Jean Barker

Americans: Why they say that

2014-01-24 07:47

Jean Barker

South Africans like to make fun of Americans - and they're easy game. Not only are they full of weird idiosyncrasies, but they're also pretty rare in Africa, which means they're not usually around to defend themselves in person.

As seen on TV?

Americans aren't much like they are on TV. They're no more similar to TV Americans than their apartments are to real American apartments. Basically, real Americans are bigger than they are on TV, and the real American apartments are smaller than they are on TV.

Why they ask about lions in the street

This is the thing we most commonly mock Americans for - their questions about Animals: "So do you have like, lions and elephants wandering around in the streets?" The answer is no, of course we don't. That would be terribly unsafe... for the lions and elephants.

When I recently drove from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City, Utah, I learned why they ask this. The highways were strewn with dead wild boars taken out by passing cars. At some point I had to swerve to avoid hitting the carcass of a giant deer that got caught in someone's headlights. Bears have been known to rob the garbage in middle America's suburbs. And oh - in California national and regional parks accessible to city hikers, within a mile of cities, signs warn of mountain lions. They sometimes have bears, deer, wild boar and lions in the streets. Why wouldn't we?

Why they say "Africa" when they mean "Cape Town"

In the US, states have very different laws. A man can marry his boyfriend in one, while in 18 others he's not even allowed to perform oral sex on him (Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah, Virginia and Washington DC). In California, the highway speed limit is 65mph, sometimes 70. In Arizona? 80. Maybe they figured people were going to drive pretty fast through there anyhow so they may as well legalise it.

In California only losers smoke and it's illegal indoors. In Vegas only losers smoke (cause let's face it, nobody wins at gambling) but you can light up absolutely anywhere - the whole place literally stinks. TV programmes regularly refer to African countries as "states". While American ignorance about Africa is annoying, it's a lot easier to understand when you've driven across a few state lines and seen how much each is just like a different country in many ways.

Why they never seem to travel

We think travelling is fun and enjoy getting to know people different to ourselves. Most Americans associate travel with three things: Being in even more horribly in debt than they already are, going to fight a war where they might get killed for no good reason, and being around a bunch of foreigners who eat weird food, make fun of Americans and worst of all, don't speak English.

There are, however some things I can't explain... like

Why Americans never talk politics but instead have people on TV to do it for them.

Why they don't use solar power. I didn't see one rooftop panel in the entire Cali / Nevada / Arizona dessert.

Why they use disposable plastic cutlery and plates in restaurants but allow you to bring your gun in.

Why they insist on taking such long showers.

Why it's socially acceptable to kill yourself by overeating, but not by shooting heroin.

Why they hate subtitles so much.

Why they love lawns so much but never seem to sit on them.

Why they think they eat beef jerky when they could eat biltong.

If you can shed some light, please feel free to help me out here. The better I understand them, the easier it will be for us all to coexist peacefully.

- Jean is a screenwriting/directing dual MFA student in California, USA. She tweets as @jeanbarker and blogs pictures of signs and more, here. She will be back.

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