Every nation has cherished icons, symbols that represent its unique individuality. Australia has cork hats and spiders. Colombia has cocaine and gangsters. Ireland has leprechauns and alcoholism. But you'd be surprised to learn that some of these icons represent only the ability for one nation to shamelessly rip off somebody else. For example ...
#5. Chinese Fortune Cookies Aren't Chinese
On some level, we all know that fast food isn't a great snapshot of a foreign culture (try going to a restaurant in Mexico and asking for a Crunchwrap Supreme). Yet if you ask the average American to name the most Chinese thing they can think of, many if not most will say "fortune cookies." So of course here is where we find out that they don't actually have them in China.
"You're looking for fortune cookies? No, ours are all two for a dollar."
The story goes that back before World War II Japanese immigrants to America did a good trade bringing cheap, delicious rice-based cuisine to their Western neighbors, and with it, they introduced the bland, gimmicky treat that was mostly associated with religious shrines in Japan. Prewar Americans took to the fortune cookie like modern-day Americans have taken to anime, and an institution was born.
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Just like anime, but with MSG in place of borderline-illegal pornography.
But unfortunately for prosperous Japanese restaurant owners, after their motherland bombed Pearl Harbor, America went into a racist frenzy of rounding up Japanese immigrants and putting them in internment camps, operating under the assumption that they came with some kind of "kill all Americans" switch.
Realizing that a vacuum had just opened up in the "watered-down Asian food for white people" market, Chinese Americans started moving in to take over the vacant Japanese restaurants, because to most Westerners, Asian was Asian, and customers needed a way to indulge in exotic cuisine without being arrested for treason. Because Americans loved their fortune cookies, the Chinese faux-Japanese restaurants kept making them.
They're as culturally significant as koi ponds full of nickels and fat guys eating alone.
Ironically, fortune cookies are now served in Chinese restaurants everywhere in the world except China. An American firm did try to introduce them, but failed after three years of Chinese patrons refusing to eat this bizarre foreign crap ("Also, somebody accidentally left a hunk of paper in here").
#4. Mexican Pinatas Are Italian Toys Ripped Off from the Chinese
When people think of Mexico, or at least when racist people think of Mexico, they probably picture sombreros, tacos, tequila, and children hitting colorful papier-mache donkeys with sticks. The pinata is one of those definitively Mexican creations that Americans now use as a way to appropriate Mexican culture while at the same time trying desperately to keep actual Mexicans out of our country.
"GO HOME, FOREIGNERS! ... but leave the salsa, if you don't mind."
Actually, the pinata, like the candy and cheap plastic toys we put in them today, is originally from China. When Marco Polo visited the country around the 14th century (presumably by shouting his first name and then heading in the direction he heard his last name shouted back from), he saw Chinese people celebrating the New Year by creating animal figures stuffed with seeds. The figures were smashed and people collected the seeds, which were then burned, and the ashes would be kept to bring good luck.
Responsible for more questionable culture than Yoplait.
Marco Polo brought this puppet-bashing idea back to Italy, where they decided to fill it with the only thing less exciting to kids than seeds: religious symbolism! It became an Italian tradition to create a seven-coned pignatta for Lent that was representative of the seven deadly sins. Soon the Spanish picked up this custom, added a tilde and some treats, and took it over to the New World to try to convert the Mayans to Christianity. Oddly enough, they found that the Mayans already had a "bash an object until shit falls out" party game -- they celebrated the birth of Huitzilopochtli, the god of war, by watching blindfolded priests break a feather-filled pot over an altar. The Spanish missionaries saw this as an opportunity to co-opt the Mayan ritual by replacing the feathers with delicious candy, letting everyone take a whack at it, and covering the whole thing with hastily justified Christian symbolism.
Although it seems like the more obvious message is "beating an animal with a stick is wholesome fun."
Since candy trumps feathers any day, it became a popular tradition. Eventually the pinata became less a religious exercise and more a socially acceptable excuse to smash something at a party and then eat food off the ground.
#3. Budweiser Is Not an American Beer
Budweiser, the "king of beers," is surely an American national icon. It was introduced in 1876, not long after brothers and fathers were blowing each other away with old-timey cannons in the Civil War, and since then it has been the patriotic intoxicant of choice for everything from Independence Day celebrations to NASCAR races. You'd be forgiven for thinking that "Bud" is about the most American name you could give to a beer, but you'd also be forgiven for thinking that "Budweiser" sounds suspiciously European.
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These crafty bastards just keep popping up.
Not only would you be right, but you'd have stumbled across a very bitter subject for the people who actually invented "Budweiser." See, the original Budweiser is actually from the Czech Republic, specifically from a city called Budweis that has been brewing beer since the freaking 1400s. And in the local language, anything brewed in Budweis is called "Budweiser." So you can see how brewing a beer somewhere else and calling it "Budweiser" would be something of a dick move.
And sticking the name "Budweiser" on this might as well be an act of war.
That brings us to two German immigrants, Carl Conrad and Adolphus Busch, who were responsible for bringing Budweiser to the United States. They wanted to brew a beer similar to what was available back in their homeland and the Czech Republic, so they ripped off not only the name but also the taste and the style of the beer. At one point, the original brewers from Europe had the rights to call their beer the "original Budweiser," because it was the original, but they eventually sold away the rights around 1939, as Nazi troops were on their way to conquer Czechoslovakia. The Czechs are still bitter about the sale, claiming that it was done out of desperation and that the payment they received was modest at best.
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Great, now we feel guilty and hung over.
The dispute continues to this day, as Anheuser-Busch has been fighting the Czech brewers for over 100 years over the rights to the name. In America, Anheuser-Busch can legally call their brew "Budweiser," but ironically, brewers who actually make beer in Budweis are forced to sell it under the name "Czechvar" in the USA. Hey, just consider yourself lucky that Budweiser's corporate lawyers don't force you to change the name of your town.