Then there was Sphe, a fourteen-year old boy who did not understand why I did not own a Lamborghini.
Finally, there was every other kid in the neighborhood, all of whom were convinced that I had lunch dates with famous musicians on a regular basis. I was American. For them, that meant I was part of a rich, beautiful, musical society.
First there was a girl who said that the worst thing about America was school shootings.
Then there was a boy who thought murder was the worst thing about America.
Finally, there was an entire class that believed in the Illuminati. They were South African. For them, even in the shadows of the glorified American celebrity life, negative aspects of American culture still managed to expose themselves.
The students at Addington Primary School in Durban, South Africa seemed to spend every moment of their free time (and even their time when they were supposed to be working in class) asking me questions about America. Practically every question was music related—had I met Chris Brown? Was my favorite musician Nicki Minaj? Did I think Ke$ha was a member of the Illuminati? It was no surprise to me, then, that this intense interest in American music affected their interpretation of American culture. They translated music lyrics and images in music videos as they would a language; but this language was not universal. That is, not everyone translated it in the same way.
The same phenomenon occurred when I asked about the best aspects of American culture: through their translation of American music, they understood the whole of America as being as rich as Rick Ross and as beautiful as Beyonce. Despite my attempts to re-translate the musical language for them, my own cultural context got in the way. My translation, to them, was inaccurate.