I have travelled on and off since I was young both within South Africa and the world and through out my travels I have never stayed in a place longer than 3 years. Till now.
For the first time in my life I am living in a foreign country going on now a total of 8 years, the longest time in one place and let me tell you it’s the strangest feeling. It has it’s pro’s and it’s cons but so far it has been an amazing learning experience, one that you can only get by living in a country so different to your own. It’s afforded me the opportunity to examine my cultural difference to the country I live in and realize just how truly different we as South African’s are to a lot of the “modern” world.
I have always been fascinated with culture and languages, the nuances and cultural differences that we all have. From one my early posts Language of Elephants to One Language? it will never stop enchanting my mind with questions or wonderings.
Ask anyone that has lived in a foreign country for an extended period of time or travelled extensively, they will tell you that as you live and breath you try your hardest to adapt to your new countries culture and traditions.
I think I have mostly succeeded par two things.
Things I can’t seem to shake and although they may seem funny to you it does crop up every now and then.
One of them is in fact language. Yes I know we both speak English, though the American’s write it differently (thats a topic for a different day!), we do understand each other
mostly and communication is generally not a problem.
It’s the fact that South African’s talk in color, when asked a simple question we do not see it as simple we see it as an opportunity to tell a tale full of colorful descriptive words describing what ever it is we are talking about.
For instance this photo…
If you were to ask a non South African they may tell you that they stopped by the beautiful field of sunflowers and took a few photos, it was great!
Ask a South African and they will tell you that their good friend knew they loved Sunflowers so decided to surprise them with a visit to to this Sunflower field. Not only did they take photos but they stood for a little while absorbing all the bright sunshine and happiness of the moment, touching the flowers, bending down smelling them and just loving every moment. The beauty surpassing their expectations, it was a moment that they will hold dear for a long long time.
Ask us how was the drive down from where ever we were and you’ll hear all about some crazy driver, the trees and scenery along with possibly what they ate and where.
For us South African’s nothing is a short answer unless we are running late and for many people I find it takes a little while for them to get used to it.
The second is that of giving. A number of times people have told me that I give too much, I even had a non-American friend tell me that it just isn’t done here in the States that culturally when you give or give too often people think you’re after something.
The South African culture is that of giving, though from the outside world and in the news it may not seem that way, but it is. My South African friends sit and think about it a moment.
If we have something that we don’t need we offer it to someone who does without thinking.
If we have a plant in our garden producing fruit too much for us to eat we offer it to anyone who will take some, a friend, the gardener or the lady down the street we pass by every day as we walk. Without thinking, for us this just is.
If we walk in to a store to buy a drink and see someone sitting outside waiting looking hot we buy two and hand one to the person. Without thinking, for us this just is.
If you need something and we don’t have it we will try help you get it or show you how to get it.
We never come to your house empty handed either, if its for coffee expect some cakes or cookies. If its for dinner expect a nice bottle of
non-Australian wine (on this matter probably more than one)
We are a giving culture, we give not to get but rather because we can.
I find many times I have to resist the urge to give because a person may feel there are ulterior motives when there are none.
Each culture is different, unique and amazing in many ways. No one culture is better than another because in reality it is an adaption of the country and its people. As we travel from country to country we learn and adapt the best we can. But no matter how hard I try these two things, language and giving, I can’t shake no matter how hard I try.
From this South African to you my dear American friends, please understand we mean no offense in our ways… we are all a little crazy, perhaps it’s the African air or the fact that when we have water there may be rocks in it, but ultimately we love humanity and we love story telling.