Culture Clash

Hey!  I hope you enjoyed my last post!  I had so much fun writing it, and I do hope you put at least one of those authors on your "must read" list.  :)  My hope for this next post is a tad bit different.  This post is going to be an explanation of sorts, and I hope an eye opener for some.

American culture and most African cultures are polar opposites.  Because of that, there are multiple barriers that stay strong and steady between the cultures.  Since I've been crossing "enemy lines" for ten years, I have been able to stand in "no man's land" and view the crossfire coming from both sides at a different angle.
Isn't this adorable?!

Are you ready for the first big barrier?  This one is probably one of the largest cultural differences between most African cultures and American culture, and it might be surprising.


In America, time is a commodity, a tool, something to be used wisely.  You see people rushing around, trying to get their money's worth out of their time spent.  Everyone shows up on time for events, because showing up late is considered rude.  You get interrogated if you are late to a party, and you get the evil eye if you try and sneak into church late.  :)

On the flip side, in most African cultures, time is a gift--it is used with people and with friends.  If someone has a problem, most people will drop their "schedule" go to help them.  Friends will stop by someone's house just to visit--unplanned, unannounced, but in the culture, they will be expecting an invite inside for coffee or tea.  In many cultures, it's unspeakably rude to not invite someone inside.

This different view of time stems from the contrasting priorities this culture holds.  For a party or celebration, the main focus is the importance of the event, not the minutes that people spent there.

I have also discovered that this is not just a trait specific to African cultures.  Recently, I was chatting with a lady from Brazil who had married into the American culture and was trying to adjust. One of the hardest adjustments for her was the clashing views of time within the two very different cultures.
"I can't just stop by a friend's house anymore for coffee or tea if I need to talk to someone.  When I ask if I can come over, they tell me they will look at their schedule over the next month and see if they have a free afternoon."
To many African and South American cultures, when someone has to find a place in their schedule to meet with them, it sounds as if their schedule is more important than friends.  Now, before you get your knickers in a twist, I know that assumption is not true.  I'm just saying how it comes across.

After standing in the crossfire for quite awhile, I've decided that both perceptions of time have pros and cons; that neither one is the "better" view.  In most African cultures, time is spent with each other.  There is no rush to do anything, and they assume that others are in that same state of "meh".  Ergo (old language for therefore, I think it sounds better), my dad will come home from a government office with steam coming out of his ears.  Without asking, we can easily gather that he probably waited in line for three hours, only for them to tell him that he needs to go to a different office because they don't process those kind of papers.  If he asks why not, the answer is the same as if you asked your mom why she said you couldn't have cookies.
"Just because."  
In America, things get done much faster.  Paperwork is finished and processed, and it is done efficiently.  (As in, they don't float around the office for about six months)  But at the same time, people are rushing around, not paying attention to their surroundings.  It is a much more stressful lifestyle, not nearly as carefree as the African mindset.

As you can see, neither view is right nor wrong, they are just both extremes.  Extremes that are very hard to bounce back and forth between, I might add.  A little sympathy, please?

Okay, on to barrier number two. This barrier is built because of the mindset, or view, of the culture on the other side, so to speak.  The people stand on either side, talking about the weaknesses, failures, and shortcomings of both cultures, without bothering to "look over" the barrier.  They are satisfied, thinking that their view or understanding of the other culture is correct. 

 The most common American mindset towards Africa is a condescending one.  Africa is viewed as weaker, primitive, barbaric, and extremely poor.  Most likely, this is a result of the portrayal of Africa by the media.  Nothing ever good is shown, so all America thinks of when someone says "Africa" are orphans, villages, lions, and the phrase "dirt poor".

I remember when I was learning about the world wars, one of the biggest weapons used was so called "propaganda".  America would display every single German as a deranged monster that wanted to wipe out the human race.  The Nazis would only display their primary "goal" to the rest of Germany, telling the country that they desired to create a "perfect world".  (You know, a world where there are no Jews and the only people are blue eyed with blond hair.)  Meanwhile, they were conveniently forgetting to include information about the concentration camps you would die in if you didn't agree to this "perfect world".  Most Germans only knew what was happening in the world through the propaganda, which was controlled by the government.  Same with most Americans!  Thus, hatred was fueled on both sides. Nowadays, propaganda goes by a different name, but still works with the same MO.  Media.

How most Americans view Africa
How most rural parts of Africa view America

In many poor African countries, there is a feeling of resentment towards those in America who live in wealth and comfort and then point fingers at Africa.  And at the same time, in most large cities in Africa, they laugh and mock America for its weaknesses while refusing to acknowledge theirs.

This is not a barrier easily torn down.  Honestly, I don't see it being torn down in the near future.  But if people would recognize the issue, on both sides, maybe we can start brick by brick.  I will admit, I am guilty of both viewpoints.  Trying to bounce back and forth between two worlds that point fingers at each other is not easy for me.  What has helped me change my stance is looking at the pros to both sides.  How about I do that right now?  (Bear with me)

African Cultures
American Culture
Amazing food (my stomach doesn’t lie)
Priority on improvement
A sense of community
A government that runs smoother
A “go with the flow” mindset; laid-back and carefree
Snow (yes, snow.  Try living 10 years without it)
Priority placed on people rather than time
More resources readily available

I could probably go on and on, but I think that will suffice for now.  I will leave you with one last thought.  (I'm sure you're thinking: "Again?!  Didn't you
just share your thoughts and opinions with me like two minutes ago?!)

As I was saying...after seeing the best and worst of both worlds, I've come to decide that both worlds have their unique charm, along with their specific faults and false viewpoints of the other culture. I always have to explain that no, not everyone in America lives in mansions.  But at the same time, I also have to explain that yes, many countries in Africa do have running water and electricity. 

The culture clash is something that can only be fixed through understanding.  The only way you can overcome that barrier is by looking at it from the other culture's point of view and seeing the world through their glasses.   And, who knows?  You might find that their glasses fit you better!