Wednesday, May 18, 2011

20 Things I’ve Learned in South Africa so far:

1. EVERYONE in the villages wants me to take them to America, get married, or tell me they love me 2 seconds after meeting.

  1. The word “Sorry” has many meanings, and someone will say it to you if they see you fall, if they’re trying to get your attention, or if you’re doing something wrong (like not leaving your bag at the front of the store.)
  2. The phrase “I’m coming” means I’ll be right back. I’m used to it now, but in the very beginning it seemed quite odd for a person to say “I’m coming” to me and then walk away.
  3. Soda is called “cold drink,” even if it’s warm.
  4. Africans really do love fried chicken, KFC is everywhere, and tons of other chicken chains (my favorite is Chicken Licken because of the name.)
  5. Your hands make perfectly good utensils. Why use a fork when you have fingers? Black people here traditionally eat with their hands. Forks are often scarce in village houses.
  6. When small African children see a white person they automatically SCREAM “Legowa” (white person in Sepedi, pronounced with ah “h” sound for the “g”) over and over. I’m not quite sure why they feel the need to identify me like that, It’s not like I scream “black person” everywhere I go.
  7. It’s considered rude in a village not to greet EVERY SINGLE PERSON you pass, which can get old, but whatever.
  8. If you’re white everyone will assume you speak Afrikaans, which is why the only thing Peace Corps taught us how to say in Afrikaans besides good morning was “I don’t speak Afrikaans.” Sometimes just for funsies I try to see how many times I can get away with people thinking I’m an Afrikaaner by saying “Gioe more” or just nodding and smiling. It works.
  9. There is no such thing as personal space in this country. People are constantly forced to squeeze into taxis with too many people in them, or buses, and even grocery stores, so I guess you get used to it if you’ve been squished your whole life. But it drives me crazy.
  10. On average, people here walk at a pace similar to that of a toddler. People are generally not in a hurry, especially when they’re waiting on you or bagging your groceries, which can get annoying.
  11. South Africans LOVE house music, but they also love Michael Bolton and Celine Dion.
  12. There’s no part of a cow, chicken, or goat that you can’t eat, but that doesn’t mean you should… I had to choke down cow intestines twice, it’s grey and slimy, super gross.
  13. There is musk favored gum. Seriously. And yes, I’ve tried it. It’s not as gross as you would think, but it’s definitely not good.
  14. It’s not illegal for people to sit in the bed of a truck, so there are often “bakkies” that go by with 10 people crammed in the back.
  15. Instead of using strollers, black women strap their babies to their backs with a towel.
  16. Pretty much all Afrikaaners either look like they’re from the 80’s or are white trash, or both. There are way too many mullets, scrunchies, and bad 80’s hair dos happening in this country. Oh, and Afrikaaner men like short shorts…
  17. It’s amazing how little water you can use to bathe, do laundry, wash dishes, and whatnot.
  18. South Africans LOVE cheesy soap operas. There are a bunch of South African ones (Generations, Rhythm City, 7 De Laan), but The Bold and the Beautiful is also really big here.
  19. EVERYONE in South Africa was taught that “I’m fine,” is the answer to “How are you?” A few people have figured out that other responses work as well, but 90% of people in the village will say they’re fine every time. My favorite encounter involving greetings is with an 8 year old boy in my village. Every time I pass him he yells out “Hi!” so I yell “Hi!” back. Then without waiting for me to ask “How are you?” he preemptively answers by yelling “Fine!” and then I yell “Good!” back and that’s that.

Ok, Later.


  1. Celine Dion and Michael Bolton. . .really? And the yelling of "white people" and the 8 year old's greetings are too funny. I would not be good at handling the no personal space situation either!

  2. The above comment was by your mom, in case you don't know!

  3. Hi Maggie, Sounds like some great lessons. Like your encounter with the 8 year old, I had the same exchange with a drunk guy in downtown F-town last weekend...I think he was humming a Celine Dion song too!!