Friday, May 25, 2012

Annoying things that foreigners do in Namibia that annoy me

Happy Africa Day! Today I've been missing Namibia and the amazing times that I had there, so I am putting up this post.

When I was in Namibia, I was a foreigner. I’m sure I committed all sorts of faux-pas and offended all sorts of people unconsciously. But so did a lot of other people. I’ve compiled a list of things that foreigners do that annoy me, as a foreigner, so undoubtedly they probably annoy Namibians even more.

Being vegetarian and moving to a meat-based desert country with very little agriculture and then complaining that Namibian food is no good.. Don’t read me wrong here. You can be a vegetarian. You can move to Namibia. You can wish that there were more vegetarian options in Namibia. But if you didn’t do your research on the country beforehand and are shocked that there aren’t veggie burgers being sold at every take-away stand...well, you should have done the research before moving there. And if you constantly complain to Namibians that their food is inferior, well, you’re an ass.

Spending all your time at home and then complaining that there is nothing to do in Windhoek. Actually, there’s plenty of cool and interesting things happening in Windhoek. You just have to look for it and be willing to try new things. If you find it boring, chances are it’s because you are a boring person.

Treating shebeens like a tourist attraction. This is someone’s hang-out spot. This are where guys like to get together after work and chill out. This is where girls want to grab a drink and catch up with their friends. They do not want to be confronted by a bunch of foreigners treating them like exotic zoo animals. I’m not saying don’t go to shebeens. Shebeens can be fun. But be sensitive, and treat other people the way you would want to be treated in a regular North American bar. Don’t covertly take photos of random people without their permission. Don’t stare. Don’t ask stupid racist questions. Also, don’t be shocked by the feeling that you stand out. As a foreigner in an all-black bar, you totally do stand out. What did you expect?
This is actually a really good guide on how to properly behave when you're in a bar where you stand out.

Treating churches like a tourist attraction. This is someone’s holy place. This is where Namibians go to be closer to God. Maybe you don’t believe in God, and you’re only there because you want to hear the choir sing because you hear the “Africans all sing really well.” Fine. Be respectful and remember that you’re in a place of worship. Don’t take photos while everyone is praying. Don’t take photos of the paster while he or she is preaching. Don’t record the church choir. In fact, why are you taking photos of the church service anyway?

Insisting that Afrikaners who have lived here for decades are not real Africans because they are white. I know there is a lot of political tension between black Namibians and white Namibians, but it is not in your place as a foreigner to consider white Namibians to be “not real Africans”. Some white Africans have been living in Africa for centuries, longer than Americans have been living in America. Most of the ethnic groups in Namibia, actually, have moved to Namibia from other parts of Africa over the centuries. To insist that white Namibians are not true Namibians because they are white and haven’t lived in Namibia forever would mean that I as an Asian Canadian am not a real Canadian – and let’s not go there.

Taking pictures of children without asking their permission (or their parents’ permission.) Think about it. You’re in Central Park in Manhattan. You notice some small kids playing on a playground. You inch up really near to them and start taking intrusive close up photos of them. Somebody is going to think that you’re really creepy. Why would you act differently in Namibia? It doesn’t hurt to ask permission to take someone’s photo first. Chances are they’ll be flattered anyway.

Calling things that are unusual and different from back home “uncivilized”. This especially applies, in my view, if you come from a former colonial power like England or Germany. The way things are run in Namibia may be different from what you’re used to, and you might see it as less efficient than the way you’d personally like to run it, but using a word like “uncivilized” betrays a lack of understanding of the former colonial history of Africa, and a terrible attitude on your part.

Refusing to hang out with anyone but other foreigners, and then complaining that Namibians are unfriendly. Actually, Namibians are people, just like anyone else. Some of them are friendly. Some of them are not. Chances are though, if your only interaction with them are at the checkout line at the grocery store or in taxis, you probably won’t develop a meaningful relationship with any Namibians. Also, if you constantly repeat the faux-pas in this list, they probably won’t find you very friendly either.

Remember, kids: it’s all about building bridges to their cultural iceberg. Although there aren’t a lot of icebergs in Namibia.