South Africa in Two Weeks
Our trip was mostly in the presence of Canadian expats, so whether we got a full "South African experience" remains to be seen. However, we were able to meet locals who frequent Paolo's restaurant, Paolo himself being mostly South African (with a Portuguese twist, or maybe that's reversed) and we got to help the Salvation Army with the locals who have had the hardest of breaks. With that, we did see some variety in cultural differences than our own.
The biggest to be seen is White South Africa vs. Black South Africa. Apartheid was not so long ago surprisingly (12 years only!) and the scars and resentments and cultural norms are still present in a variety of ways. Not until I got to Mozambique did I finally encounter the stereotypical White ZA who claims not to be racist, and then casually in the same sentence expresses how all Blacks are a worthless subspecies. Coming from a very White Guilt society that is America and being without race discrimination (arguably) for over 60 years, my eyes almost popped out of my head. You hear about these types of people, but it never prepares you when you finally face one. And I believe it's still a different kind of racism than you hear coming from old Grandma Josephine in the dirty South. Nucking Futs.
Another which was heavily discussed during our stay was the "worry about today, today and tomorrow, tomorrow" mentality. I'm still wondering if this is strictly Black ZA or both, but it seems the Whites and Blacks have been brought up slightly differently for many generations beyond apartheid, that it could be restricted to the Blacks whose roots are in traditional mentality instead of European ties from colonialization. This mentality can certainly be a good one if used properly and one I think many western civilizations would benefit from incorporating more of it into their lives, but it seems to be mostly a hinderance here in ZA. A person will make some money that day and they spend it that day, and never ever ever do they think about saving or preparing for something in the future to happen... EVER. Oftentimes, too, if one person in the family makes the money and they have ANY leftover (because, Hey bread was on sale this week!) then they are expected to hand it over to other family members so THEY can spend it that day.
A minor cultural difference is the view they have on different work or jobs. I was a little prepared for this, or at least reminded of it, from reading a book I'm currently on in my kindle called "Half a Rising Sun" where people are expected to have "houseboys" or "houseladies" depending on your sex. In ZA, both Paolo and our expat friends Arlene and Martin have a houselady a few times a week to take care of everything from cleaning, laundry, cooking, and sometimes maintenance. It's quite frowned upon to NOT have a houselady if you were to move here because it's a highly respected job to have and you would be viewed as very elitist.
We didn't get to know Paolo's lady very well, but had fun hearing stories from him about her giving him shit all the time and talking back to his girlfriend Rebecca, leaving adorably polite Rebecca flustered. We did get to see Ar's and Marty's lady Fortunate often and really loved her company while she putzed around the house and also had a habit of giving Arlene shit - usually over her attire or vulgarity.
While Jake and I weren't so dumb and out of the loop as to the development of ZA, I'm sure the level of "city life" we encountered was still a shock to the both of us. I defintely knew to expect skyscrapers and sidewalks, but for some reason I still didn't have it straight in my head as to how it would be laid out or the thoroughness of the infrastructure.
What we got turned out to remind us quite heavily of Hawaii (I guess Oahu specifically since that was the only island we were on). Not just the city part, but the weather and atmosphere was fairly similar to a Hawaiian winter as well. That was probably more of the reality check for me, was I had no idea what type of environment South Africa was in. I knew the Congo was dense jungle-forest, and everyone can picture the desert, and of course there's the National Geographic land of Serengheti, but what WAS South Africa? It was by the ocean, sure, but so was Morocco and we saw what that looked like... So yeah, Hawaii-ish
1. A plastic grocery bag is called a "pocket" and when I was first asked if I wanted one, had to think for a second before she pointed at it. They also charge for them like Europe which is nice.
2. They drive on the left like their kooky Euro colonizers.
3. When there is one lane (even two sometimes), slow cars drive almost completely on the shoulder for people to pass them.
4. They farm trees. On our long distance drives, we'd see forest after forest that was tall skinny trees lined up like you see the mangroves in central Cali.
5. Their word for "cool" or "awesome" is lekker.
6. The native tribe/language in the area is Zulu, which, yes, is one of the clicky languages.
We didn't come across too many foreigners except one other American at Paolo's restaurant who was studying Culinary Arts. He had a brother (or cousin?) who lived in ZA for some time though, and he seemed to have travelled here and there a bit. We liked him a lot. Some political/cultural/religious conversation was going on between some of us (the American, Jake and I, and one of our favorite locals Nikki) and the table next to us which was a quite annoying hippyish woman native to ZA (white) and the American had a lot of good input and certainly didn't come off arrogant as most do, so that was good.
Otherwise, I'm sure our expat friends and their collegues coould be considered travelers though maybe not so tourist, and we enjoyed their company a great great deal. The foreigners that are abundant here, now "naturalized," are Indians (who were used for slavery back in the day) and obviously the Dutch, where the Afrikaans language derives from and how ZA was colonized to begin with. Besides that, it's hard to think of many people wanting to come to ZA unless they know a thing or two about the world, and for the most part, that tends to make people pretty cool.
RATING: 9.5/10 South Africa is awesome and I think it will only get better with time.
But I definitely loved the environment, the atmosphere, and I love hearing South Africans speak because it's one of my favorite accents (though many White ZAs sound straight Australian to me). All the locals we hung out with were fun and funny and our couchsurfing host Paolo was amazing in about a million different ways. Definitely someone I'm sad I can't hang out with every day and be apart of my regular circle of friends. But that's what traveling is all about, right? It's nice meeting people that "fit" you rather than a slew of coworkers and area-location friends in your 5 mile radius from home.
But really, I felt so comfortable here, so much more than northern Africa, though I must say, less "safe" since in N.Africa tourism is so needed, the police and shop-keepers and various locals really look out for your well-being. Here, we stand out and nobody cares if we have a good or bad time in the process because fuck-all. However, I think my spunky personality, tattoos and shaved head tends to confuse and amuse people enough that they don't remember to hassel us or no longer care to because they enjoy us. I'm hoping that gets us all the way to Ethiopia unscathed...