Saturday, September 25, 2010

It's So Different

It’s actually a very odd feeling to spend approximately 24 hours of travel and be in a so totally different place. I remember thinking on the plane how the airport in Nairobi feels fairly comfortable yet somewhat cosmopolitan in its own way. Still it’s a very different culture to the one I’m from in my fibers.

Then after this 8 hour fog of air travel, you arrive in Europe. While it’s closer to my own culture it’s the culture I’m least familiar with. I wander around the airport that feels like a shopping mall.

As I make my way towards the gate a couple hours before I’m scheduled to depart, I start hearing more and more American English spoken. I hear the loud conversations in markedly Midwestern accents. I look around at the footwear and think to myself how typically American it is to wear tennis shoes. Then I realize that they are only called ‘tennis shoes’ in the US. (If I was still in Kenya, I’ve called them ‘trainers’ even to myself.)

While I am pleased to be feeling I understand all my surroundings in a very basic way here, I am not altogether sure that I really like this. There is a certain deep happiness to being able to negotiate a culture without any second guessing, and no apology for whatever I do, after all, I am American. But at the same time, it’s not all good.

I’m writing from a Perkins where I’ve just had the biggest breakfast imaginable. I’ve been served so fast I can hardly believe it. The waitress made a mistake on my order that I probably wouldn’t have noticed, corrected and gave me a free muffin in the whole mix without me so much as even saying a word. It’s grand to have real customer service. But all the while I can hear all kinds of loud conversations and I think about how this culture has acquired that “Ugly American” image.

Kenyans must be horrified when they first arrive here. I tried to image a solitary Kenyan sitting at this booth instead of me. I’m sure she would have thought the meal that was served enough for two or three people. Perhaps she would have concluded that’s the reason why Americans are so big. This Kenyan would have been shocked by the shouts that come over the dim of asking for a cup or greeting someone. If she had as good an ear as I do for a Midwestern accent she would likely find the snippets of conversation equally as odd or jarring.

This is my home culture. It’s what I am at the very bottom of my being. I understand it on a fundamental level. But I don’t really like it all. And I have come to realize that there is a deep part of me that is also a little bit Kenyan.

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