When Chas and I moved from Boulder to Boston in 2009, I said to him on the airplane:
“So you know, I’m going to have a hard time at some point. We’ll be going along fine, and in a couple of weeks, I’m going to start crying. Probably about something really small, and probably in public. Here’s your heads up.”
I get a little turned around and surprise myself with how well I’m thriving. I’m in a new place, and I say to myself, “I’m THRIVING here!” and then get smacked in the face with the reality of adjusting and the little things that are out of my control. Then, I lose it (just a little bit).
With that being said, it has been a really lovely not to have experienced much culture shock in the traditional sense since moving to Cape Town. Some things have certainly been difficult, and all kinds of things have surprised us. And I’m not sure it’s entirely fair, since we came so recently from Boston–where, to be honest, I probably had more culture shock moving there than here.
We’re still very new here, but here are a few things that remind us we’re foreigners:
Seemingly, no one walks up or down these things. Maybe it’s because we’re coming from Boston, where it’s pretty natural to be shoving people out of the way to go up or down, or huffing and puffing when someone–how dare they!–stands on the left side of the escalator? But, getting on an escalator here and standing still feels strange.
Is so cheap! And in some places, it’s a free-for-all. Just find a spot, dude. Someone will take some money from you, or they won’t, but just pull your mirror in.*
There is so much slang, a lot of which we don’t understand so it can’t be included. Plus, accents. Some are real strong, like the ones on almost every cashier when he or she asks us if we have the store card before ringing up our items. At least, I think that’s what they’re asking. I usually don’t understand, so I just answer “no” to whatever their first question is, regardless. “How are you?” “No.”
Sometimes, if we get strange looks for our own accents, we’ll try the sentence again with a South African twist. But then we just end up with a really poorly done Australian accent.
There are some new words that I really have enjoyed adding to my own vocabulary:
Chips = Fries. And then today, at a restaurant, we ordered “fries” off a menu, thinking, How interesting…At this restaurant, they do call them “fries.” Well, those turned out to be potato chips.
Tomato Sauce (said “toMAHto”) = Ketchup
Serviette = Napkin
Robot = Stoplight (this one is sorely disappointing after seeing the sign “robot ahead”)
Even though English is widely used (South Africa has 11 official languages!), it’s been funny to try and not make assumptions in conversation in regards to idiomatic phrases.
4. The food.
As we only have one of those half-fridges, we’ve been eating out. A lot. We actually celebrated yesterday that we didn’t eat out the whole day. Go us!
But, it’s all ok because oh-my-gosh-the-food-is-so-GOOD. Again, maybe that’s just because we came from Boston, where we both felt that it was a foodie wasteland unless you were loaded with cash. Almost every meal has been fantastic, and reasonably priced. Also, because Cape Town is wine town, the wine is a-flowing. I bought a bottle of wine the other day for R 15 ($1.30). Was it good? I don’t even care.
5. Getting gas.
Y’all, this is awesome. You just pull up to a pump, and then a really friendly petrol attendant pumps your gas for you without you ever getting out of the car. And they might even wash your window for you while you’re waiting!
Cape Town seems so dog friendly–or at least in our area of Claremont. Case in point: we’re eating lunch outside at a little cafe, and there are at least 3 dogs there with their owners. A dog runs up, not attached to any person. This man politely says “hello!” to the little dog, then goes on to pick him up and cuddle him at his table. He doesn’t know this dog! The owner walks up, they chat–“lovely dog” and all that–then he puts the dog down and continues to eat. That is my dream! Good food, dogs invited, everyone smooching everyone else’s dogs…
7. Personal Safety.
So many houses behind walls and fences takes some getting used to.
Baboons! Luckily, not near us. But, a conversation I overheard went something like this:
Woman to her son:
Why don’t you go play down on that little playground down there?
But will there be baboons?
And we’ve got Hadedas–these weird birds that sound so upset when they land in our garden. For a long time, I thought I was hearing our neighbor mocking them because they have such a mock-able call. But, it was just another Hadeda. Even they sound like they are mocking each other, that’s how obnoxious they are.
9. Pace of life.
Since I’m not properly working right now, I’m enjoying that everything seems a little slower here: lingering over coffee, stopping to have conversations, riding up and down the escalators. Sometimes it can be frustrating (again, coming from Boston), when it feels that it takes longer to get some simple things done, like getting a cell phone number, visas, or hearing back on email correspondences.
10. Pace of internet.
Man, were we spoiled in the U.S. It is so, so sloooow.
This feels like it might be turning into a “why I hated Boston” post. But, I didn’t hate Boston. I don’t hate it now. I love it. I love it like you love something that resists you, that is kind of unlovable. That has an ugly face and desperately tries to squirm away from you when you pick it up, which makes you love it even more. Ok, wait…now we’re just talking about my relationship with my cat.
But, while Boston sometimes felt hard to love, Cape Town has been so, so easy to fall in love with. We’re still newbies here, so we’ll see where this little love story goes (Blech. Sorry for that).