What Is Your Single Story?
A few weeks ago, I watched a fantastic talk by Chimamanda Adichie about "The Danger of A Single Story". The talk is a year old, but the message is ageless. It made me think about what my stories of "single stories" are. I have a few, actually, here is one that particularly struck me.
When I left for the US in 1987, I was hosted in an American family for a night. My English at the time was rather bad, not to say inexistant, and I struggled trying to understand what was going on around me. The family had taken me and another girl, K., to host us for the night, while waiting for the schoolbus to come and get us in Albuquerque. It was a family of 4, with two daughters, one our age (I was 15, K. was 16 or 17 at the time and I think the daughter was 16). K. was from Bulgaria. I was, obviously, from France. The 16-year old daughter was somehow studying Eastern Europe (or had a strong interest in it) and was thrilled at the idea of having a Bulgarian (remember, this is 1987) in her house. She didn't seem to give a damn about France, which was great, because she kept on asking K. questions about her country, and left me alone. Given that we both had been travelling around 18 hours, and my English being what it was, I could only feel for K. who was being bombarded with questions about Eastern Europe. Anyway. In the course of the conversation, the girl turned to me and asked me "Is there electricity in France". I had to rub my eyes (red from lack of sleep) and make sure I had understood the question before I could answer a feeble... "yes". No words to argue, the question was so out of line from someone who had been debating the whys and whens and hows of Eastern Europe, that I was just left completely dumbstruck by the enormity of it. Off we went to sleep. The day after, the daughter took us to a Safeway (one of those big American supermarkets). I still remember K.'s wide open eyes who was, it seems, rather amazed at the display of so much "stuff" in one place. The American girl turned to me with a smug smile and asked "Do you have that in France?". I mastered the best English I could and answered "Bigger ones".
This girl had a single story. She was studying Eastern Europe and for her, Europe was that. The rest of Europe may have been a Middle-Age kind of place, without electricity or supermarkets. She didn't know. I wasn't at all knowledgeable on Eastern Europe (but kind of had an idea), and was amazed at the hundreds of questions she asked K. because I couldn't have asked such questions. But those she asked me were just... weird, she had no perspective.
It is interesting so many years after to be able to frame what was one of my first culture shocks ever. I can only urge you to watch the video. It's fun, and it's so true. And I'm curious, what is Your single story?