We hardly ever get the ‘full story’

If you ask the average American what they know about South Africa, I’m going to guess the answer will probably be apartheid and Nelson Mandela.

Maybe you’ll get some people who remember then men’s soccer World Cup in 2010, or even those who — especially if the saw the movie “Invictus” or read “Playing the Enemy,” the book upon which it was based (I’ve done both) — are aware of the country’s famed Springboks national rugby team.

But apartheid and Nelson Mandela is probably what you’re going to get, mostly because that’s what we’ve heard about South Africa.

I had even forgotten for a moment that Charlize Theron is from South Africa, and “forget” and “Charlize Theron” should never be in the same sentence.

“I have never met an actual American, so all my perceptions of the ‘land of the free’ were formed by American movies and series.”

— “My image of America,” Michelle’s Clutter Box

Michelle of Michelle’s Clutter Box — which quickly became one of my favorite blogs after I discovered it last year — is from South Africa, and she thought Americans could buy hardcore drugs at the store, since we call them “drug stores,” instead of “pharmacies” like they do in her country.

And there are plenty of things she still doesn’t understand, like why so many people have guns or what the deal is with eggnog. (I made sure to tell her that the latter is artery-clogging, holiday liquid gold perfection.)

I don’t want to spoil all her observations — you should definitely read her post — but it was interesting to see how someone from a country Americans probably don’t think much about views us.

When I was in sixth grade, we used to watch films about European countries in our social studies class.

I couldn’t tell you how long they were — whether they were 10 minutes, 20 minutes, an hour or somewhere in between — but I do remember enjoying them, and how they made all the countries look like appealing places to live, even the Eastern Bloc countries under the thumb of the former Soviet Union.

However, since it was the early 1980s and the Cold War was what it was, whenever we watched a film about a country behind the Iron Curtain, our teacher made sure to tell us that every country, including the United States, made its own film to make itself look as good as possible.

I don’t remember this disclaimer for … say, the various countries in Scandinavia.

In the category of “weird stuff that sticks in your memory,” I remember reading about a murder on Yonge Street in Toronto not long after got came back from there in 2004. I think it might have been this one.

And I remember being surprised.

On our trip, Yonge Street the lively, vibrant street at the heart of Toronto. We spent days walking from our hotel across the street from the old Maple Leaf Gardens, past the shops and Eaton Centre, toward the Hockey Hall of Fame and CBC, the CN Tower, Scotiabank Arena (when it was Air Canada Centre) and Rogers Centre (it was Skydome back then).

Plus it was in Canada, which we’ve been led to believe is “… a more liberal, more European version of America: more polite, less religious, more cosmopolitan, and with government-run health care.

Travel tends to idealize places, making us forget that for London residents, Sunday is just the day before Monday, that all the gawkers like me just slow things up for the people who live and work in New York or that the same Oregon we found to be nearly perfect could be the site of violent protests just weeks after we got home.

“Woman knocks on our door today.

I answer.

She’s trying to sell something having to do with renewable energy.

‘Are you the head honcho here?’

‘Well, I think my wife would disagree with that … and I probably would, too.’”

I shared the above anecdote on Facebook because I thought people would find it funny, and they did. If I tell people the story in person, I assume the reaction will be the same.

What people won’t know is anything that might annoyed me that day, because I’m not going to talk about that. Suzi will probably know … because she’s my life and lives with me.

Whether on social media or in “real life,” we all filter our experiences.

“Reality” isn’t just what we think it is based on what we see — whether it’s news reports, educational films, our vacation experiences or anything else — it’s something we create in how we present ourselves to others.

It doesn’t necessarily mean that what we see or what we say isn’t true (although I don’t shop for anything stronger than aspirin at the local drug store), but even the stuff that’s true isn’t always complete.

Photo of Cape Town, South Africa, by Douglas Bagg on Unsplash

6 thoughts on “We hardly ever get the ‘full story’

  1. Lovely post. I enjoyed that post by Michelle too. It is interesting to see how people from different countries views America and Americans. I also wonder how their perceptions have changed over the past 5-10 years particularly with the current administration.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Michelle

    Thanks for the mention, Bill! It’s true, South Africa is famous for Nelson Mandela, Charlize Theron, the 2010 World Cup, Apartheid, and Oscar Pistorious (a mixture of good and pretty terrible).

    All the best, Michelle

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a great post Bill, no seriously it’s awesome. It got me to thinking and I visited Michelle’s blog, awesome as well. I wondered about the same, other people from other countries and their perceptions about us. Then I began to work for a university and met several people from countries around the world.

    What blew me away was how they believed that because we live in Texas so close to the Mexican border, that south of the freeway was Mexico. I mean, yes Mexico is south of El Paso, but we’re NOT Mexico, lol. Unless your former Texas Governor Rick Perry, where he actually said once that “El Paso is in Mexico” not the sharpest tool in the shed. I emphasize the word “tool.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh … c’mon … just because when the guy started wearing glasses, the entire world thought he did it to try and look smarter? (It may be the only thing I agree with a certain president about.)

      Michelle’s blog is terrific. I don’t remember how I found it, but I’m glad I did. And reading her post about America really got me to thinking … and you see the result! LOL

      And seriously, thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: The week gone by — Jan. 17 – A Silly Place

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