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02/19/2013 / van berger

Reflecting on a year in America

We are heading back to SA in the next month as our American adventure comes to an end. It has been an amazing year, filled with many ups and downs, but no regrets which is the most important thing. I thought I would close this blog with a reflective piece on some of the things I’ve learnt from living here, about both the USA and SA. Thanks for reading my somewhat-irregular blog posts. I’ve enjoyed keeping myself busy with these little pieces of research and comparison that made my time here more interesting.

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THINGS I’VE LEARNED ABOUT THE STATES

America isn’t as bad a place as its painted out to be.

If you had asked me a few years ago whether I would consider moving to the States, my reaction would most likely have been negative. My opinions were based on a very short living experience here in 2001 with my family in the Southern state of North Carolina. I didn’t really have the freedom to travel to other areas like the West Coast, and I had been put off by the naivety of many of the people I’d met. Much of the ‘America’ I knew was superficial, close-minded, and uninteresting. I was 15 at the time, which definitely contributed.

Today I leave having mixed feelings about this country. In many ways I’m so glad I got to experience another side of the States as it really opened up my views. California is such a different place to North Carolina, as is Florida to Washington. Once you live here, you realise just how vast the States is and just how different each state is to each other. In some ways, they almost feel like different countries in themselves. California in general is a much more relaxed and diverse place to live when compared with more conservative states like North Carolina. Living in the Silicon Valley has been a multicultural experience with so many people moving here for the tech industry from places like India, England, Europe, etc. Therefore, it’s much easier for foreigners to adapt to the lifestyle. I love California and specifically San Francisco, and will miss many of things that make living here easy and fun.

People are friendly and helpful in general, although many are uneducated about countries like South Africa.

After spending the majority of my time in California, I can really only express my views on what people are like here.  I’ve found people here to be friendly. Sometimes this friendliness can be observed as fake, but at the same time I have never felt like people were being friendly just to try get something from me. My experience of service in this country has generally been excellent and although I found it strange at first for cashiers to be so open (like asking me what I was doing for the weekend or the day) – in the end I actually enjoyed being smiled at by people and not feeling like they were hating on me for asking for a glass of water at a restaurant. South Africa could learn a lot from the level of service people receive here.

Americans are extremely open people. So many times I have been on buses and trains where complete strangers have entered into 45 minute conversations in a really relaxed environment. They don’t seem to have some of the same boundaries that many of us South Africans seem to put up regarding personal space, etc. They talk with a genuine interest in each other’s lives and although sometimes I don’t feel like telling a complete stranger my whole life story, this openness is quite comforting.

Many people are extremely uneducated about places outside of Europe and North America. The majority who asked where I was from didn’t really have any response to South Africa. In more situations that I can count, they have replied with something like ‘What?! Are you being serious? Cool!” And that was the end of the conversation. Most of the time I knew this was because they were embarrassed to know nothing about SA, and therefore not really have any questions or opinions. Once a guy asked me if SA was near Haiti, and another was surprised to find out it was in the Southern Hemisphere (considering we have opposite seasons). At the beginning, this used to really irritate me, but after a while I just learnt to accept this response, and try to understand that many Americans haven’t even left their state, let alone the country! So now I just nod and smile and try to explain a little about this mythical place that seems so far away! (I guess it really is).

The food in general does not compare to South Africa’s options and quality (in my opinion)

As many of you read from my early post on health and food consumption, this is generally not a healthy place to live. The supermarkets are packed with unhealthy options, and most people consume food in an unhealthy way – usually on the run and in extremely large portions. The freezer sections of the stores take up a large proportion (sometimes half of the store) and organic free range options are A LOT more expensive. It’s no wonder people would rather buy $2 huge freezer pizzas to feed their families than an apple or a bunch of bananas. Usually it makes financial sense to buy bigger sized products than smaller ones (eg. soda). Supposedly ‘healthy’ foods are packed full of sugar and hidden additives which most people are unaware of. High-fructose corn syrup is taking over and it’s extremely hard to find products that don’t contain this really harmful, unhealthy sugar replacement. I miss everything about the food in South Africa and can’t wait to not have to check every label on my groceries to see what I’m going to be consuming.

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THINGS I’VE LEARNED ABOUT SOUTH AFRICA

Living in another country gives you a lot of perspective about your own.

