the banjo was in fact an instrument brought to the Americas by African slaves.
  • Currently, one of the biggest country stars is Elvis Othieno (a.k.a. Sir Elvis), who grew up in a country music-loving household and was inspired by Garth Brooks and Hank Williams. Originally from Kenya, Sir Levis has performed around the world — he started his first country band while living in Norway — and is part of a generation of African country stars that also includes newcomers Esther Konkara and Ogak Jay Oke, who hails from Nigeria.

Asia: A John Denver Classic Hits Home

John Denver in 1975 — Photo: Wikimedia Commons
  • Hayao Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli is known for its rich depictions of Japanese culture and mythology, so it's somewhat surprising that the 1995 animated film Whisper of the Heart centers around a country song: John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads." Denver's ode to West Virginia is a unique fit in the coming of age story about the stress of urban life in Tokyo, but Studio Ghibli is far from the first to adapt "Country Roads" to a foreign audience.
  • The song has been covered by over 150 artists (from Olivia Newton-John to Hiwain singer Israel Kamakawiwo'ole) in at least 19 different languages, from Hindi to Greek to Hebrew, often changing the lyrics to be about the singer's homeland. Researchers in 2009 found that it was the most popular American song among college students in China. (Denver was in fact one of the first American artists to tour modern China in 1985 and his music was played widely on Armed Forces Radio in countries like Philippines, Korea and Vietnam where the U.S. had an important military presence.)
  • This ode to the Appalachian Mountains also has a special meaning for many who came to the U.S. searching for the American Dream. As Jason Jeong wrote in the Atlantic, many Asian-American immigrants see the song as both "an ode to an uncomplicated vision of the United States" and "a melancholic reminder of leaving a place they called home, and everything lost to the promise of a better life."

France: Translating Country Sounds — And Dance Moves

Linedancing in France — Photo: Country-France Facebook page
  • France, a country proud of both its language and cultural output, has a long history of rock stars pillaging country standards, often completely changing the songs' meanings: from American-French singer Joe Dassin changing "City of New Orleans" into "Salut les amoureux" ("Hello Lovers") to "Five Hundred Miles Away From Home" by Bobby Bare somehow becaming Richard Anthony's "J'entends siffler le train" ("I Hear the Train Whistle").
  • Whether it's creative liberty or cross-cultural miscommunication, this trend has been popular since the days of big '60s household names like Johnny Hallyday to Eddy Mitchell to Hugues Aufray. The result usually infuses the French ennui of the "everyday man" into these American classics.
  • Line dancing has also become somewhat of a phenomenon in France, with clubs around the country (especially in more rural areas) featuring dancers who dress the part in cowboy hats and boots. According to weekly news magazine L'Express, some 4 million people — nearly 9% of the French population over 18 — have tried country-style dances.



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