#AskASaffa: Q&A with a South African Traveling USA

8:55 AM Jessica Montgomery 0 Comments

     I often laud over how travel is a knowledge game-changer. There is no better way to learn about a place or its people rather than to dive in and experience it first hand. You come back bright eyed, exhausted, and self-examined; ready to embrace unfamiliar ideas and approach everything new with the experiences you've gained from the past. 
But, that being said... What if the tables were turned? 

What if the best way to learn about our own culture 
is through the eyes of an outsider?

Thankfully, my South African boyfriend opted to be my guinea pig. 

     For three weeks we traveled the American Midwest armed with ears open to inquisitive minds along the way. From the heart of Detroit to the rhythm of Chicago, from the frigid waters of Lake Superior to the dark karaoke bars of the suburbs; we were drinking beer, eating way too much, and taking notes along the way. 
     We took to Twitter (@HeyyitsJmo ) and our Facebook Page , using the hashtag #AskASaffa, and asked you what you wanted to know about his experience here in The States. All questions were fair game and anonymity would be honored if requested. We were thrilled by your responses!  Inquisitive minds want to know... What did you think about The US anyway?


Grand Rapids, Michigan

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Josh from Detroit asks: 
What was the biggest culture shock you experienced?
     C) Friendliness with strangers. Not interactions between secondary strangers, people who have already heard of you etc., but absolute strangers on the street. It's not uncommon for strangers around Michigan to start up short conversations with you in public as if you were old friends. I thought this was a bit strange at first, and I didn't know how to react. 
     In South Africa we have maybe sentence long conversations on the street; that's it. Done. But I think conversations with strangers build a greater sense of community. At least that's what it felt like. In SA we often question strangers motives.


How many times were you questioned about your accent/where you were from? How did people react?
     C) Zero. No one. I was quite surprised by this. Even when showing my passport... Here we have this tall, pale, white African with a South African passport and no one questioned it! Everyone was either too polite to say what they were thinking or much more accommodating and accepting.


 If you could do one thing from this trip regularly in your home country, that you didn't think of (or couldn't do) before, what would that be?
    C) Everyday things... like, getting fuel by ourselves; not making a big to-do about it. And efficiency and accessibility things like self-scanners at markets, high speed internet, and public wifi.
     Access to the internet especially. South African people need wider access to freedom of information. The ability to seek out information and their own ideas might help our political situation. 



Anonymous from Twitter asks: 
Is Detroit really that bad? 
     C) No. Not at all. From what I saw, it's nicer than the nicest city in Africa! Compared to downtown Joburg...trust me, Detroit is doing fine.



Anonymous from Twitter asks: 
Are portion sizes really that much larger here?
     C) I don't know... some were big! But then again... South Africans can chow!
     They did seem a bit bigger, but not insanely larger. I think South Africans tend to eat larger portions sometime...

Anonymous from Twitter asks: 
What was the strangest/most surreal thing you did?
     C) The Great Lakes. Lake Superior. That size...being fresh water, I still can't comprehend it. It's unfathomable. 
     I mean, everyone "knows" they're big. But for a lake to have full beaches and waves?! Fresh water doesn't have waves like that! To think that the tip of Africa looks like parts of the Michigan coastline...unreal.

Everyone (haha!) asked: 
What was your favorite new food you tried?
     C) Culturally? The Lafayette Coney Island hot dog. There's so much culture attached to it. Coney Island, baseball, Lafayette in Detroit; it's all encompassing. It was more about the experience and history rather than the actual food itself. 
     Also, trying real Mexican and the UP (upper peninsula of Michigan) "pasties". They reminded me of our pies in SA, but with more potatoes. They were nostalgic yet different. I think if you drop off a bunch of Afrikaners in the UP they'd be happy. 

What food didn’t you like?
     C) None. I liked it all. But, I got a solid stomach. I chow!


Anonymous asks: 
Do Americans live up to their stereotypes? Are we loud and rude? Ha!
     C) No. Maybe one or two, but you can't speak to the majority. 
     Maybe it was the Michigan/Canada vibe, but South Africans are a lot more abrupt and blatant; to your face. Americans I met were more polite about issues. 


What was your favorite Michigan beer?
     C) Rob Burgandy? from Our Brewery in Holland, Michigan. Just the culty humor, great taste obviously, and that mustache on the growler! How could you deny that mustache? And from Holland? Come now. That's like a triple seven.
     But I also enjoyed Bell's Two Hearted Ale. That one got my heart. *wink* I mean, out of connotation alone and drinking them in the UP...ahhh


Lake Superior Brewing Co, Grand Marais, Michigan

Josh from Kansas asks: 
What specific differences did you notice in the day-to-day interactions between strangers, friends, and family in the States compared to South Africa? 
     C) Like I mentioned before: Friendliness with strangers. 
     But another thing, asking "Where you going?" out of general excitement rather than safety. And walking. Walking to places without being approached all the time.

I know you were only here for three weeks but did you notice any differences in how we address racial tensions and relations? I got the impression that South Africans address that subject much more frankly and openly. Thoughts?
     C) We do because we are that case of being the minority. We are meant to be a Rainbow Nation, but it's of course far more complex than that. 
     The younger age groups, that you'll meet out traveling or living abroad in Korea, is a generation that wasn't born into racist South Africa but are still dealing with its repercussions. We need to be vocal on it. I think Americans generally feel "bad" and shamed when talking about race relations.

Celebrating Marriage Equality at the Chicago Pride Parade

Anonymous from Facebook asks:
Did you hate anything?
   C) Nah. Best holiday ever. 
        J) Are you sure you're not being bias?
     C) No, really. It was.

Anonymous asks: 
Was it different from your expectations?
     C) Not really. But from the earlier question...I was expecting more, "Whose this African?!" People weren't shocked by me. I expected more shock at me being a "white African". Maybe people are more worldly here? Shocking how wrong the stereotype is.


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     What may be exotic and strange to some, may be commonplace for another. (Pretty sure that's a quote from Bizarre Foods host and chef, Andrew Zimmern...) This is what's exciting about travel and cultural exchange. 
      And, experiencing culture shock is good for you!  It allows you to absorb, adapt, and survive during bouts of unfamiliarity. It allows you to step outside your bubble, reevaluate it, then add to and edit your own way of life as a consequence of learning from it; shedding preconceived notions along the way.
     Perhaps being examined by an outsider is reverse-reverse culture shock. We're safe in our bubbles and genuinely accepting of them. If we never leave them, it's difficult to engage with and consider other viewpoints. Seeing our 'things' through other people's eyes is a way to jump outside of our bubbles. It's good, it's healthy, it can lead to positive dialogue and exchange. And it can also instill a new sense of pride in where we come from.


Explore on!


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