13 September 2007

A certain ambivalence

You cannot integrate into a new culture in merely a month. My new environment is different and strange. You grow up watching American movies and cinema, but until you've been to the country yourself, you really have only a vague concept of what it's like. To be honest, I still feel like a tourist: a visitor to the zoo, looking in, not part of the multicultural tapestry that is the US of A.*

Since I love making lists, and my last proper list on this blog was posted in May, I thought it would be diverting to list some of my recent discoveries in the form of a comparative analysis with my home country. But instead of slagging off one country as these lists usually go, I'll focus on the good things about both the USA and the RSA. I cannot say that it's worse or better here. What i can say is that it's definitely different.

  • Technology. Access to broadband internet in the US is excellent, cheap and ubiquitous. The whole Downtown Fort Collins is rigged up for wireless, as is the whole university campus. On the other hand, I do miss the cellular communications systems in South Africa. SIM cards, GSM networks, number porting between service providers, and consumer choice of handset as wide as you can imagine. Come back Vodacom, all is forgiven! The winner: the USA, by several Kbps.

  • Food. US supermarkets are stocked with the most amazing variety of products. From the seventy kinds of peanut butter, ninety flavours of ice cream and thousand formats of Coca-Cola, to the incredible selection of south-of-the-border treats like blue corn chips and chipotle salsa. On the other hand, I miss South Africa's supreme cornucopia of fresh produce: Cape apples, cling peaches, avocadoes by the bag, litchis by the box, papayas from Nelspruit farm stalls, spotless potatoes from Fruit-n-Veg City. Where's a Woolworths when you need one? The winner: sunny South Africa, by a head of cabbage.

  • Nature. Colorado is an amazingly beautiful place, sporting snow-covered mountains, valleys covered in pines and aspen trees, and fast flowing rivers stocked with trout. It's a place where you can walk out of your front door and find squirrels and red foxes co-existing in the suburbs. On the other hand, South Africa has a particular beauty all it's own: once experienced it is never forgotten. It is unique and precious; it is the landscape of my spirit.** The winner: South Africa, by a mountain that looks like a table and some wild horses wearing stripey pajamas.

  • Society. Americans are easily the friendliest, most helpful people I've ever met. Folks have no qualms with striking up an anonymous conversation on the bus, and everyone seems genuinely interested in where I come from and what I'm doing here. Online purchases are delivered to my door, and actually stay there - untouched - until I return home in the evening! On the other hand, South Africa is the only place where people really know how to do a proper barbecue -it's called a braai, folks. South Africans have a wonderful sense of humour and know how to laugh at themselves. It's the only place where people get what the word lekker means, which says a lot. The winner: The USA, by a white picket fence, patient drivers and a host of friendly store clerks.

So in the end, there is no real winner here. Some aspects of living in a new country are exciting, some are infuriating, some are delicious, some are fattening, some are confusing, some are gorgeous, some are quite scary. But better or worse? Hmm, I just can't tell you yet...

*Ooh, that last part was so twee, I think I just threw up a little as I was typing it.
** Urgh. I think I did it again.


twanji said...

Hope you are happy though? Should start feeling like home soon enough. Are you loving the accents yet?

singleton said...

Ahhh, it doesnt have to be better or can just be now! enjoy it all! soak it up and share it! Welcome to your new place in time!

Karen Little said...

I think at the moment America wins by an iPod Touch and WiFi in Starbucks... Grrr...

Very good post.

Anonymous said...

Glad you're finding our side of the world a nice place. There never is a place like home however. If you ever get a chance to head eastward, know that you are welcome in Michigan. I know of a gardens, that you could easily spend a day checking out. It is a horticulturalist's dream.

Unknown said...

Twanji: I'm content for now. I'm a creature of habit, and my routine has been thrown out of whack, that's all. Americans have very diverse and subtle accents. There's definitely a mountain accent - don't think I could reproduce it, though. And people are loving my accent, as a matter of fact!

Singleton: Thanks a lot! I will try my best to share my new experience on this blog. And the South African way is to compare and evaluate. Expect to definitely see more grumblings posted here...

Karen: I had a latte and a slice of chocolate cinnamon bread there just yesterday. I can understand why Starbucks is taking over the planet!

Wreckless: I'd love to visit Michigan. The Lakes are gorgeous! Detroit seems a bit depressing though. Misrepresentation by the media?

Debaser said...

As for beings spoiled for choice check this out.

That JFK Monroe thing is classic.

Unknown said...

Hello you,

Sorry I have been so slow at returning the visit. And I really can't wait for half-term break when I can just sit down for hours and read blogs. You will be on my list. Meanwhile, I shall I add you to my rss feed and hope that I will actually have time to go on it and read.

missy x

Trundling Grunt said...

Nice comparison. Fort Collins is a great place and the scenery is about as good as it gets.

But your point about the food is spot on - I find the delicatessens section of most stores to be the biggest disappointment.

Glad your finding in interesting. What's the programme like?

Anonymous said...

Colorado is its own little world. It has a culture all its own.
Depending where you live in the US everything can be very different. Colorado is very different from where I live on the east coast.

SleekPelt said...

Welcome to the USA, TEOH. I look forward to reading about your adventures here.