I firmly believe that travel itself can be an act of rhetorical listening. Listening to the questions people ask you about yourself and your home country. Listening to what people reveal about themselves. And listening to the the culture as a whole when you travel.
Last night I heard a news report about the advertising awards and the winner of the gold prize was a radio advertisement for the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg. I had to hear this advertisement several times to really process and listen to the message that was being conveyed.
Now, in an award-winning advertisement for the Apartheid Museum, called “Verwoerd”, Trump’s words have been cut together with H.F. Verwoerd, known as the “Architect of Apartheid”.
Hearing the audio clips back-to-back is jarring, but it does provide some new context for Trump’s words and actions that he has taken since becoming president. There is a part in the add that I think is supposed to be Trump that doesn’t sound like him and I’ve never heard that clip anywhere else. However, I think it does speak volumes to how this US president is perceived abroad and provides an interesting point of discussion for students who are learning about South Africa, but also America through another country’s eyes.
I suppose it is to be expected that when an American travels abroad you are going to feel the brunt of stereotypes. Because to the people you encounter you are not one of 46 million but you are America personified. The United States as flesh and blood, standing right in front of them. I’ve had my share of stereotypes tossed at me, in the short time I’ve been in South Africa, from other international students. They assume that they know what the United States is like because they have been exposed to our entertainment culture (movies, television shows, and music).
The saturation of entertainment coming out of the US makes people think that they already know everything about the country. However, when pressed most people do not know specific places other than New York, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles. What they know is more what they think they know about the US because the media is not an accurate portrait of the entirety of our country. Some people I have met know Minnesota or North Carolina, which always makes for a fun conversation.
Since being here the only regular question I’ve gotten from locals is, “Why are you studying here?” It is interesting because it reminds me of my experience moving to Minnesota. I have had very few people ask me details about where I’m from, but I get “Why’d you move to MN?” all the freaking time! The question is usually asked with a tilt of disdain in their voice and I can never tell if it is for me or the place which they are from.
Usually, when one of the American students does explain something about the US people are surprised. For example, most people do not seem to grasp the vast diversity represented within our country. How large the United States is or how I could have a difficult time moving from one part of the country (NC) to another (MN). I’m guessing it is because most people, including the Europeans, have just never thought about it in any real detail. I mean I didn’t know how difficult it would be to make the move and I was the one doing it! lol! I was grateful for this Washington Post article, “Which of the 11 American nations do you live in?” because it helps me explain the differences throughout our country in a more coherent way.
Oh, and one more thing…yes, we are loud! But so is everyone else 😉