One of the coolest—and hardest—parts of my trip was experiencing a different culture. I’ve lived in Europe, so I know what culture shock is like, but I have to say that South Africa is far more different from America than Germany is. Sure, they speak English (which really was a huge blessing), but it’s a whole different world. Here are ten differences, big and small and in no particular order, that stood out to me.
10 Ways South Africa is Different From America
1. They have a British accent.
So it’s not a pure British accent, but it’s way closer to British than it is to American. I loved listening to it. It was also pretty strange to be the one with the accent. I’d open my mouth, and people would look at me funny and say, “You sound like you’re from America.”
There’s a reason for that.
2. They drive on the left side of the road.
This reveals my embarrassing lack of research, but I was not expecting this. I could not for the life of me figure out which side my seat buckle was on, and I kept freaking out when we turned onto the left side of the road. Actually, the driving there in general was freaky. Everybody is a bad driver, and I won’t even go into the terrors called taxis. Let’s just say if they got fined for running red lights, they’d be bankrupt in a day.
3. Everything is gated.
Because the level of crime is so much higher there, everything—homes, stores, you name it—is gated. The sight adds to the atmosphere of fear there. No one walks too close to each other, everyone’s clasping their purses tightly, and when you ask someone anything about themselves, they get a wary expression and answer guardedly. It’d be an obvious lie to say America’s anywhere close to crime-free, but I know I at least take for granted how safe I feel in day to day life. If I avoid sketchy parts of town, I can into any store and not even think about getting stolen from or hurt in any way. But in South Africa, threats of theft and danger are a fact of life.
4. Whites are the minority.
I have to admit, this was strange. It was also really, really good for me to be in the minority. And honestly, after a few days it didn’t feel that abnormal anymore. But it was eye-opening to live in a place where I was by far in the racial minority and to realize that that’s perfectly okay. I loved the racial diversity of South Africa. I’m realistic enough to realize it causes a lot tension and trouble, but it’s also a beautiful thing everyone should experience.
5. They have no insulation or central heating.
Yeeeeah. And we happened to go during their winter. It’s not like their winters are all that bad—it was sixty-ish degrees Fahrenheit during the day while we were there—but there’s nowhere you can get warm. It’s nice in the sun during the day, but the minute the sun sets, it’s freezing again. And I mean freezing: At night, it gets in the low thirties. Fortunately, the missionaries gave us a space heater and tons of blankets, so we got through those chilly nights just fine.
6. Apple sauce is baby food.
No kidding, this was one of the first questions South African teens asked us: Do you guys really eat apple sauce? Some Americans had visited them a few years ago and wanted some apple sauce. And apparently, apple sauce is baby-only food for South Africans, like those mushy carrots and peas in glass jars in American stores. They thought it was hilarious that adults in America still eat it.
They also thought our obsession with pumpkins was strange (I wasn’t aware we had one, but they couldn’t believe we ate pumpkin pie and cookies and carved pumpkins for fun).
7. Robots = stoplights
And jelly is jello and jam is jelly and flat phones are dead phones and serviettes are napkins and pacifiers are dummies and chips are fries and biscuits are cookies and buggies are shopping carts. Et cetera.
8. People clean your car while you shop at the mall.
Because poverty is so rampant, they create jobs wherever they can. You pay people to watch the parking lot so people won’t steal your car. You pay people to walk your shopping cart—excuse me, buggy—to the car and then someone else to load the groceries into your car. And when you’re in the parking garage about to go shopping, people ask you if they can wash your car while you’re at the mall.
9. They have eleven national languages.
Okay, but this is so cool. Here they are (thank you, Wikipedia): Afrikaans (basically African Dutch), English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Sotho, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa, and Zulu. Most South Africans can speak more than one language, which is so impressive. Traveling always makes me wish English wasn’t my first language, because then I’d have to learn it in addition to my native language. If your first language is English, it’s so hard to learn another one fluently because you usually don’t really need to.
10. They are good at dancing.
I’m not saying Americans aren’t good at dancing, but everybody there—well, blacks primarily but they’re the majority, so—has amazing rhythm and moves. As I’m stiffly trying to shift from side to side, they’re shaking their hips and clapping and stomping their feet and just … moving in such a cool, graceful way. Ugh, it makes me so jealous. It was amazing to watch, and I love the energy and spirit they put into singing.