Thursday, June 24, 2010

Hybrid children

As a white, French / Dutch / English / Swedish / whatever else happened along South African, I have to admit, I sometimes feel pretty rootless. I have, on occasion, said that I have no culture, but that isn’t semantically correct. The word ‘culture’ has to do with growth and learning, and the influence of one’s social environment. I borrow what I like: I suppose everyone does.

I say I’m African. An ‘Afrikaner’ who speaks English. The first Vrijboere (free farmers) here… oooh… late 1600’s... objected to paying tax to the Dutch government (they would wouldn’t they?) and declared that they were Africans. That’s the source of the word ‘Afrikaaner’. There! Told you something you didn’t know. Much good may it do you.

Anyway, I’m not a proper Afrikaner in the traditional, cultural sense either. Nor am I black. Some of my brethren take exception to me declaring myself African because I’m the 'wrong' colour. Not all of them, mind, and the people I’ve had this discussion with weren’t debating with any particular heat. They say I’m a European.

That’s funny! Europe definitely thinks I’m an African. I’ve had to get visas twice haven’t I? At some point you start thinking ‘Look, if you don’t want me to visit your country why don’t you just say so.’

Every step of your itinerary has to be planned. Every hotel has to send you a letter of invitation, every train ticket bought in advance. You have to say why you’re visiting their country (I want to blow it up – what do you think?). Your bank statements for the last three months have to be shown, your parents’ names and dates of birth, my brother’s (I hardly ever even speak to him), a letter from my employer stating I’d have a job when I got back (after a five week visit, for crying out loud) and I forget what else. It’s a saga. They definitely think I’m an African. So do I.

At all events, I’m not going to sit in the middle of the sea and cry because I’m not African enough to be properly African nor yet European enough to be European. I borrow what I like, don’t I? There are things I like about all the cultures I’ve been exposed to, and I’m a hybrid, not a mongrel.

I have classical music (thank you, Europe). I have the English language (so useful!). Afrikaans isn’t too bad either: you can sort-of read the signs in most Nordic countries, and even understand some of what they say. I have poetry and literature and Monty Python and Hollywood (if I’m in the mood). From my hybrid ancestors I have milk tart, and biltong (dried, spiced, salted meat: the chief obstacle between me and vegetarianism) and Calvinism (I wish I could give that up – doing quite well, but the influences remain).

From Africa, I have some interesting ideas which I will expound tomorrow. Yes, folks, its another serialization! MM’s on a roll!

Today's pic: a cultured individual from whom I have learned.


  1. Fascinating post!! There is so much about your culture that I do not know- I hung on every word. I had no clue such a process existed for a Visa- has it always been this way?
    I envy you your culture- I truly do- it is rich and alive.
    I happily await tomorrows installation! Your friend in the photo looks like someone I would enjoy to know.

  2. Thanks for the interest, PAMO. Getting a visa from a home country anywhere in the 3rd world is an insulting and infuriating process first and last. There's no such thing as turning up with enough money and just going with the flow. Verboten! It almost discourages me from travelling. My friend is Nolusandsiwa, an interesting Xhosa woman with an excellent knowledge of medicinal herbs. In the photo, she wears traditional dress (apart from the sneakers!).

  3. The way you spell colour is un-American and Firefox doesn't like it. That added "u" is the devil's business.

  4. know what's funny? I don't really feel like I identify myself with any race or even being an American. Most proud to be "AMERICANS" embarrass me with their blind patriotism & when I meet a fellow Sri Lankan person they seem so backwards & complacent I often wonder if they are retarded.

    I'm not really a Nirvana fan but Kurt Cobain once said something a long the lines of I don't feel like I belong here, I feel like an alien & I'm just waiting for the space shift to swing by & pick me up. I like the thought of that....

    In the past few weeks I have learned quite a few fun facts from reading your blogs that I never knew, thank you!

  5. Heh heh, Grant. Yes, spell check doens't like 'colour' or 'honour' or any number of words the way I spell them! Never mind, cultural mastery awaits y'all.
    Karl, I identify with being an 'alien' and my cutural 'multi-ism' (Its so much more than dualism)is as much a matter of belonging nowhere as everyhwhere.