Travelling to a new country, all of us were forced to change some of our “American” habits and adapt to a new city and culture. Below are some random musings, lessons learned, and uniquely Cape Town or African “things’
1. 6/28/2012 isn’t a real date. 28/06/2012 is the 28th of June.
a. When I went to the doctor’s office in early June, I wrote my date of birth down as 04/03/1992 and when the nurse confirmed my birth date, she said “March 4th 1992.” I laughed at my mistake and if she hadn’t known before, I’m sure she knew then that I was American.
2. Look left before right when crossing the road
a. In South Africa, as most other countries, vehicles drive on the left (a traffic pattern that doesn’t necessarily apply to pedestrians as well). So when you cross the road instead of looking right, then left, as you would in America, it is in your best interest to look left first. We all made this mistake a few times but luckily no one got hit by any moving vehicles.
3. Get into a van on the left side
a. Just as the driving pattern is reversed here, so is the drivers seat in the front of the car. Rather than sitting on the left side of the car, the driver sits on the right side of the car. So for the buses that we took on tours and to work, the door for the passengers is on the left side of the vehicle. Therefore, if, by chance, you’re sprinting to the van on a Friday afternoon leaving work in the pouring rain, go to the left side of the van. If not, prepared to get teased by your driver. (Shout out to Wayne who only giggled under his breath after witnessing this mix up more than a few times)
4. Divide all prices by eight.
a. The exchange rate right now is about 8.3 Rand to 1 USD. So that 63 Rand Large Bacon Supreme pizza from St. Elmo’s Pizzeria comes in at less than 8 dollars. Nice.
5. Order more food than what would be acceptable in America.
a. Sure, you’re a public health major, and ordering more than one pizza might warrant some stares from strangers and could even shave a few days off your life, but that “large” pizza from St. Elmo’s is only 30 centimeters in diameter. Plus, the whole “Chicago deep dish” concept is nonexistent here. So do your stomach a favor and just buy two pizzas. I guarantee the transfat content is those two pizzas is less than a steak egg and cheese with a hash brown from UniMini.
6. Remember to weigh produce at Pick N Pay
a. At Pick N Pay, the local supermarket, there are employees whose sole responsibility is to bag your produce in those clear bags, weigh the produce, and tag the bag with a sticker denoting the price. Waiting in line to weigh your produce is a little annoying, but kudos to Pick N Pay for creating jobs in a country with a 25% unemployment rate. (And just an FYI to all the Jersey drivers- they have gas station attendants to pump your gas too)
7. Get used to the metric system
a. As an avid American, I too resist the metric system. I’m used to inches, feet, and pounds. But I’ve learned that even though the entire world speaks English (exaggeration), they don’t use the United States customary units and instead use the more straightforward metric system. I’m not really sure what 250 grams of fish and chips looks like (instead of a small, medium, large, restaurants label sizes in grams of food), but I do know that 13 degrees Celsius is jacket weather and 20 degrees Celsius means I can run outside in a t shirt and shorts.
8. You can survive off instant coffee
a. In a country with a Starbucks at every corner, Americans have been spoiled with easily accessible filter coffee. (Filter coffee= typical coffee from a coffee machine made with coffee beans. Confession: I didn’t know that either). Filter coffee in Africa is not as available as it is in America. For instance, at the dorm cafeteria, there was only instant coffee. This applied to my internship as well. Somehow, I was able to fully function throughout the school or work day on instant coffee. It may not be the tastiest coffee, but it still does the trick.
9. Don’t worry if you’re running late
a. “South African time” = 15 minutes later than the actual time given. Even though this doesn’t apply to every circumstance, such as class with our Canadian professor, it is somewhat acceptable to arrive “fashionably late.” Several students in our group had no problem adapting to the new time schedule.
10. When spoken by a South African, “Is it?” isn’t a question
a. So instead of continuing to talk about whatever warranted the question/ statement, just smile and nod. I’m not really sure what “is it?” means, but the smile and nod reaction seemed to work for me. From what I have experienced, “is it?” is similar to “oh, really?” Again, I’m not sure, but just know when someone is saying “is it?” they aren’t asking you to justify a statement or go in depth with an answer. This whole comment/ question phrase caught me off guard, but may not have been the case for the other Americans.