Being American in Addis

Being American in any foreign country I expect a few looks. Being a White American in a Black country, I expect some looks. I worry that people will think bad of me because I am American. I worry that they will think I am just some American who sweeps in, takes a few pictures and then sweeps back out, back to my nice home in the suburbs, my 2.5 kids and a minivan.

In Ethiopia, at least in Addis, what I feel is acceptance. Yes, we get stared at. I would stare at me too (6 foot tall American woman with 2 other American women who are often laughing hysterically at something…) But these stares are often followed by a warm smile and always a “hello”.

The ironic thing about this is that the Ethiopians always want to say “Hello! How are you?” And the American’s always respond with” Selam! De na nesh?” We are so proud we know each other’s language. The other day, in the tiny bathroom, I was waiting by a woman and she looked at me shyly and said very very slowly and precisely “Hello…….How…..are……you?” She was so proud of her English so I said back “Hello, I am fine, how are you?” To which she slowly replied, “I….am….fine….thank….you.” She smiled, proud and embarrassed. I figured if she could try so could I so I said “Selam! De na na” To which she smiled and responded “Selam no, De na?” To which I replied “De na, Eskabier Masken!” We were both so proud we could have hugged each other. I went back to report my success to Danny and the girls. They all started laughing… Apparently the entire time I had address this woman in the masculine way…. I should have said “De na NESH”. This is the second time I have had the problem (which is seriously hilarious to all my Ethiopian friends….) Last year a parking lot attendant open the car door for me. I wanted to say “Thank you” (Amaseganalu) but instead I said “Odeshalu”, which is how you say “I love you” to a woman. I think I should get points for trying. (Stay tuned there will be many more language mistakes to come, but we anticipate more in the next few days so I will save this blog for the end…)

The other phenomenon I notice is that everybody “LOVES AMERICA!” We were in a store the other day (I know it sounds like all we do is eat and shop but we really are working…) and another customer (well actually he was just a guy drinking coffee there who did not work there, but was hanging out with his friend the shop owners) said “Are you from America?” When we confirmed he said “I LOVE AMERICA?” We asked if he had been there and he said “No, I just think it is very nice, because I LOVE white people!” Really? I asked him if he loved all white people to which he responded “Well just Americans, Canadians, British and Australians” Of course! They clearly are all great white people…It was such a bizarre encounter.

Even when we are driving in Danny’s taxi, we get constant shouts of “Hello!” What’s Up!” “How are you?” “I love America!” I have gotten a few winks and lots of smiles. Children chase after us saying “hello, how are you!” over and over again.

The other thing that happened was in a nail salon (seriously we do work!). They were playing Ethiopian music when we arrived. When we got in and settled the music stopped, it was silent and then we hear “Put your hands up in their air sometimes, singing AaaaaOoooo, baby let’s go…” Teo Cruz, we smiled and sang along a bit, so they played it again and the manager of the salon gave us a thumb’s up. We wondered how many times we would here “Dynamite” in the 15 minutes it took to get our nails done. No worries, next they played “I’ll spin you right round baby right round like a record baby right round right round” Sigh…..

Personally, I enjoy all of this. I think it is fun to try out language. I wish I had more to understand this American stereotype more. I wish I knew if they are trying to be kind and welcoming and could care less, but it is their culture, if they are just having fun or if they really care. I think a little of both.

Caio for now!




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