Cultural Influences

When I lived in Zimbabwe from 2006-2008, I tried to learn as much about the Shona culture and language as possible. I was fortunate enough to live and work in an environment that provided little interaction with other westerners, so I quickly picked up enough of the language to carry out basic conversations. What I found fascinating was the existence of Shonglish (a mixture of English and Shona words) and the ways in which it was used.

The influence of Western culture (whether from the U.S., U.K. or even South Africa) on Zimbabweans was obvious, particularly among youth and people living in the larger urban centres. In many ways, it’s as though a new culture was being created with a new set of social and cultural values. While the Zimbabwean government controlled most forms of mass media in the country, and used these channels to communicate their anti-Western rhetoric, the people’s use of Shonglish and their eager engagement with Western media highlighted both interest and adoption of Western influences.

It was also interesting to observe how some aspects of Western culture created tension. While most of my movies and TV shows were eagerly borrowed by neighbours and colleagues, some were returned secretly and never discussed, such as The Last King of Scotland and The Interpreter, with the latter movie actually banned in the country.

On a more humorous note, I also remember being in a small, rowdy cinema that was showing a movie (can’t remember which one) that involved a kidnapping with a ransom of $3 million dollars. While the scene was meant to be dramatic (and would have been in North America), we were experiencing hyperinflation at the time and the government kept printing new denominations of currency, so each person in the cinema had paid nearly $200 million dollars in local currency just to watch the movie. Instead of being shocked, the audience just erupted in laughter.

 

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