Every country has its quirks, but if you live there all the time you probably don’t realise what they are. All those slightly odd, definitely not run-of-the mill things just seem, well, normal to you. It’s only when you are new somewhere that you realise what the quirks of that country are – and I think you need to write them down quickly before they also become normal to you. So here is my list of some of the weird and wonderful, slightly odd, very strange and downright head-scratching things I have so far discovered in South Africa:
- The eggs are tiny
We have to buy JUMBO sized eggs to get the equivalent of a LARGE back home. What is this all about? Are the chickens here extra small? Do they have extra-tiny chicken bottoms (or wherever eggs come out of)? It’s a mystery to me.
2. Traffic lights are called ROBOTS
This is particularly confusing to me because in Jamaica Robots were the term used to describe the taxi-minibusses, the ones that would stop and pick up passengers waiting by the side of the road. Which brings me to number three odditiy which is….
3. The mad driving of the minibus taxis
I’ve been around some, I have lived, worked and travelled in quite a few countries and I have seen some driving. By that I mean I have seen plenty of dangerous, outrageous, too-fast, too-slow and macho driving. But here in South Africa what the mini-bus taxi drivers bring to the table is total randomness. You just never know what they are going to do – pull over to the right, to the left, stop in the middle of the road, overtake everyone waiting in a queue to turn and just turn in front of you all, cross a road when the lights (sorry, robots) are still in red….the other day, I stopped as one of these crazy drivers did a u-turn on a roundabout. I kid you not. I have decided the best way to deal with it is to realise they might literally do anything and treat them accordingly. I basically just stay as far away from them as possible most of the time…..Incidentally there are a LOT of traffic accidents in this country. I have no idea what percentage of them are caused by minibusses….
4. Shame and Just Now
Eveything here is a “shame”. I don’t think “shame” actually means “shame”. I think it is just a general word that gets used a lot, like “okay” or “really” or even “hmmmmm”. Similarily, Just Now doesn’t actually mean Just Now (eg right away) – I think it actually means “eventually” or “later” or at some point, but I am still not entirely sure. I have no idea when something will happen if someone says “now now”.
5. The whole paying by credit card thing and signing
When I pay by credit card sometimes I am asked to sign a piece of paper…..and sometimes I am not. And it seems totally random as to whether I will be asked to do so or not. I have been trying to work it out – is it just particular shops? Is it over a certain amount? Under a certain amount? Just for food? But so far I have drawn a blank. It just seems to be….random.
There appear to be dozens of languages here, all used simultaneously and all understood by everyone. Including the one that starts with a click (which really is a clever trick). My domestic helper seems to understand about 10 languages – and speak at least five of those pretty fluently. It is a total mystery to me as to how they know who speaks what and which language to address each other in. Being white, I get addressed in either English or Afrikaans and it is another mystery to me as to why sometimes I get one and sometimes the other. According to my English South African cousin, it is to do with how glam I look that day. The more make-up I am wearing, the more likely it is to be in Afrikaans. Which would explain why it is usually English…..
Now I can’t really complain about the availability of food in the shops here – compared to most other places I have lived it’s pretty good. Of course it’s different from home but not necessily worse. Some of the things you can buy here are amazing. Although of course there are quite a few things I miss so we are still going through that stage of trying to work out what to replace with what. But one thing that is puzzling me is the lack of chorizo. Well, you can buy it but it isn’t chorizo – it’s something closer to what we would call Polish Kielbasa, which is very nice but it isn’t chorizo. It’s an oddity because otherwise the availabilty of cold meats is pretty good here, and it’s a pain because a little bit of chorizo – with its beautiful strong flavours – can go a long way in a recipe. We use it in cooking quite a lot. I think I am going to have to get someone to smuggle some in for us.
We all know about tipping in the States. Basically if you don’t tip you are instantly viewed as some sort of mix of Cruella de Ville, Freddy Kreuger and the Wicked Witch of the West. In other words, tip – or be damned. At home in the UK it’s a little murkier – we do tend to tip in restaurants, but not if the service is bad. Sometimes we tip elsewhere: hairdressers, taxi drivers. Here though it’s even more confusing. On the whole it is not a tipping – or “baksheesh” – culture, which is refreshing. You tip if you think someone deserves or particularly needs it but I get confused looks when I give money to the people packing my bags in the supermarket or delivering my furniture. However the one exception is waiters and waitresses. Apparently many of them don’t get paid a wage. At all. So they live off tips – completely. Not like in the States where they are just underpaid and therefore rely on tips to make a better salary. Here, I am told, in many restaurants tips are ALL they get. Not good – so tipping and tipping well is very important (and the service is generally excellent).
9. The whole “housewives” thing
I previously wrote a post about how, living here, I often feel like I have been transported back 65 years to the 1950’s. My husband gets dressed for work and sets off every morning, the children go to school. I stay behind and tidy up the breakfast things. It can suck but sadly it is one of the realities of expat life for many non-working partners (male or female) so suck it does but you still have to suck it up. However, it doesn’t help when you go out shopping and see things like this on the shelves:
Housewives cheese powder? Enough said!
Now I know traditionally there are ten points in a post like this but I am still pondering on number 10. I haven’t been here that long and have yet to get out of the area around Pretoria so there could be lots more quirkiness in other parts of the country. So for now I’m leaving it at nine. However, if you live or have lived or travelled in South Africa I would love to hear from you. What would you add to my list?