Thanks to one of my new expat friends who just arrived in Joburg last week I thought of writing this post for the benefit of everyone. She sent me a somewhat urgent message, while out on errands on a Sunday, about where to go for stationary and lunchboxes and that very elusive item for newly arrived expats here, the radio alarm clock. It made me realize that while I’ve written about Things to Buy Before You Move to South Africa and Grocery Shopping in Johannesburg, even Searching for Applesauce in South Africa, I haven’t given any tips on where to go for those first crucial items.
I well remember when I was on The First Shopping Trip myself. I was equally frustrated our first weekend here, having to buy school uniforms for four children, school supplies, food, and, yes, alarm clocks. Perhaps it is not surprising that alarm clocks should be hard to find in a country that has at least three different definitions of the word now, none of them actually meaning now. (Another very elusive item are night lights. I have to admit I never found those in South Africa, since no one had any idea what I was talking about.)
So here are my tips for Things to Buy Your First Week (I’ve tried to arrange them by topic as well as by the route you should take):
First of all, don’t make this trip on a Sunday, if possible. Or get going right at 10:00 am before many stores close at 2:00 pm, if they are open at all.
Converter plugs and multi-strips: There is no doubt one of your first errands in South Africa will be to somehow get all your stuff plugged in. Once again, you best already come with converter plugs (we’ve fared very well with the Universal Outlet Travel Plug from Amazon), but you will probably still need some multi-strips, because South Africans insist on building houses with only two power outlets per room (and none in your bathroom). The best place for these is Builder’s Warehouse, behind the McDonald’s at Fourways Crossings. But make sure you take note before you go of what exactly it is you need, i.e. South African or Euro plugs, facing to which side because of wall constraints, etc. I have many of these multi-plugs sitting in a drawer because they didn’t quite fit the way I had imagined.
Stationary: The best place for this is Walton’s in Fourways Crossing, situated sort of behind and under Fournos Bakery if you turn right at the traffic circle next to Standard Bank. It’s a bit like Office Depot. Checkers Hyper at Fourways Mall (across from Fourways Crossing on the other side of William Nicol) also has a decent stationary aisle. In fact, Checkers Hyper is the closest to a SuperTarget you will find here, so you could also go there first with your list.
Appliances: If you didn’t bring any transformers, you will need to buy things like toasters and hairdryers and such. If you haven’t found anything at Hirsch’s, the best place for this is probably Design Quarter, a shopping center with an emphasis on home furnishings. There is a very nice store there called @home that carries everything from kitchen appliances to patio furniture, but it is also very expensive. A better option would be Woolworth Home or Boardman’s, both also at Design Quarter. There is also a Mr. Price Home there, which is a good inexpensive place for home furnishings. As no doubt you’ll have gotten tired of all the shopping by now, stop quickly at vida e caffe and treat yourself to one of the better lattes you will find in Joburg. Oh, and I’m pretty sure you’ll also need a vacuum cleaner. And I’m also sure there is no better brand than Miele. I will never go back to anything else and could probably dedicate an entire post just to the virtues of their vacuum cleaners. There is a Miele store on the road to Sandton on the left that you should definitely pay a visit to.
School uniforms: You won’t need those for the American School, but if you chose Dainfern College or any of the other South African private schools, your very first trip will be to McCullagh & Bothwell to be clothed. Remember that they close at 3:00 pm on Saturdays and are closed on Sundays.
Are you already tired from reading all this? That first shopping trip is so crucial for expats, and I hope the above list will save some future shoppers time and effort, even if it probably already is too long for just one trip. Once you’ve got that out of the way, you might want to find out more about other shopping-related expat tips by clicking on “Shopping” in the Topics of Interest list to the right.
Oh, and one more thing: Beware of the return policy! Don’t go buying the first thing you see, thinking you can always return it. I’d check out prices first or perhaps even do some homework reading reviews on Amazon, because here in South Africa, once you’ve bought it, you better well keep it. Most appliances and electronics have just a one-week return policy, and even then you will be grilled as to the reasons why you’re returning the item, so it will be another loooooong errand. Manufacturer’s warranties are typically a year but I’m sure there will be some lovely paperwork involved if you ever have a need to claim one of those!