While we do have a few new things to report since the last post, this post focuses on some observable differences between our life last week and our new one here in South Africa.
Much of life in Pretoria is similar to life in Chicago: there are cars, malls, restaurants, sports teams, etc. And we don’t need proficiency in a second (or tenth or eleventh) language to get by, as English is the language of business, by and large.
However, as you can imagine, there are many differences. Here are just a few that we’ve observed thus far:
- Monkey burgers. Yep, we did a double take, too, when we saw monkey burgers on the menu of a café in the mall today. You’ll be happy to know that it’s not monkey meat, it’s just a burger served with monkey gland sauce…WHAT? What the heck is monkey gland sauce? Our Zimbabwean waitress had a lot of fun with us on this until she came clean and described the sauce as a mix of vinegar, garlic, pickles and various other, sans-simian ingredients. Whew. Not too tasty, but, whew.
- Pedestrians are not people; they are obstacles, annoyances. Since we don’t have a car here yet, we’ve been walking around a bit to get to know the neighborhood and to visit shops to buy the things we need to get up and running. It’s a bit like Frogger out there. First off, we’re not yet used to traffic coming from the opposite direction (cars drive on the left, a la the UK), so we’re at a disadvantage from the start. Second, the walk signals at major traffic lights (“robots” in South African parlance) begin to change within 5 seconds, so even when you have the light you still need to be vigilant. It seems to be very much a driving culture, at least for some, which brings up the next difference…
- White people don’t really walk places. It’s early, yes, and we’re only experiencing one city so far, but it’s been confirmed by locals that most whites tend to drive from place to place rather than walk. The same appears to be true for middle class blacks, but there’s definitely a noticeable discrepancy on the sidewalks (where there are sidewalks).
- Dogs don’t really walk places. We walked Indie to a little strip mall with a grocery store and I waited outside with her while Jenny went in. Maybe it was the fact that I was completely comfortable in a t-shirt in the South African winter (sunny & 70F), but Indie and I got some odd looks from folks entering and exiting the store. Actually, I think it’s that many dogs are kept for security. Which means it’s time to discuss the fact that…
- The Security Industrial Complex is everywhere. Safety is a concern here. Not to the point that one can never venture out, but one’s spider senses must always be tingling. At home, that means high fences, gates, alarm systems, guards, security villages, mean dogs, mothers-in-law (just checking if you’re reading, Sharon), etc. It’s a bit unnerving at first, but it must seem normal to locals. At stores and malls, you’ll often find parking attendants, men (both black and white) paid to watch cars and direct traffic. It’s customary to give these guys a small tip when you return to your vehicle.
- Need groceries? Go to the mall. The closest major shopping center right now is the Brooklyn Mall, about 5 blocks south. At first glance, it seems to be like any mecca of consumerism, but look closer and see that it also offers a couple kinds of convenience stores, pharmacies and grocery stores, including the once-familiar Woolworths, which is a good choice for produce, actually.
- Vegetarian = chicken on the bone. It’s often difficult to explain why we don’t eat much meat besides fish, especially in parts of the world where meat can be considered a luxury. Our attempts thus far have been hit and miss with the guest house staff. The food has been delicious and prepared with great care, but we have had chicken a couple of times now (not Jenny, but me) and even had fried chicken wings for breakfast this morning. We are curious creatures, I am sure.
Online boners. Again, just checking if our moms are reading. This one comes from an attempt to register our new cell phone numbers on the Vodacom website. Check out the image here to see the random verification word that “popped up.”
That’s all for now. I’m sure we’ll encounter other differences as we go along, but many things will probably begin to seem normal to us. We’ll try to keep a critical eye.