Soak it in while you can for soon it will all be mundane

So nine months into our time here in South Africa and something occurred to me today. As I was taking our now pretty lively puppy Cooper for a walk, a flock of startled mousebirds flew out of a tree. I love mousebirds, they have cute tails and make a funny noise and I was reminiscing about our observations of these birds when we first arrived in Pretoria. It was nostalgic. Ahh, the early days, I thought. I miss them.

And then I realised that so much time has now passed since our arrival that things aren’t new or exciting any more. Life has basically returned to being mundane.

It isn’t really of course – see my recent post about a holiday in Mauritius. Plus how could life POSSIBLY be mundane with a four month old Miniature Schnauzer in the house whose main mission in life is to steal our laundry.


But what has happened is that I have been through the expat cycle to the point where life here has become normal. It is hectic, a constant round of swimming and horseriding and sleepovers and play-dates. When I am not working or writing blogs I am booking flights, hotels and car hire (there is a LOT of that here), running to the shops, trying to top up my phone AGAIN, chasing some workman or another, attempting to register to vote in the UK elections, taking the dog to the vet, filling out a school form….you get the idea, it’s a normal, busy family life. That happens to be in South Africa now and not a town in the west of England.

So how does this make me feel? In a way a little sad as I loved the early days when every bird was interesting, seeing the zebras on the way to horseriding was something to put on Facebook. Eating out was always a treat, discovering new coffee shops and trying new wines was something that made me happy. It still does, but these things happen less often and aren’t quite so unique. As I am sure happens with everyone, eventually your new expat life returns to some form of normality and in my case seems even busier than it used to be (possibly thanks to the addition of lively puppy).

My message thus to new expats is to enjoy it, soak it up, because before long it won’t seem special or new or exciting any more. But with a word of caution – just like those annoying people who tell you to enjoy every second of your new baby because before you know it they will be all grown up, this advice probably isn’t terribly welcome if you are struggling in your new home. So to these people I would say just wait, get through this bit, perhaps try and find something interesting or new or even just different as often as you can and make a note of it. It may not mean much now, it might not bring any light into your life. But when you are ready it or they will be there waiting.

Just like my mousebirds in the tree.

My Expat Family

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!


Some of the Quirky things I “love” about South Africa

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:

  1. 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….


Minibus taxis in Johannesburg

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.

6. Languages

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…..


It’ll be an Afrikaans day today then…..

7. Chorizo

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.

8. Tipping

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?

Photo credits: Joburg minibus:  Undone; Made up woman Dave Goehring