Free refills.

To this day that is one of my all time favorite things about America.

Since Paula Jean, Charity, and Olivia all proposed posts with traveled-related themes I thought I would give you guys a few of my favorite snapshots from my “Coming to America” experience. (And I’ll keep the other great ideas in my back pocket for future posts.)

In retrospect I could give you a hundred rational sounding reasons why I wanted to study in the States, but the truth of the matter was I was 20, my mom had died two years earlier, and I was ready for a change of everything. And did I mention I was 20? At 20 you still think you’re invincible, that your fashion taste is outstanding and that friendship is forever.

I arrived on my birthday. Sight-unseen, I had blithely made the 24-hour trek alone to a small liberal arts college on the East Coast. There were flowers waiting for me in my dorm room. My father had sent love and blossoms and blessings for a fresh start and they were sitting in a vase on my new desk.


Almost as gorgeous as the joy of the free refill. In case I haven’t mentioned it before I am a devoted, 100% Coca-Cola fan. Remember the old “Pepsi Challenge” where idiots people who were blindfolded somehow lost the ability to distinguish the sweet, dark, bubbly beauty of a rich Coke that fizzes at the tip of the nose from the annoyingly cloying taste of Pepsi?

I would smash that challenge.

So, when I discovered that along with Levi jeans, candy corn, Costco, pepperoni pizza, and snow, the States was a land of free refills I was hooked.

Despite the questions.

Yup, as the only freshman student with an unfamiliar accent I got a lot of questions. Here, for your reading pleasure, are a few of my favorites. I promise they are true. Because I don’t think I could make this stuff up even if I tried.

Now, please bear in mind that the year I entered college – 1994 – was the same year that South Africa had its first free elections. The year that Nelson Mandela, having been jailed for 27 years, emerged to be elected our President in an historic, non violent election victory. The whole world was watching South Africa.

Well, the whole world except for my incoming classmates.

  • South Africa – what country is that in?
  • You’re from South Africa? No, way, that’s like totally rad! I met this girl once from Egypt, her name’s Layla. Do you know her?
  • Dude, you’re from South Africa! So, like how far do you have to go before you see lions?
  • You’re South African – have you ever ridden an elephant?
  • Ok, now check this out. This is a seat belt, it works like this….
  • Wow, your English is really good.

But as much as I might tease about the questions I got asked, I am dead serious when I say that Americans are some of the most welcoming, interested, curious and hospitable folks I have met. Any strange questions I was asked were generally a reflection of an endearing desire to know more and understand better.

And after a few months the girls who to this day are still some of my most precious friends got pretty good at answering a lot of the question on my behalf.

  • South Africa is a country. It’s at the Southern most tip of Africa. Ever heard of Cape Town? Yup, that’s a huge port city in South Africa and is along the route that many traders used for years while traveling between the UK and the East Indies. Dutch and British colonizers landed there. I am descended from them. My mom’s family is Dutch and my dad’s is British. But we all just consider ourselves South African these days.
  • While I have been to Egypt, the two are very far apart. Very, very far. I once guestimated how far. But according to Wikipedia the distance from Cape Town to Cairo is 12,000kms (7,456 miles) and covers 10 countries.
  • There are no lions wandering around my parents’ backyard. We hail from the Capitol city of Pretoria. It’s a bustling place with a great deal of suburban sprawl. Other than in the zoo, there’s nary a lion in sight. Now, the view from my cousin’s house would be a different matter. But, he’s a professional game ranger living on a game farm, so if he wakes up to lions it might be a tad unsettling but at least not unexpected.
  • I have never ridden an elephant. Although my son, Jackson has — while we were living in Michigan. When the circus came to town.
  • I’m familiar with seatbelts, thanks. They had them on the plane I flew over on so I got a crash course.
  • English is one of the 11 national languages in South Africa. And it’s the most commonly spoken of the group. Also, my mom was an English teacher, so I better be good at it. It’s my Russian, Afrikaans, German and Dutch that are a little rusty.

But, I can tell you in all 5 of them how much I heart free refills.