I’ve lived in South Africa for three years now, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that while I love it here, I’ll never fully understand this place. Without further ado, here are 24 weird things about South Africa… writes Canadian expat, living in SA, Phil Maloney.
1. Bunny chows:
There are no bunnies involved. Like, at all.
2. The ubiquitous “car guards”:
You’re expected to pay them a tip for their uncanny ability to stand DIRECTLY in your blind spot, waving you right into the car behind you as you back out. Legend has it that they also prevent people from breaking into your car, but as far as I know, that’s about as likely as finding a fish eagle up your backside. Still, they’ll always give you a giant smile, and that alone is worth the price of admission.
South Africans invented the heart transplant and the electric car, yet they can’t come up with a way to wrap Fizzers in such a way that ALL the paper comes off before you eat it. Hands up, all you Saffas who have given up and just chowed the last little bit of paper along with the candy.
Screw it. I’m eating it.
4. Catching colds:
The widespread belief in SA that you absolutely will catch your death of a cold from an air conditioner. Science be darned.
5. The vuvuzela:
The world needed to know what the most ungodly sound imaginable was. Now they know.
Robots are called robots in South Africa. Also, traffic lights are called robots, and there’s no good explanation for it.
In most countries, you get to vote for one of a few political parties in the national election. In South Africa, there were 48 parties on the last ballot sheet (2019). Because why not?
8. Men in hot pants:
Countless men strut around in little hot pants completely unironically. It’s jarring at first. And to be honest, 3 years later, it’s still jarring.
I had to see it. And now you do too.
9. Boerewors rolls:
Boerewors rolls aren’t that strange as a concept. But I’ve seen boerewors rolls for sale at 7am at a sporting event and also as the ONLY food on offer at a massive concert at FNB Stadium. Saffas, have a word with yourselves. You’re obsessed.
Riots don’t exist in South Africa, apparently. They call them “protests” here. Listen, South Africa- if people are burning everything in sight and throwing rocks and bricks at any vehicle that dares to come within striking distance, it’s a riot. Finish and klaar.
KFC EVERYWHERE!!!! And in case you’ve completely hit rock bottom and have given up all your dignity, they even deliver. To your house.
Guy who invented the rusk, probably: “Ok everybody, hear me out here. You know how bread is awesome? And you know how toast is also kinda neat? Well, what if we had something LIKE toast, but so much worse, because it’s super duper stale and absolutely inedible.”
South Africans: “Sharp. We like it.”
13. Glass of Wine:
A glass of wine at a restaurant is about half the bottle. OK, this isn’t so much weird as it is awesome, but still – if you’re not ready for it, it’s a bit shocking.
There are no rules. Welcome to the Thunderdome.
15. Brandy and Braai:
Try to host a braai and NOT have your Saffa guests show up with a cooler box full of brandy and Coke. Just try. I dare you.
If you want to wash your hands, you often get to choose whether to freeze them or scald them. If only mixer taps were invented more than 100 years ago, and…oh, right. They’ve been around since 1880. Just not in South Africa.
You can either not wash any germs off your hands, or burn off all your skin. Your choice.
Just… cricket. I swear they make it up as they go along.
18. Just Now:
You guys are sneaky with your “now,” “just now,” and “now now.” I’ve found out the hard way (over and over again) that they ALL mean “I’ll get around to it when I feel like it. Or not at all.”
The word ag “shame” is meant in a good way. Or a bad way. Sometimes both in the same sentence.
20. White Cars:
You can get a vehicle in any colour in South Africa. As long as it’s white. (OK, other colours DO exist here, but not many people choose them)
Kids who are obviously from well-off families and are otherwise loved, running around barefoot. Don’t feel the need to donate money to buy them shoes. They have shoes. They just like the “homeless chic” look.
22. Electrical Outlets:
No matter how big the room is, there will be only one electrical outlet in it, leading to goat rodeos..
How every single house in South Africa hasn’t burned to the ground is beyond me.
For the entire month of December, the whole country just… shuts down. Don’t plan to get anything done until January.
24. Personal space:
Personal space isn’t a thing. It’s normal to feel someone’s breath on your ear when you’re in a queue at the grocery store. (I’ve found you can keep them at bay, though, by turning around and standing backwards. It usually gives you a few extra cm of wiggle room).
What did I miss? Let me know in the comments.
By Phil Maloney