Wednesday, October 28, 2009


This past Saturday, as the Hubby and I were sitting out on the patio in the (finally cleaned thanks to yet another new maid) chairs, with the crackling fire in the braai making a nice addition to the Brad Paisley assortment (I know. No need to say it. I have gone from a healthy obsession with this guy's music to a full blown sing-him-in-my-sleep-without-realizing-it kind of obsession. From obsessed to possessed. But don't tell him.) blaring out through the open window, spending the day with some of our always-good-for-a-highly-intellectual-discussion-over-plenty-of-wine friends from South Africa and Zimbabwe, we got to talking about culture.

Specifically what we termed as 'European culture'. Or as our South African friend, who had just on that very day, returned from Paris, put it, "Where there is all this culture everywhere around you. Everywhere you turn there's something." He had been to the Louvre of course and seen the Mona Lisa, to Notre Dame, to Montmartre, to Champs Elysees, and to the Eiffel Tower.

He felt a little overwhelmed by it all, but desperately wanted to return right away, show everything he'd seen to his wife, and possibly even live in Europe. Except of course for the price of everything. That was the part he wasn't too fond of. But who is?

Also, he did narrow Europe down to the 'mid-part'. Naturally he wouldn't ever want to live in Finland, since "Finns are a strange bunch, aren't they?" and "Isn't Finland really more like a part of Russia than Europe?"

I got a chance to put my magnificent rendition of the stink-eye into action more than once. And I must say, I'm quite proud of my progress too in the area that covers all the different eyes: stink, evil, googly, rolled, red, you know, and I'm sure you would agree.

*stares at everyone convincingly, albeit slightly menacingly*

But as we chatted about Europe, and my and the Hubby's reasons for not wanting to ever again live in Europe if we can avoid it and instead can just keep alternating between Latin America, Africa and Asia, while the best explanation, even pre-tequila, from me went something like: "Europe is just so... European," accompanied by a self-imposed strangle hold on my throat and a less than ladylike flopping tongue, er, flopping out of the side of my mouth (a natural addition to me talkin' smart), I started to wonder about culture.

Why were we discussing white, European culture as the epitome of culture and not as white, European culture, or white, male, continental European, French, or Parisian culture?

Why is it that in so many minds Europe (the proper Europe that is, not the lake-y part attached to Russia)  has ownership over highbrow culture, America of popular culture, and Africa is a continent somehow void of that mess of things that's the definition of culture, and the only pull of which are the wild, the animals, and the wide open spaces empty of traces of human touch? Or worse yet, something referred to as primitive culture.

After all, here in Johannesburg, we live within a very short distance from the place referred to as The Cradle of Humankind, where everything that we now refer to as culture sprung from. Where we, the makers of all culture and guilty of this thing we call civilization, very possibly can trace our existence back to. And all this while living in a highly urbanized area populated by millions of representatives of not only one, but several different cultures, each more elaborate and intricate than the next.

If anything, there is culture in Africa.

Excuses-moi? Does my culture clash, monsieur? 

What is your take on this? I myself am a little cultured out now. I need you my dear readers. Gimme somthang goood!


Morgan U said...

I lived in Cape Town for 2 years and I miss the African culture on a daily basis!!!!
I want to braii again, with nice wine from Stellenbach to share with friends that say 'stunning"!

Sarah said...

A friend of mine and I were just having this conversation the other day. But instead of European culture it was just Western culture in general, and how it is viewed as the "right" way. Anyone not having the same culture is seen as primitive and backwards. It's crazy.

LindsayDawn said...

Is it even possible to have a country/city/village that doesn't have culture? I think where society is, there must be history and culture. Keep in mind this is coming from a girl from the states (and from Wisconsin at that, land of cows and cheese). As for high-brow vs. popular vs. primitive, maybe there's a basis for it, but maybe it's yet another way to pass judgment on someone else... I love reading your blog because 1) you're hilarious, but 2) I love learning a little bit about Africa (culture, history, the little day-to-day things) from you. :)

Miss Footloose said...

Everywhere is culture. Even in the USA!! I love it when people say America has no culture. What America? Okay, the USA. I send them straight to Joe's Crab Shack.

See here:

But yes, it's that old European arrogance, the old colonial powers who lorded it over the rest of the world and told them they were evil, dirty, stupid and had no culture.

I have news for them (and I hail from the Netherlands, one of the guilty) IT'S OVER! MOVE OVER!

Fidgeting Gidget said...

I think about this quite often as a "hillbilly" living in Toronto, which is deemed one of the biggest melting pots in the world. And it truly is, but I wouldn't necessarily call it a "melting pot." This sounds terrible, but people here kind of "stick to their own kind," if you will. One suburb is all Asian, one suburb is all Italian, one suburb is all Russian, etc. And another thing I have noticed is that people here give me funny looks when I answer their weird question, "What are you?" with the words, "I'm American." Apparently Americans and Canadians aren't recognized groups, they want to know what country your ancestors came from, which I honestly don't know. It's just interesting. And everyone thinks we're hillbillies because we're from Indiana and we like country music. I personally think we've adjusted to all of this diversity quite well. And I definitely think that I can see a lot of the negative things about my hometown that I couldn't see while living there...which sounds a lot like what you and your Viking are finding. Honestly though? I think that the grass is always a bit greener on the other side. When living there, I wanted something different, now that I live here, I miss being where I was. I'm like a fart in a skillet. How's that for a hillbilly expression? :)

Anonymous said...

I love the culture here in the Middle East and would chose to live here over home (UK) any day of the week ... I love the sense of family, community and the fact that it is fiercely different to all portrayals in Western media

Big Fat Mama said...

I think the Europeans overrate themselves and their "culture" in general. I lived in France for several years and I was constantly amazed at how the French love to talk about their culture, particulary their cuisine, but none of the people our age actually knew how to cook at all. Their idea of an appetizer was zipping down to the Esso station for a package of smoked salmon! Seriously! I, as a Canadian, was fascinating to them because I did cook and they LOVED my cooking. But it clearly kind of bothered them that I could. I also had an odd experience at Octoberfest in Germany. While being berated by a slightly drunken German for being North American and having "no culture and no history", I took in the drunken patrons vomiting behind the tents and the blaring American tunes and really had to wonder what it was I was supposedly missing out on.

caroldiane said...

Isn't Brad Paisley culture? Seriously, I think having and defending our very own culture has gotten us into this mess... perhaps we just need to find out what the culture "human being " is. By the way, I have adopted a new corporate title - "Director of Tribal Culture" so I guess address this topic more often!

Miss Footloose said...

Big Fat Mama,

Loved your comment!

Miss Footloose, hailing from the Netherlands, but having seen beyond the borders.

Myne Whitman said...

Morgan and Fidgeting Midget have said my mind,

Emily said...

It seems that your smarty-pants friends have the typical white person view about culture. 'High culture' is European and everyone else should create a culture as relevant as the European culture. It is just a manifestation of extreme self-absorption. Ask a person from a non-white culture what they think about the 'superior' Euro culture. They are probably not as impressed. White culture means something very different to the people who have not benefited from it over the years. 'Not benefited' is an understatement(if you know what I mean).