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March 25, 2012


wow. it looks like we were in South Africa at the same time... just wow. I don't have time to read your post now, but I will return!

I can unpack this a bit. African is not the same as black, but both are categories that people use to self-identify. "Black" often (though does not always) include "coloured" people, and sometimes even Asian-descended South Africans, while "African" typically references only Bantu-language speakers (Zulu, Xhosa, Pedi, Tswana, etc). If "African" is a dicey term, it's because it elides the indigeneity of coloured South Africans (many of whom are descended from the precolonial Khoe/San populations) and because it rejects the claim of Afrikaners to be African (which is, after all, the English translation of Afrikaner). On the other hand, some coloured people prefer to distinguish themselves from African South Africans, for reasons that may well be racist.

The issue of politics is more complicated, but Tian does sound like he's on the conservative end of things - although the term "liberal" (in the economic sense) covers much of what we'd call conservative in the US. Speaking incourteously to shop assistants is part of white South African culture only to the degree that racial hierarchies have fundamentally structured white South African culture.

Sarabeth, thank you for your helpful comment! I found the different racial context of South Africa fascinating (and troubling, of course, as it is in the US, but also fascinating).

OK, I came back to read this post with more care and I think I have something interesting to throw in the mix about KFC. We had a black Soweto native as a guide in Soweto and she was really good, but... I thought it was kind of strange when she made a joke about everyone getting fat by eating KFC and then having to work out on the gym (a bit down the road). I was interpreting (into Portuguese) at the time, so I didn't have any brain-space left to wonder about this, but it did strike me as maybe, I don't know, slightly "anti-American" as in your guide's grumbling about McDonalds? As in "Americans bring these fast food joints here to fatten our population and make us unhealthy" kind of way. So... I think it may be a national thing, not related to race.

I could ask my friend who lives there. He told us lots of fascinating stuff about the history. He -- who is Brazilian, a high school classmate of my husband -- happened to have gone to college in South Africa together with his wife (from Argentina) back in the early 90s, when apartheid was still the rule of the land. I think he lived in SA for about 2-3 years at that time and then returned to Brazil. He's been back in SA for a year and he is very resentful of the way the government is being run and his explanations justify why the Afrikaners and also other whites (English) would be upset at the way the country is being run. Fascinating stuff!!

As for culture shock... I didn't experience it too much because I'm an expatriate here and I go back to Brazil regularly... I basically feel pretty comfortable anywhere in the western world -- I'm sure I'd feel like a fish out of water in Asia, though!! My parents told us tons of stories about their trips in China when they visited my brother there...

Lilian, that's very interesting; I appreciate your returning to the post to comment on it!

I thought a lot about the power dynamics of tour guides; the person with the microphone obviously does a lot to shape the experience for the travelers, for better or worse.

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Who is this What Now?

  • I'm an English teacher at Fabulous Girls' School (FGS). I'm a convert to Judaism. I am partner to D. We live in an adorable, messy little house in Adventure City. Two cats -- the Muse and the Contemplative -- live with us and keep life at home plenty adventurous.

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