Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Reflections on learning: USA 2010

Apologies for the long silence, and a warning that I am thoroughly jet-lagged! I have been to the north-western USA. The first week was an abortive business trip, the second was spent visiting family.

I felt the need to share my reflections of the differences I noted between this trip and my last visit to the same area in 2004.

Of course, everyone tells me that I have a "cute little accent" and asks me where I'm from.
Last time, when I told them I was from South Africa, the response was invariably, "Oh, Africa." The word 'South' was simply ignored as being meaningless. There was no concept South Africa as a country - most people seemed to think Africa was one large country and, in fact, had little concept of how very large it is!
This time, when I said I was was from South Africa, (almost) everyone knew what that was, even if they didn't know where it was. One woman promptly told a colleague that I was from South America, but then, perhaps she saw this news report. Most noteworthy response : "Ah. That's where our soccer team is at, right?"

Last time, no-one knew much about soccer beyond a game their kids played.
This time, people were keeping ludicrous hours in order to watch the games being played halfway around the world, and many were calling it 'footie' or even 'football' (but only when talking to those of us from outside of the USA, I hasten to add). This surely contributed to the improved understanding of African geography, since there were many African teams in the early stages of the competition.

Last time, if I said I lived in England, most people called England 'London'. If I was absent-minded enough to say I was from the UK, some complimented me on how well I spoke English and asked me if it was widely spoken there.
This time, they were comfortable with terms like UK/United Kingdom as well as England. No-one asked me whether they speak English there. One or two people did use London and England interchangeably, it has to be said.

But my favourite encounter was in the gym with the chap on the static bike next to mine. We were discussing the upcoming 4th of July celebrations and I was regretting the fact that I hadn't thought about them when I had made my travel reservations, with the result that my return flight was booked for 4th July, rather than the day after. "I guess it doesn't really feature large enough on my radar," I explained. Having reassured me that it was "just another reason for folks to get drunk," the man said, "So folks don't celebrate the 4th of July in England, then?"
Me: I'm afraid not.
Him: Why's that, then?
Me: Well, let's think about that. What do you celebrate on July 4th?
Him: Um...?
Me: It's Independence Day, right?
Him: That's right!
Me: Independence from whom?
Him: I don't know.
Me: Independence from England.
Him: Really? I did not know that! Thank you for telling me.

...and no, he was not being facetious. It was a very sincere conversation. But I hasten to add, he was the exception!


V Yonkers said...

I once had someone ask me what date the 4th of July was! In fact, I'm surprised that the person you spoke to knew that the 4th of July was Independence Day.

The upsycho said...

@V_Yonkers Read it again... he didn't know that. I had to remind him! Have to chortle about your first sentence, though. It reminds me of a stock joke 'history exam question' in South Africa: "What year did the 1820 Settlers arrive?". I'll bet you can't guess the answer ;o)