Thursday, July 24, 2008

Expats lose their ‘South African-ness’ debate

Following on yesterday’s post called the Pitter-patter of the Expats which irked most people, I concur with this viewpoint as someone who has actually emigrated and sits outside the country versus a couch know-it-all expert who makes assumptions on the subject.

Being a South African is something you proudly flaunt overseas, not the other way around.

Most expats are exiles, forced out due to the crime and not by choice.


Our South A
frican-ness is probably more acute than people who live in South Africa. To state that someone leaving today is deserting the great 'rainbow dream' is unfair because that person would have given 14 years post 1994 to see the 'dream' work.

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Nothing draws more interest than The Great Emigration Debate in various forums, probably because there is such a collision of minds reading, writing and commenting about the subject: expats who have left and who are defensive about it, expats who are dying to come home, those in South Africa who are thinking of leaving, and those in South Africa who believe it is traitorous to even consider such a decision.

The latest addition to the debate was Jarred Cinman’s thought-provoking piece, in which he says we should just let émigrés do their thing overseas, and leave the nation-building to those who have stayed behind in a country that glimmers with opportunity.

While I appreciate the majority of what he says, one part of his article struck a note of discord for me.

It’s the part where he says that “there are no South Africans abroad, as their South African-ness has gone”.

Does staying in the country define someone’s South African-ness?

For what it’s worth, I’ve never felt more South African than I do now, even though I live 16 000 kilometres away. Part of this must have to do with the fact that I never have, and still don’t, consciously intend to be here for good.

But besides that, I’ve found that there’s nothing like being out of the comfort zone of one’s country in order to sharpen the shades, colours and edges of one’s national identity.

Part of my patriotism probably is a defence mechanism in reaction to the rather overwhelming culture in which I find myself. Whatever the psychological reasons though, the fact remains that I still feel truly South African.

More importantly I think, I appreciate it more than ever.

So, in the spirit of appreciation and gratitude for the country that brought me up, I bring you: Eighteen Random Things I Never Appreciated About Being South African Until I Lived in the USA:

1) We really are good at cooking raw meat over an open fire.

2) Rugby players really are the toughest of the bunch.

3) Being able to drive a manual car is an unusual skill to possess – a talking point, in fact.

4) We have a good work-life balance, with our deluge of public holidays and 20+ days of leave per year instead of just two weeks.

5) We produce Ghost Pops, Ultra Mel, Snackbread, Lemon Twist, Fray Bentos and Cheese Curls, for which there are no other earthly comparisons.

6 We coincide Christmas holidays with summer, school holidays and the end of the school year. Finished and klaar.

7) Our cars are small and fuel-efficient.

8) We’re a family-centric nation.

9) We use the metric system, so we talk in tens and hundreds, not in stones, feet, rocks, or other.

10) It’s simple: zero degrees, not 32, is freezing.

11) We use “now”, “now now” and “just now” in subtly different ways, and it is harder than you think to explain the difference between the three.

12) We make our kids play soccer, rugby, cricket, netball, hockey and tennis so that they grow up to make their kids play soccer, rugby, cricket, netball, hockey and tennis.

13) Generally, South African parents don’t know what a play date is.

14) We have eleven official languages, of which most of us can speak several.

15) We have “Republique D’Afrique Du Sud” on the front of our passports, even though French is not one of the eleven official languages. No one questions why this is.

16) Some of us can speak a language that apparently sounds like it is being spoken backwards (Afrikaans).

17) We exercise brain power in our signage. “Dead End”? No, we prefer abstract, thought-provoking phrases like “Cul-De-Sac”.

18) We say “zebra crossing” because: a) It is more interesting than saying “crosswalk” b) We have zebras

4 Opinion(s):

Anonymous said...

19) We have run away after handing the country over to those clearly unable to run it.

20) Complain about Zuid Effrica from abroad.

21) Too lazy to do our own house cleaning and gardening so we hire maids and houseboys.

Anonymous said...

Believe me - after living 32 years in the "Great North White" (which means Canada) you NEVER lose your South African-ness - not even your accent - which locals are quick to notice and ask "Where are you from"??
Sure do miss 'home' - the friendly people and the lekker food - most of which you can't find over here!!!

Anonymous said...

Even though I am in exile ,I will always remain n Boertjie

Anonymous said...

Anon 4 37
Damn you must seriously be in need of a Castle on the South Coast beach