American Influences in South Africa


Thursday, January 24, 2008, 07:56 AM

Posted by Graham Rountree


In reflecting on our entire time spent in the various cities of South Africa we’ve been able to experience a great deal of things that are very different from what we’ve come to know living in the United States. There are different names for the same things like stop lights being called “robots”; motorists drive on the left side of the road; and there is no ketchup anywhere in the entire country. However at the same time is easy to see several ways in which certain things in the United States have inluenced life in South Africa.

Some of the obvious influences are ones that you can most likely find all over the world, so it wasnt a suprise to see them here. Beverages like CocaCola, Pepsi, and Jack Daniels are widely available and heavily advertised. The strange thing is, though, when you open a Coke can that looks exactly the same on the outside there is a different taste to the acutual drink. It’s as if Coke has taken a taste that South Africans propably already likes, and they just call it Coke, even though its not what we would call Coke. Along with the same beverages comes a host of familar fast food chains. McDonalds is obviously going to be here, but one fast food chain that suprised me by how many there were wherever you looked in urban settings was KFC. It was almost like there was a KFC at every corner. One day while we were driving through Cape Town a number of us noticed a resturant called “O’lympie”. The design of the logo and the name were almost identical to the sandwhich resturaunt chain “Blimpie” in America.

Popular Culture is also another area where one can see the influence of American ideas. Towards the begining of the trip we visited a home for street children near Cape Town. In the room of some of the girls that lived there were a number of magazine cut-outs of the actress Angelina Jolie. There were even some drawings of her that the girls had made. Later on in the trip when we visited a primary school in Alexandra we got a chance to interview some of the kids from the Township. Most all of the ones we talked to knew a great deal about American movies and music. The boy I talked to said his favorite actors were Chuck Norris and Steven Segal. It also seemed like wherever we went people were talking about the next presidential election in America. They knew of most of the candidates and seemed to have pretty strong opinons on who they though should win. You really can get an idea of how big our influence as americans is when people talk about politics.

When you listen to music in South Africa you could see that America has really influenced this part of culture too. One night while visited a local pub in Hermanus we noted that every single band that was played was an American band. The odd thing about this was that this was not a touristy pub at all. It was very much a place where the locals went to get away from tourists spots. Had we not been told about it we would not have even found it. But they only listened to American music, despite the fact that most of the people there were speaking Afrikaans. When we ate lunch in the Township of Langa a local band came in and played music on African instruments for us. They played several traditional African songs, but the more they played on, the more their music turned into music that Americans would want to hear; songs like “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, “In The Jungle”, and even some Al Green.

When one watches television you can also see how America sometimes influences South Africa. Every hotel we were in had movie channels similar to HBO that played American Movies. South Africa is getting ready to have their own verison of “Are You Smarter Than A Fifith Grader?” in the next month or so. One day my roommate and I even watched “The Daily Show” which was being broadcast on CNN. I think that was the last show I would expect to be played here because it is very american. There are soap opras on during the day and one morning we watched some of the children’s show “Barney”. But the most prevolent area of American culture in television is in wrestling. Almost everyday there is some form of the WWF on tv. We talked to several people who said people here love to watch wrestling. I don’t know if that is what they think America is really like, but it seemed very odd to me because the type of person who watched the WWF in america doesn’t seem liket he type of person who would travel to South Africa.

After spending the past few weeks here in Africa I’ve really seen how cultures mesh in a global society. Some things that we found here that related to American life were probably just around to make tourists feel more comfortable in this foreign place. However a number of the things we saw like KFC, music, and the WFF are generally enjoyed by South Africans and are not here to gear towards tourists.

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