More quirky things I love about South Africa…

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about some of the “quirkier” aspects of South African life that I have grown to love. Or at least if not love then tolerate! As I said then, it is only when you are new to a country that you notice these things – so I thought I would get them down on paper the screen before the weird things became normal to me.

Anyway, having written one such post, I couldn’t help noticing more and more head-scratching things as I went about my daily life. That, combined with some of the suggestions I received in the comments section of my last post, has led me to decide I need to do a Quirky post part two. So here it is!


1. They wrap their trees in pink. Why? I have no idea! Obviously not ALL their trees, but at intervals around Pretoria you will find these pink wrapped trees, for no apparent reason. At first I thought it was an advert for a close-by boutique. But then I kept seeing more and more of them. I don’t recall seeing any in Cape Town or Johannesburg so perhaps it’s a Pretoria phenonemon. If anyone knows why they do this please let me know!


2. (As suggested by a reader) They employ people to stand at roadworks and wave red flags to slow people down. ALL DAY LONG. Boy do I feel sorry for these people. They must have the strongest arms in the world by the end of their shifts. But how boring must their job be! What goes through their heads? Do they count blue cars, white cars, cars with roof racks? Are they silently writing novels in their minds? I try and make myself feel better when I see these poor souls by thinking they are probably happy to have a job at all, and one they can do relatively easily. But all I feel is sympathy. Let’s just hope they are allowed to be rotated with some of the other roadwork people, like the ones that get to move the signs….

3. And in a similar vein – car guards! Men in high-viz jackets who hang around your cars and then hope you will pay them a few measly rand for “guarding” your car and then “helping” you to back out of a space (I am actually far more worried I am going to hit the car guards than hit another car when this happens). They also stand in the middle of the roads and desperately try and wave you down and get you to park in one of “their” spaces by the side of the road, even if you have no intention of parking any where at all at that particular point in time. Sometimes I feel like pulling in, parking, sitting in my car for a minute, giving them some change and then leaving just to make them happy.

4. Monkey-gland sauce. What is it? I have no idea and I have no intention of ever trying it! I am fairly sure it has never actually been near a monkey but there again….

5. And while we are on the subject of food, their obsession with bacon and banana on pizza. Actually it makes a lot of sense, after all, the sweet-salty combo can work very well: ham and pineapple, gammon and honey-glaze etc. But this one is totally new to us and somehow banana on a pizza? Hmmm, I am not sure – although my daughter tried it and seemed to like it…


6. Impala poop spitting. Okay, I actually had to Google this one – it was suggested by fellow-blogger Joburg Expat who wrote her own blog post about it when she was living here. I still can’t quite believe it’s actually a thing but yes apparently do put pellets of dried impala poo (or Kudo poo, hopefully not human poo!) in their mouths and then spit it. Ok, that’s quirky!

7. Shoeless children. This isn’t confined just to South Africa but must be a southern hemisphere thing as I have also seen this in Australia and New Zealand. Children walking around bare foot all over the place – shops, malls, outside on the pavement, restaurants…and I’m not talking about children who look like they can’t afford shoes – these are well-dressed children who look like they come from affluent backgrounds. I was once on an expat forum (made up mostly of expats in Europe) where most people were horrifed by this idea that children would walk around in a city barefoot – wouldn’t it be dirty? Germs! Bloody feet! Filth!!! But actually I quite like it, it is one of the things that epitomises the laidbackness of this part of the world. My oldest daughter is also getting quite into it and tries to sneak out of the house barefoot as often as possible – although I do draw the line at sending them to school shoeless!

8. Feta cheese. Another obsession which I don’t really understand. Now I quite like feta, especially in salads (actually what else do you do with it?). But I can’t understand why roughly half of their cheese sections in the supermarkets is made up of cartons, packs and containers of the stuff. Slimline feta, black pepper feta, herby feta, goats feta, good-old-plain-and-simple feta….If you like feta, this is certainly the place to come!


Yup, that’s ALL feta

9. Four-way stops. Driving here is relatively easy, but it’s still different. And one of the most different things is the four-way stops. Basically this is what we would call a crossroads but where none of the roads are main roads, all the roads are equal. And no roundabout. So no way of knowing who has a right of way. Which means you all stop and then someone eventually goes forward. If you reach the stop line before anyone else then  it’s usually obvious that you go first. But it doesn’t always work this way. Sometimes I find someone else is there first and yet they wait for me to arrive and wave me through. Are they just being polite? Is there a rule  I still don’t understand? Can they just see I am a crazed non-South African (I drive with Diplomatic plates) and therefore know the likelihood is I will get it wrong if they leave it to me? Who knows!

