Expat Joys – Service at the Gas Station

It’s really called a garage here in South Africa, with emphasis on the fist syllable, and what you’re getting is petrol, not gas. But once you’ve gotten used to the different terminology, you’ll love the experience of filling up your car.

That is because you’re not actually doing any of the filling. You drive up and follow the friendly wave of at least two attendants, who somehow seem to know exactly what type of gas your car is in need of, to direct you to the correct pump. Then you turn off your car, press the button for the lid on your tank if necessary, and do nothing. Everyone who returns home after having lived in South Africa has the same rude awakening when driving up to the pump for the first time. You find yourself sitting there in your car, waiting, but nothing happens!

Here, what happens is that they fill up your car, check your oil, adjust the tire pressure, and wash your windshield, all for a little bit of a tip. When they’re done they bring you the bill, which you can either pay with cash or using your garage card, a sort of credit card specifically dedicated to gas stations (you cannot use your regular debit or credit card – I had a moment of panic when filling up my rental car in Cape Town and discovering that I didn’t have a garage card on me, as I always keep that in my car at home; fortunately, I had enough cash).

For all this I usually give anywhere from R5 to R10, depending on all the things I want checked, but it is entirely up to you.

It’s not a big deal to get out of your car and do it yourself, I know, yet this is one of the small pleasures of life in South Africa that I enjoy the most.