While milling around yesterday in the African younger sibling of Sam’s Club, Makro, I walked by a fellow bulk-shopper. As I walked away from this boot-wearing middle aged man, I felt the corners of my lips twitching- I just couldn’t contain myself, I had to ask him the question I knew the answer to. I gave my husband the i’m-going-to-do-it look and turned around. “Excuse me, Sir. You’re not from South Africa, are you?” He turned to face me, and I glanced at the white cap he was wearing, I instantly noticed it had the state of Texas embroidered largely on the front. “OH! You’re from Texas! I’m from Texas!” He giggled a bit at me, explained the he has lived here for about 3 1/2 years (looks like I will survive), and that there are about 200 Americans living in the east of Pretoria. We, er… I, exchanged contact details and teased him with the allure of my homemade tortillas and enchiladas. Will the overly-friendly, slightly-awkward Texan girl (ahem, me) ever get invited to an American get-together in South Africa by this stranger from Amarillo named Steve? Only time will tell.
This experience is one of many that continues to remind me of the stark differences between my inborn, small-town social graces (extreme friendliness that can come off odd or awkward) to the normal etiquette of those from large cities. I like meeting people, I enjoy conversing, asking questions, and finding similarities- why is this, all too often, weird for modern society? Would people rather I completely ignore the fact that, regardless of how much they would like to deny it, we are all constantly interacting with others in this life by shopping together, standing in line together, driving together, etc.. It seems that sometimes people would prefer I send a message on Facebook, email, or text as a stranger than starting up a simple conversation in line at the post office- because communicating face-to-face is just way too much interaction for their comfort bubble. I don’t understand how the basis of human relationships for millennia can somehow become taboo in conjunction with this digital age.
Another experience that had me feeling like an alien on planet earth was on the 24th of September. This date is a public holiday in South Africa- Heritage Day; also called ‘National Braai Day’- as for what a braai is… that is an entire post waiting to be written on it’s own- In short, it’s a BBQ. We were invited to attend a Heritage Day Braai, in a very laanie (Translation: Well-to-do, Fancy) part of Pretoria. Wanting to be part of the Heritage festivities, I thought there wouldn’t be a better outfit for me to wear other than my blue-jean skirt, western belt and buckle, boots, and white lace top (sadly, all of my flannel shirts are on the other side of the pond, and that much western would have probably been silently shunned at even the most laid back of South African gatherings). We arrived at a contemporary styled house you would see in a magazine, complete with the long, skinny pool, striking sharp planes, bubble chairs, and simplistic art and decor. It was like bringing a billy goat into a shopping mall: you know it isn’t supposed to be there, there isn’t anything for it to eat, and there aren’t other goats for it to play with. Fortunately for this billy goat, the hosts’ girlfriend had been in the pastures of Texas before. But really. She lived in Austin for 2 years and recently moved back to South Africa; it was nice to be able to kind-of relate to someone. I got to munch on some Pico de Gallo (it was awesome) and talk about the uniqueness of the Texas culture… and then turned away from the kitchen and was a billy goat again.
Here is a situation that will make no sense, but yet perfectly describes about 90% of the world’s females’ demeanor’s: Me- the out-of-place country girl, and about 20 other girls of similar age at the scene described above. Not one tried to acknowledge or speak with me, the outsider, even though on multiple occasions I was teetering on the outskirts of their conversational circles. They would rather prefer to sit and stand together, like animals in a pack, and silently evaluate/ignore the stranger. Yet, parts of their conversation included their want and need to make friends with ‘other normal’ girls that ‘aren’t judgmental’. Oy vey.
After about 2 hours of feeling out-of-place, I started to realize that I was going to starve if we didn’t leave soon (laanie braai = using a gas grill and not eating until after dark). We ended up going to the movies, and by the way- I would not suggest seeing the movie “Lucy”. I thought that there couldn’t possibly be a bad movie produced that starred Morgan Freeman,and I thought wrong. Just trust me on this one.