After three weeks we are finally meeting more and more South Africans and not just the international students that are in our building. They are a friendly, open people, often willing to discuss with us the sensitive social issues of South Africa, or perhaps the stereotypes of Americans or maybe just beer preferences and silly pickup lines.
Last night one South African guy made the distinction that he wasn’t “Afrikaans” but English. He explained that Afrikaans was a language but also a culture. We tried to make sense of it. “It is not a distinction of race though?” “No, no, there are white Afrikaans”. We asked him why, if he was born here, his parents born here, and even his grandparents, did he not consider himself to be Afrikaans? He started talking about a war that happened hundreds of years ago, and how even now, people are very proud of their heritage and make the distinction. “I am South African, but I am English.” But you speak Afrikaans? “Yes but English is my first language”
We were just surprised at the separation he made. He said that Afrikaans and English are very similar and that it is hard to tell but it’s definitely there.
We discussed it more and compared our own experiences and felt that, race issues aside, if you are born in America you don’t typically make that type of distinction. My roommate Paulina doesn’t consider herself Dutch first, even though her father is from the Netherlands. She’s American. Food for thought? We certainly didn’t want to generalize. Is the U.S. a place where emphasis is put on heritage, do we have this type of separation, this way of distinguishing people? Does it depend on where you are in the States? As Paulina put it “Are we a melting pot, or a salad bowl?” We only concluded by commenting that the histories of these two countries are very different.
The great thing about this was that it was just wonderful conversation. No one was defensive or hard headed; the flow of discourse was easy and interesting. It ebbed and swelled under the twinkling lights of the Trumpet Tree social café, with music and smoke and laughter drifting in from the bar in the next room.