By Karl-Chris R. Nsabiyumva
In April, I was in America.
To be honest, I wasn’t going to write this post because, you know, “Urabona ingene katwishimako?!”… but then a friend told me that good things happen to people too, and that I should have no shame talking about these things… #UwankaYangare
So allow me to tell you all about my trip to the land of the free. If you suffer from a severe case of sensitivity to bragging, you are advised to read this post with a bucket nearby so that you may throw up with ease and without making a mess… Hehehe :-p
So I had been planning the trip for about two years. You can imagine how excited I was when I landed at JFK, on one Friday afternoon. I hadn’t slept properly for about two days, but I didn’t care; I hadn’t flown 13 hours over Africa and the Atlantic to go sleep. I had come to see America! And I was going to try see and enjoy as much of it as I could.
In about the span of a month I managed to visit about 5 States from East to West: New York City (NY), Albany (NY), York (PA), Portland (ME), Bangor (ME), Victor (MT), Hamilton (MT), Edmond (OK), Oklahoma City (OK), San Diego (CA), Los Angeles (CA) and San Francisco (CA) are the cities, towns and villages I went to. Here are some of the things I managed to gather from my trip.
1. America is not so different
Well, I had fun. I got to see people I hadn’t seen in a long time, I got to make new friends, I went sightseeing, I drove tractors and convertibles, enjoyed boat and limo rides, went shooting and fishing, wandered around the streets of NYC, got to chill in Hollywood, ate awesome food, and got to see episodes of my favorite series as they were being aired for the first time on TV. Yes, I had fun.
But not-so-fun things also happened: like seeing my cousin get arrested for no reason, and getting robbed (read the full story here).
Next to all the beauty and modernity, I also saw poverty and homelessness… so many homeless people it had me think we should set up a Charity to help the homeless people of America.
I saw a very expensive cost of living I realised life in Burundi is pretty cheap (but hey, who am I to say this if I can afford a leisure trip to the States?)… I saw people who are so busy ‘hustling’ some of them even forgot to enjoy life, to have friends… It almost felt like having fun was a luxury over there.
I saw people who count everything by the cent, it opened my eyes to how generous people back home are, despite the “poverty”. #UbukeneNiMumutima
When I got back home and told my people about the sh*t that had happened to me while I was there they were like “Ivyo birabaho muri Amerika?!” Birabaho nyene! In fact I believe these nasty behaviours, and many others, were imported from there… well, from “the West”, not just America. Nivyo! Ratcheness was imported from there en tous cas!
So really, America is pretty, it has fun things to do, but it isn’t paradise.
2. Tips lost their meaning in America.
I was taught that you tip someone (i.e. a waiter at a restaurant) when they’ve served you extra well. I know tips don’t really exist in our culture (they may be assimilated with bribes), as good service is often considered as “the person doing what they are paid for”, but since good service is so rare in Burundi, it’s hard to resist to reward it when it happens.
Tipping is mandatory in America, and my first experience with this was with the cab driver who drove me from the airport to the hotel when I arrived. I paid him cash and he gave me back my change minus his tip, without even asking me. Well, I was going to tip him anyway (he was a nice chap), and to be honest, he took less than I was prepared to give him… but I was shocked that he literally tipped himself.
An American friend tried to explain why tips are “expected”, regardless of the quality of the service (it is rarely bad, by the way) saying that most employees of the service industry are paid so little that they can they can barely survive on their salaries, after taxes, so they rely on the tips they get to makes ends meet. I guess that’s why they’re extra nice with customers.
3. Americans are too nice.
Not only are waiters, cab drivers and shop attendants nice, everybody in America is nice! Sometimes loud, but they are nice. Too nice in fact it had me doubting how genuine those people are!
Well, I’m pretty sure waiters and shop attendants fake it for the tips, but when a policeman is nice while arresting you, acting like they’re all sorry about it when they’re clearly not, then something is wrong! At least ab’iwacu are honest about their feelings by not hiding their joy when they catch you in trouble…
It felt weird meeting people for the first time and them wanting to know all about my life. Or maybe it’s just the insecure Burundian in me being paranoid? This whole being nice thing is creepy America!
4. The West Coast (California) is the most foreign-man friendly.
If anybody has tried to make you believe that racism is history in America, please allow yourself a minute to laugh at them. It is very much alive, but I felt it less the West than in the East. People who live in the South told me it’s worse over there though (and had me wondering what they are still doing there).
California not only has awesome weather, but it’s also full of non-white folks I sometimes wondered whether I was still in America, especially with everything named after a Spanish Saint.
I’ve heard some Latin Americans can be quite discriminative when they want to, but the fact that the West Coast is so full of “recent immigrants” – as opposed to “veteran immigrants” (almost everyone is an immigrant in America) – makes it easier to feel less like a stranger over there.
Speaking of races and racism, let me mention that I spent about a week in a place where I saw no other black man apart from my reflection in the mirror. Actually, I didn’t see Asians or Latin Americans either over there. I’ll have to be honest and say that going there I was a little bit afraid of how I’d be treated, but to my very pleasant surprise, everybody I met there was nice… sometimes too nice (see point number 3). I did catch a few “not expecting to see you here” types of looks here and there, but then again, this was in Montana. Nobody goes to Montana. People who come from Montana tend to leave Montana. This is what I was told.
5. It’s hard to be a patriot abroad
Not because America is too pretty and cool (see point number 1), but because the news you get about Burundi when you’re out of the country are just sad!
I was in America when the rumour about the Central Bank going down in flames hit the Interwebs. You have no idea how shocked I was when I opened my Facebook to see ‘cries of despair’ and photos of random burning buildings being spread by people, some of which my friends. I believed it was happening for a good minute yo, until a friend back home (who got out of his bed and took a taxi to go see what was really happening before posting anything online) told me those were just rumours.
But WHY?! Why do people do that?! Aho rero, none of these people had shared the GOOD news about our team making it to the Final of the (Ex) Street kids (football) World Cup in Brazil. It was happening at the same time! Why do people only like spreading bad news, alafu without even verifying it. SMH!
Mon pays ne vas pas mal; ce sont les gens qui ne savent parler que du mauvais temps qui sont malades!
6. Many other (strange) things.
I could go on and tell you about the too-much-food, the deceptive price tags, Americans’ obsession with their flag, and the weird toilets, but I found an article somebody else had already written about these and many other funny things about America and Americans. You can read it here.