Things About America That Have Surprised Zambians

Zambia and America are different worlds. When I talk about America, some things shock, befuddle, and flummox the Zambians, especially in Shamiyoyo. Some that come to mind:

  • The neverending list of American laws.

    • Jaywalking.

    • Littering. In Shamiyoyo, there's no trash service or landfill so trash is thrown on the ground.

    • Fire codes. People around here set fire to fields for clearcutting and leave for the day. They also burn piles of leaves and trash in their front yards daily.

    • Teachers not being allowed to discipline a student by whipping with a stick.

    • Not being allowed to walk on streets with an open alcohol container in most cities.

    • Copyright laws.

    • That Gertrude's parents would probably have been reported to Child Protective Services for letting her play with and gut a dead baby chicken with her bare hands.

  • Being allowed to disparage and insult politicians, including the President.

  • Never having a female American president.

  • There are no Chiefs in America with the exception of native Americans.

  • Breastfeeding in public is unacceptable in most American places.

  • Responding to 'how are you?’ with ‘fine' can sometimes mean 'not good.’ Here, by far the most common response is 'fine,’ meaning 'good' or 'great.’ No one has responded with 'good' or 'great' besides me. (Update: Mary, Wana's sister, returned from work and responded with 'good.’ 'I've learned,’ she joked.)

  • American and first world technology like Elon Musk projects, self-driving cars, virtual reality, deepfake videos, video streaming services, GPS, and phones with over 100 GB of storage.

  • Most Americans would be terrified if they encountered a black mamba or puff adder.

  • Americans allow their dogs and cats inside, sometimes clothe them, and occasionally take them to work.

  • Most Americans don't grow their own food. Many Americans don't own chickens, cattle, goats, or pigs. And most Americans don't hear roosters on a day to day basis.

  • Most Americans don't eat animal organs.

  • American food sanitation standards. Most Americans would have thrown out my tomato that a rat had bitten. Most Americans wouldn't have cooked and eaten the pork ribs because they had ants on them. Most Americans wouldn't have eaten the pork skin we braai'ed last week because it was left at room temperature for three days.

  • Not having a staple food like nshima. And not being able to find nshima at restaurants or grocery stores. Americans would consider nshima a side dish and a meat the main course. Here, a meat is a relish to add flavor to the main dish, nshima.

  • Most Americans don't eat rice with sugar.

  • Religion, in general, becoming less practiced in America.

  • The concept of Halloween.

  • The comparatively high prices of many goods and services like cellphones, cars, houses, rent, and college.

  • That teachers and nurses don't make similar salaries. Here, they do.

  • Americans are generally timely and in the business world, being late by a few hours could get you fired or ruin a business relationship.

  • The number of visible stars here may be 10x more than in most of the US. And Americans would find the sunrises and sunsets here to be gorgeous and stop them in their tracks. Zambians see this everyday and never seem to take time to appreciate them.

Ben KirbyComment