10. The weather. Mostly the weather here seems to be A1. Hot, sunny but dry – not humid like I was used to in the Caribbean. But then they have these strange thunderstorms – massively loud thunder, lots of lightning and then…. no rain! Or if it does rain it lasts about three minutes. And although the storms are huge they don’t really last very long either – usually around 30-45 minutes. All very polite really. We also recently had an enormous hailstorm – it managed to miss us in Pretoria but the huge hailstones caused huge damage in other parts of the region. And when I say huge I mean it – think golf-ball size. This is why we always keep our cars undercover.

11. Flour. Alright another strange thing to get worked up about but in every other country I have ever lived in there has been plain four and there has been self-raising flour (bar Pakistan where there was no self-raising anything). Here there is self-raising flour and then there is something called “cake flour”. What is this? Is it plain flour? Well it will have to be as I need it to bake with. So far my baking efforts have worked out okay, but I’m still not convinced. Once again, answers to this one in the comments section please!


12. And finally, another reader suggestion: hadedas. I had never heard of these birds before coming to South Africa. Now you can’t get through a day without hearing them. Basically they are like little miniature pterodactyl’s – squawking birds with long beaks that seem to argue at the top of their lungs outside our bedrooms every morning. They really are the loudest birds I have ever heard – the even put seagulls to shame. But they are also part of the “South African” experience and I have heard many homesick South Africans lamenting them as they talk about what they miss from home. Yeah, okay, they are quite unique in their own way. I just wish they would turn the volume down a bit!

So that’s it for now, 12 more quirky things about South Africa to add to my original list. But what have I missed? Go on, add your comments below 🙂

PS An update on chorizo from my last quirky post: I think someone from Woolworths was reading as suddenly proper, Spanish chorizo has appeared in their shops here. Huzzah!


29 thoughts on “More quirky things I love about South Africa…

  1. Hi Clara,

    Great post! Number 6 brought back fun memories. I have travelled to Africa quite a bit through my last job. One time I had the pleasure of travelling through South Africa with my husband, kids and my parents. I finally convinced my parents to travel along, which they were very hestitant about. They went on a walking safari and I stayed at the lodge with the children. They ended up doing a impala dropping contest. I missed out on it, but I could just imagine the looks on their faces when they found out what they had put in their mouths!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The pink trees are actually in quite a few places and are done for breast cancer awareness and in remembrance to the women that lost their lives to it. It goes with October and breast cancer awareness month but some just stay on.

    Our school in a very good Pretoria area has a barefoot policy for all kids up to grade 3. Apparently it helps with tactile development and is good for growing feet- but you will find my boys barefoot everywhere. By 10 my daughter may now wear flip flops to a shopping mall.

    We are having a very dry year this year. Usually one thunderstorm of 30 minutes pours down huge amounts of rain. I am missing the rain.

    As to the four ways stop – the first person is supposed to go first. And yes, generally people are a tad polite about these. Except taxis.

    Cake flour is plain flower indeed.

    Enjoy your time in our city -maybe we meet some day?


  3. I was actually thrilled to find self raising flour here as it hasn’t been available in any of the other countries I’ve lived in – what a treat! But the 4-way stops and ‘traffic circles’ drive me to distraction.

    Some places in the UK do (or used to do – perhaps health and safety poked their noses in?) COW PAT THROWING! But at least it’s not put in the mouth…

    Car guards I adore. And people packing my shopping. And filling my car up with petrol; wonderful!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Some thoughts from me about your observations of quirky South Africa

    – In the last few weeks I often carry extra (recycled) water bottles that I have frozen to give to the Car Guards. I also don’t have the heart to tell them that I have a rear-view camera and can see fine all by myself.

    – I have never tried monkey gland sauce but from what i have read it seems to be a barbecue sauce. .

    – We have been here 11 years now I often arrive at the shops with my son having no shoes on! We went to Monte Casino one evening and I had to buy him a pair of flip-flops! Yesterday we were at Wanderers watching cricket and one of the fathers arrived without shoes – neither of his kids had shoes on! I was horrified! One thing my Italian mother-in-law begged me several years ago, with tears in her eyes, she said never ever let your children go out without shoes! Oh well, I am sure she is turning in her grave.

    – With regard to the flour I remember when we arrived it was called Plain Flour and just a few years ago they changed it to Cake Wheat Flour. From what I remember there was legislation passed that regulated how flour was sold. It seems that Cake Wheat Flour is low in gluten and protein. I have found that at some delis you can get ’00’ flour which is much better for making pasta and pizza!

    – Sadly the spring weather has not brought us the beautiful highveld storms and rain this year due to the ‘el nino’ drought – this drought seems worse than the drought of 1992. On many days in October through to March in previous years the clouds build up until about 4ish then a wonderful refreshing storm and by early evening the sun is back. It has been hotter than I ever remember but at least it is not humid!

