Scott Hanselman

South Africa 2008 - Relative Fakery

December 23, 2008 Comment on this post [14] Posted in Africa
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I wasn't going to write about this but my brother-in-law suggested it. This is likely less about Africa and more about life. I have a fatal flaw, my wife says, and that is that I am the same person everywhere. South Africa or Malaysia or Europe, I'm the same dude. Different language or accent, but the same general idiocy reigns.

My wife, on the other hand, has good sense and, what's it called, social abilities? I assume everyone is my friend and shake hands and kiss babies all day. Ignorance is bliss, it seems.

On the trip there's an endless supply of not just cousins, but third cousins, and "are you my cousins" and even a few "who are you exactly?" I love a parade. However, I also smile and wave like it's a parade. I assume since they all came over to see us that they are genuinely interested in how we are. I also tend to assume that they are also happy, healthy and content people like us.

Turns out that all relatives are not created equal. Wish I'd gotten the memo. There is apparently theses things called envy and posturing I am not familiar with. Some couples come in two cars, for example. I, of course, notice this, but meh, right? They probably came from work. Oh no, we are meant to see that they have two cars.

Watches are dusted off and worn, diamond rings are polished, shirts are ironed. They've come to see mkhwenyana, the white American son-in-law and their long lost sister/cousin/auntie who is, it seams, a hybrid freakish part-African, part-American.

Again, I can't stress my level of cluelessness. There's apathy, and then there's profound ignorance. I have the ignorance level of a 2-dimensional being on a plane in 3-D space. I am not just missing dimensions, but I'm having trouble conceiving of them.

Why haven't you called? Why don't you write or email? What a bad son in law you are!

Um, because we've only just met?

What is America like?

Pretty much like this, except you're not basting and there's fewer electric razor fences.

No, really, I hear America is the land of opportunity.

I think the world is the land of opportunity, myself. You guys have the same stuff we do. Honest.

Listen to mkwenyanna! He says South Africa has the same stuff the states does. Nonsense. Let me see your digital camera. Is that an iPhone?

My wife is able to navigate this conversational minefield while not only staying classy, but also acting as a balm on decade-old sore egos. She also reminds people that it is possible to be from America and still be broke. And we are. We DID fly here, you know?

Turns out "our presence is your gift" doesn't translate well into my broken-Zulu. ;P

I'll remember that next time. Going on 10 years of marriage, and I'll figure all this out if it kills me.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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December 23, 2008 4:18
Not to different in Latin American countries. Some people think that jsut cause we leave in the US we are loaded.
December 23, 2008 4:19
I'm guessing you probably ran out of gifts. That part always intrigues me about going back to India. You have to bring something for EVERYONE. Whether its an iPod, a watch, or perfume -- all the relatives want SOMETHING. Even the ones you've never met. And then they wonder why we can only afford to come every few years if we are "rich Americans" :P
December 23, 2008 4:47
Wait, what? Not all Americans are rich? Who told you that nonsense?
December 23, 2008 4:51
Going on 10 years of marriage, and I'll figure all this out if it kills me.

Well, I'm socially "special", but fortunately have a socially gifted wife and after almost 20 years I've learned one major thing: When in doubt, shu'up and let her do the talking. Smile and nod a lot.

Boy, that keeps a lot of things smoother.
December 23, 2008 5:04
Lol. :) Sorry. that reminds me of my own home country (nigeria). Yes, "your presence" does not translate to nice and shiny toy. :) I have a feeling my own husband will learn this lesson when we visit my own homeland (Nigeria). cheers!

December 23, 2008 5:06

Going on 10 years of marriage, and I'll figure all this out if it kills me.

No, you won't and yes it will.

But that's what makes it fun.
December 23, 2008 5:10
What your wife is referring to is called: EQ. Emotional Quotient. In this day and age - it is a lot more important than its more famous and illustratrious counterpart called Intelligence Quotient.

Unfortunately, there is really no formal way to measure it and therefore, it tends to be overlooked and under-rated.
December 23, 2008 7:08
good to know smart guys like you find some of that stuff challenging too. I'm learning, but I know what you're talking about.
December 23, 2008 7:12
That's why some of us wont head home for a long time. If I tell them I am software developer they will think, I work with Bill Gates thus i am rich..lololo :) You learn so much, glad you enjoy it somehow
December 23, 2008 7:33
Scott, scott...
You dont understand why the display of material items are so crucial?
hahahahahha just kidding.

seriously, one thing that has helped me in situations like this:

wei wu wei once said: "play your part in the comedy, but dont identify yourself with the role"
December 23, 2008 18:25
This should be a television sitcom!
December 24, 2008 10:00
Well, Scott; It reminds me when we go and visit family in the rural areas... they think because we're from Durban (Our city, that is), then we must be rich and we don't work hard for our cash or whatever we have...

By the way, in isiZulu (and I think in isiNdebele)... son-in-law is spelt mkhwenyana not mkwenyanna

From Musa
December 24, 2008 15:06
You are making miss home, one-upmanship and soothing egos. Not something you except in a 3rd world country is it ?
He he as my mom says “welcome to Africa”
December 25, 2008 2:37
I could only smile at the 2 car part, having to show you have 2 cars. Something else you might notice is that many folks would stay in a small place, much smaller than what they can afford and then buy a BMW. See the car you can show off to strangers and people think you are rich then, your house only your family sees, so an expensive car is worth more than an expensive house.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.