A fellow Melville blogger, Chuck V., recently referred to me as “the Melville American”. I was flattered; it’s fun to think of myself as THE Melville American. (Although I suspect all the other Melville Americans — and there are many others — might object.)
Photo by Jon.
Chuck’s post got me thinking about one of the things I find strangest about being an expat, especially an expat from America. When you’re an American living in a foreign country, your nationality is the first thing people notice about you.
I’m still taken aback sometimes by the reactions I get when I open my mouth and say something to a stranger.
“Aayy, I hear your accent! Where are you from?”
“I’m from America.” (South Africans don’t call it the United States or the U.S. Only America.)
“EISH! It is my dream to go to America. Will you take me there?”
I get this type of thing a lot, especially from boxers at George’s gym, and from petrol station attendants. (South Africans say petrol, not gas. Don’t call it a gas station or people will laugh at you.)
“Hey, it’s okay that you’re American. We’ll get along fine, as long as you didn’t vote for Bush.”
Someone I had just met — like five seconds earlier — said this to me in an elevator once.
Then there is the reaction I sometimes get when I am confused by something, or admit that I love Neil Diamond, or just inadvertently say something stupid. (Which happens a lot.)
“Well, that’s because you’re A-MER-i-can.”
Often followed by a patronizing laugh or a sympathetic pat on the knee. Non-American expats — particularly those from the UK and other European countries — are fond of this kind of statement.
This is all in fun, of course. I actually like being an American in South Africa, and I (usually) don’t mind when people tease me about it. After spending my whole life in a place where my nationality is nothing special, it’s fun to be different. And Joburg is an especially fun place to be an expat. It’s easy to make friends here, and easy to integrate into both local and expat circles. I often go days without encountering another American. And when I do stumble into another person with an American accent, it’s like a homecoming.
“Hey, you just said ‘ketchup’! You must be American! Where are you from?”
I say this kind of thing a lot. I’m sure it gets very annoying.
Another thing I enjoy about South Africa is the interesting attempts made by South African businesses — especially restaurants — to imitate American culture. I’ve written about several such restaurants before, like Spur and the Thundergun.
Since today is my country’s independence day, I thought I’d share some photos of the most patriotic American-style restaurant I’ve encountered in South Africa thus far: the Yankys burger joint on Long Street in Albertville.
Yankys, an adorable (if somewhat mediocre) takeout joint in quirky Albertville. I stared at the sign for some time before figuring out what was bothering me: “Yankys” is spelled wrong. It should be “Yankees”.
A closer look at the South African Yanky.
I went into Yankys on a whim with a friend a few weeks ago. Albertville is not exactly a Joburg tourist hot spot (although I personally think it should be), so the staff members seemed excited to have a real-life American in their establishment. I studied the menu and spotted a burger with ham and banana. I had to order it.
“We call it the New York City Special!” the manager exclaimed.
“Why?” I asked. As far as I’m aware, ham-and-banana burgers are not an NYC specialty.
“I don’t know,” he said. “That’s just what we call it.”
It wasn’t a bad burger, although I could have done without the thin brown mystery sauce. Hey South Africans: Why do you always put weird sauce on your burgers? I prefer ketchup. You know, that stuff that you so confusingly call “to-MAH-to sauce”.
God bless America.