South Africa is a very small country with many problems, but still has a lot to offer
Living in such a massive country like North America gives you perspective about how small South Africa really is. There are at least 50 states of America and it takes about 3-4 days to drive across from one coast to the other. South Africa is tiny in comparison, however, great things come in small packages, and I’ve missed my country very much. Rarely did I ever hear news about South Africa over here, and if I did it was obviously all negative. There have been a lot of sad and negative stories throughout the year we’ve been away. The mine massacre, rhino poaching, the Anene rape tragedy, and now the whole case against Oscar. It’s very hard to not let all this negativity get you down about South Africa, but D and I have really tried to make an effort in remembering all the good things we love. We love the landscape, the diversity of people, our friends and family, Cape Town, game parks, Eastern Cape beaches, the list goes on and on. We love how people seem to really appreciate and celebrate the good things that can often be forgotten about. People work hard in SA, and although they don’t often reap the rewards, work is not the only thing that drives their lives.

• I DO feel unsafe walking the streets in South Africa and it is not normal to feel this way in many other 1st world countries.
I’m sure I’m not the only woman in South Africa to have accumulated the so-called ‘street-sense’ I spoke of in my last post. It is something that we are brought up with, a burden we carry with us at all times, and after a while we seem to forget that most people across the world in first world countries don’t live this way. While I am aware and cautious in the area in America I live, I don’t ever feel threatened or unsafe. I walk through a park by myself to get to our block of apartments and don’t feel like I always have to clutch my handbag or hide my cellphone in public. I walk back from the train station at night-time and take public transport by myself. It is incredibly sad to think I will have to go back to feeling that ‘anxious’ feeling when I’m back in SA. However, this time I will not console myself or make excuses for the safety issues in our country, or accept that they are just a ‘part of life’. It’s really not cool, and I wish these things would change.

• The standard of our wine and food is impeccable
After having lived in the Western Cape for 3+ years, D and I grew to have a huge appreciation for the wine industry in SA. We love wine and all things wine-related. We have been wine tasting in the Napa Valley and Sonoma in California, and honestly have not found the wine to be of the same standard or as much to our liking. I guess the price also has a lot to do with it! In terms of food, I have mentioned the food in relation to America, but our restaurants in SA rock! We can’t wait to go to a restaurant in CT, and pay for the quality of food we expect. So many times I’ve ordered highly priced food here which is just average. Obviously, not all restaurants in SA are the same, but I definitely have had a better experience in general in terms of price and quality of ingredients. Go SA!

• Our accent is better than I thought and Americans dig it 🙂
I definitely have realised just how different our accents are to anything else in the world. We are not from Britain, Australia, New Zealand or Germany, yet to many Americans we sound like a mixture of all of these people! Americans seem to love our accent, and I suppose it’s a nice complement 🙂 In some ways I can’t wait to just blend into the crowd again, but I’ll also miss the confused look on people’s faces over here when I speak and they can’t place my accent or where I’m from. However, I won’t miss having to spell things the American way or use Fahrenheit, inches and miles!

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3 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. Jeanne Berger / Feb 20 2013 03:19

    Very nice piece – good to reflect 🙂 x

    Sent via cellphone

  2. J.Pharis / Jul 18 2013 01:18

    I’m an American who’s been living in South Korea for the last 3 years and my time here has given me the opportunity to meet and interact with people from South Africa for the first time. I’ve met many South Africans now and almost to a one they are some of the most down-to-earth, genuinely nice individuals I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. Some of the closest friendships I’ve made here have been with South Africans. Eventually, I’ll make my way down there to visit friends and experience the wonder that I know you have in your country.

    I’m glad you got a chance to experience some positives in the US after a bad experience before. It’s not perfect, for sure, but it’s got a lot to offer.

    Just wanted to say thanks and good luck! 🙂

  3. van berger / Jul 18 2013 01:21

    Thanks J.Pharis. I really appreciate your comments. I’m glad you got to meet some South Africans 🙂 I really did enjoy my time in the States *lots of ups and downs. I hope you get to visit out country one day as it does have a lot to offer- And perhaps you’ll notice some of the differences I discussed in my blog 🙂 All the best in South Korea (I have a lot of friends who’ve gone to teach there too!)

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