A friend of mine (South African) is busy travelling in the US at the moment and he posted a comment on Facebook about how remarkable he found the friendliness of all the service staff in various places in the US and how refreshing it was. And it got me thinking about how when I went back to South Africa in 2010 and 2012, what a contrast it was between service staff here and there. In the shops, many of the people behind the counter were dismissive, rude, or just bored (this I can totally understand – sometimes customer service is the worst kind of job) and it made the friendliness of service here noticeable to me.
And that got me thinking… I realise I’ve developed a kind of defense mechanism as an expat. Because I can’t stand expat South Africans who left 20+ years ago and sit in places of comfort and bitch about how the country has ‘gone to the dogs’. And because my reasons for leaving South Africa had nothing to do with politics or exconomics or racism, I’ve almost gone the other way. I am really hesitant to say anything bad about my home country. I find myself defending things or being very cautious about what I say.
The other day (on Facecrack), I made a comment about how South Africans are remarkably insensitive about other cultures but we are very PC about our own (it was in relation to the MCQP party theme this year – Space Cowboy – and how I could just imagine the amount of culturally insensitive costumes), and I got some comments in return that really a)illustrated my point b)showed me why I tend not to criticise or share my oberservations about South Africa much…
It’s an interesting conunumdrum. Being away from SA has given me that critical distance to look at where I’m from, warts and all, and it’s made me appreciate certain things and miss certain things, but it’s also given me a broader world view and showed me a lot of things that are not so great. South Africa is not perfect. Neither is Canada. No country is, that I can tell, because human beings are inherently flawed.
I guess it’s just another piece of the expat identity crisis pie.