Both my parents were immigrants – one was born in the cooler climes of Europe, another on a tropical island. They both learned certain behaviours and beliefs from their parents: a culture that was different to that of the land where they met, married and had children. They assimilated some of the local culture: enjoying a braai on occasion (known in other lands as a BBQ), learned how to savour “pap and wors” (a delicious meal eaten at aforesaid braai), and taught their children to eat biltong (dried, spiced meat). My mom learned one local language, my dad another. And to the marriage they brought some of the culture they had learned themselves when growing up.
As a child, I learned the South African culture that my parents had adopted. I learned, too, of the culture that many other groups of people in South Africa follow. I adopted a bit of my mom’s ways (I enjoy eating split pea soup and croquettes) as well as my dad’s (I was raised a Catholic, and celebrated Christmas the way his siblings did). When young I noticed, however, that I did not belong to a group of South Africans that had their own folk dance, or their own traditional wear. “Is this because my own parents were not South African born?” I asked myself.
I am now raising my children in a land far removed from the cultures I was surrounded with when I was growing up. My children do not understand the words “mielie” or “tekkies”. They do not understand what it means to “tjol” with friends and family, or to lie in the sun with their “cozzies” on. Being away from South Africa has shown me that I did experience a South African culture, albeit not as obvious as some other groups.
Now in a different country, I am learning a culture of another group – a culture that my children are more comfortable with than me. I have put on the shoes of my parents and am an immigrant learning to assimilate the culture of a foreign land. I am learning the activities of Halloween and trick-or-treating; I am learning what it means to celebrate Thanksgiving and Canada Day. I am learning to speak the English of another group of people; and to understand the habits of the Canadians as they go about their daily activities. I am learning to live in a large city, and all the habits that go with this.
The question I ask myself when I reflect on culture is: when people change countries from one generation to the next, is their culture slowly watered down as they assimilated habits and customs of the country they have moved to?
What do you think of your culture? When looking back at your family’s history, has it changed depending on the country in which they live?
(Join Jake every week for a theme for creative inspiration. This week’s prompt is Culture.)
© Colline Kook-Chun, 2012