    – And lastly the dreaded screams of the hadeda!!! When we arrived the damn birds kept waking my very small baby! I still cant stand them. I love to photograph birds but I have never taken a single photo of one of the screeching, squawking birds! I saw on my Facebook Memories in 2010 on this day I posted ‘Christmas Savings Tip: Remember once cooked, roadkill hadedas taste almost like turkey to unsuspecting guests!’

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  5. Hahaha I loved this post as these little differences between countries are so interesting. I am South African currently living in Germany and when I first went to the supermarkets here I remember being distressed that it was so hard to find feta! I guess in SA we use it a lot in salads, on pizza, in pasta dishes etc. Also cottage cheese, which is not very common in Germany either. In SA there are shelves full of that too. Re the flag waving staff, I also always wondered how they could stand to do it, but I’ve seen them swapping shifts. I think maybe it’s the actual road workers themselves who have to do this so maybe it’s a nice break from digging, although it still looks super boring. Bacon and banana – sounds weird but tastes good (even on toast). Monkeygland sauce contains no monkeys don’t worry 😉 It’s pretty good on burgers. Not sure why the weird name. And flour took me a while to figure out in Germany too (I was looking for cake flour and had to try them all, the similar one here is called Dinkelmehl). Cake flour makes softer cakes than normal white flour and has less gluten. I think it is made from spelt wheat. Normal white flour is usually labeled bread flour in SA I think – has more gluten so is better to knead. 4 ways stops drive my Czech fiancé crazy too. Whoever gets there first should go, so maybe they recognise your car as foreign / diplomatic. I must check out your other post too 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I had a bacon and banana sandwich on holiday in Japan and it was an amazing combination! Number 2 we had in Brunei as well – a dangerous and very hot job. It’s funny how quickly these things become normal – by the time I left Brunei I was completely used to seeing tree branches sticking out of the windows of broken down cars!

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  7. Wrapped trees indicate a party or wedding! Monkey-gland sauce is tangy BBQ sauce – no monkeys involved! Traffic circles are easy – if you get there first, you go first, and then the next one to go is opposite, not immediately to the right. If they’re letting you go, they’ve spotted the dipo plates 🙂

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  8. I couldn’t help but smile at all your observations, Clara.Never thought we seem so weird! (The pink wrapping around the trees were for October’s breast cancer awareness campaign. But they’re still up in some places. You should see how long some election posters will stay up after next year’s municipal elections…)

    Liked by 1 person

      • I did, although not there long enough to really get to know it. However, the way I look at it, the distance is massive – going to CT is a bit like going to Madrid from London. So no wonder it is very different! I am not sure if we will make it to Durban while we are here but I have heard that is very different again. And in fact even Joburg seems different (eg big and scary) to me than itty bitty Pretoria….

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  9. the pink trees are for breast cancer awareness, i love the 4 way stops and wish people would use them the same way as they do in SA when the robots are out, I’d forgotten how noisy the ibis were, in fact birds in general seem to be louder in Sa than everywhere else in the world.
    Things that i found hard to get used to was the use of words for things
    Robots – lights
    circles – roundabouts
    takkies – trainers
    and many many more

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  10. You forgot the Afrikaans blokes dressed head to toe in khaki as just casual wear, shorts and button up short sleeve shirt. Sometimes even with a daring navy blue or brown panel on the chest. Although I did once see a black guy wearing a straw suit and hat, that does seem far less common.

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  11. I love this second installment too (especially since I got you to take up one of the quirks from my blog).

    Bacon and banana on pizza – so funny, I never even saw that but South AFricans are notorious for their pizza creativity.

    The stop signs – ha, you must not ever have driven in the U.S. It’s a very American thing, the four way stop. I spend half my life backed up from one each morning on the way to school. I was always amazed how well they functioned in South Africa when the robots were out – almost better than the normal operation. With taxi drivers always passing you and creating mayhem, the four way stops were always a bright spot on SA roads.

    Thanks for another entertaining look back at what I (mostly) miss about SA!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Wow some really quirky stuff there! I love the idea of Monkey Gland Sauce -what a wonderful name but I hope there are no monkeys in it.

    You are so lucky to have self raising flour although to be honest I have just given up on that and now just buy plain for everything. Is the cake flour just a finer grade for fine baking? I am also rather envious of your feta overload, I love feta! I can’t get my head round that pizza though.

    Spending some time in the UK has highlighted how odd things are here as well though, I guess there is oddness everywhere it just depends on your point of view and it all too soon becomes normal.

    Thanks for linking this to the #TravelAtHome.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m not actually sure what cake flour is to be honest! And I agree, the feta is basically great. I love reading the views of other nationalities as to what is odd in our own home country because it is all to easy to forget that what seems totally normal to you may seem very strange to an expat!!


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