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You always remember your first time: Culture doesn't clash when it's not there

By Laura Wilson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, October 6, 2005
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There is absolutely no nice way to say what I'm about to say. Forgive me if I come across as insensitive, but Tucson has no soul. Apparently someone sold it to Starbucks around the same time as Park Place and La Encantada were coming into existence. I always believed that there was something special about Tucson, whether it was the laid-back attitude of the locals or just the "dry heat," but I'm beginning to doubt that this town was ever more than a cactus-ridden dust heap.

I wasn't always so cynical regarding the Old Pueblo, but a weekend visit to the Tucson version of Oktoberfest woke me up to the harsh reality of our not-so-fair city's decline into Every Other City, USA.

Despite having studied in Germany two times since I was 17 and being fairly proficient in the language, I had never been to the local scam known as Tucson Oktoberfest. While the Oktoberfest held yearly in Munich might be nothing more than a tourist trap, I was counting on spending my Sunday fulfilling my Bratwurst cravings and drowning my American sorrows in imported drafts. I hoped that I would be able to use my ever-decreasing language skills to address "real live Germans."

Unfortunately, the 15 minutes I spent at Hi Corbett Field did nothing to lessen my cultural hunger pangs. The majority of the field was taken up by arts and crafts booths hawking everything from "sand art" to oh-so-clever bent spoons designed to hold rings and other small items. Perhaps I'm ignorant, but I don't think that there is anything German about bent silverware.

Although I'm a bit of a beer snob (there are too many calories involved to not be picky), I would have settled for a glass of Lowenbrau Original. The thing is that I'm too poor and too smart to pay $3 for an eight-ounce glass. Paying $4 for a bratwurst was also a little steep for my pocketbook, so my cravings remained unsatisfied.

Don't get me wrong. I think it is amazing that the Optimist Clubs of Tucson (as well as surrounding areas) get together to put on Oktoberfest in order to raise money for local charities. For that reason, I had no problem forking over the $3 required for my extremely short adventure. My problem comes in the fact that there is no reason to have a cultural event if no culture will be displayed. Shouldn't we be celebrating diversity instead of sameness? What does a booth hawking incense have to do with Deutschland? Why does it seem like every event in Tucson is an excuse to sell kettle corn and dream catchers?

I'm not blaming the mega-corporations that have spread like wildfire in the U.S. and abroad. In fact, there is a large part of me that thinks it is absolutely amazing that I could purchase the exact same Ikea furniture in Arizona as I could in the Netherlands, wear the same Gap khakis as a girl in China or even scrape the foam off of my Starbucks latte at the same time as a boy in Vienna. I'm just worried that the more we lean toward these mainstream choices, the easier it will be to lose sight of the amazing things that a universal culture just can't offer. Like good bratwurst.

Geography and climate have made Tucson a city rich in many cultures, which should mean that we are exposed to a variety of events and festivals that are all unique. However, something is very wrong when everything begins to look the same.

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