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Things aren't always as they seem (a foreigner's perspective)

By Robyn Wiggill, Times Reporter
On March 15, 2012

Think about the first thing that comes to mind when I say Germany. Is it beer and girls in dirndl (a type of traditional dress worn in Germany) eating a bratwurst?

What about Switzerland? Do images of snowcapped mountains and little Swiss misses come to mind? What about Japan? Do you envision Hello Kitty clad girls and techno loving smart kids? What about South Africa?
If these questions I have heard are anything to go by, it is probably a cluster of stereotypical images. Such as black people, speaking in clicks, riding elephants through the wild, and going passed starving children on route to bush school. Correct me if I'm wrong.

The first few of the questions I was asked after arriving in America were. "Why are you white?" "Do you guys have Facebook in Africa?" and sometimes "Do you live in a hut or speak the clicky language?"

After telling some of my American friends about celebrating my first Fourth of July, I was asked, "Don't you have the Fourth of July in your country?" I wasn't sure quite how to respond. I mean we have the day, the fourth, but since its American independence day, we don't celebrate it. Maybe we should?

Do not to fear; I am not suggesting that all Americans are ignorant about other countries. Americans have their own stereotypes cast upon them. For instance, everything is bigger and better in the US. There is a McDonalds on every street corner, which means all Americans are obese and/or unhealthy. Americans are geographically challenged.

The truth is that we get a lot of our imagery from media portrayals. Movies written about a country or based in a country give other nations an impression of what it must be like.

Let me explain. When I arrived in America I wanted to drink Starbucks coffee, have a party with red cups and go to Disney World! These are some of the things that foreigners see on TV and want to experience. It is our own version of the America dream.
While those are all positive experiences, there are also shows which portray teenage pregnancies, permanently drunk people as well as toddler beauty queens. Unfortunately the world gets to see these shows too. This is how people formulate stereotypes about ignorant, overindulged Americans.

I think this is sad. America is a beautiful country! There are a few bad eggs that spoil something special. In my time in America I have met plenty of Americans with healthy waistlines and above average intelligence. I have begun to understand the patriotism felt for this country and symbolism of the red, white and blue.

I have had a chance to travel a bit of this country (26 states and counting) and have met amazing people, seen some of the most awe-inspiring sights and even fallen in love with this country.

It is a pity much of the world doesn't get to see America the way I have been able to see it first hand. I hope that each American will set their mind on the positive on their wondrous nation and focus on that. Take pride in your country, but realize that other people are proud of their countries too.

South Africa like America has wonderful sights to see. It fits into the size of Texas, but is amazingly diverse. With 11 official languages and a complicated past it is a country rich in history. It has miles of coastal land, high mountains and open fields. As you can tell, it's probably not exactly what is conveyed by the media.

I guess my message is for everyone, no matter where you are from, take time to learn about other people's faith and beliefs. Take time to see their point of view.

Research a little, and learn a thing or two about other cultures and nations. Take time to explore your own country, learn its history so you can be a part of its future, and hopefully positive image.

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