The Ultimate Expat Moving Checklist

My kids, who have read some of my blog posts, read this one and proclaimed it as "the most boring story ever." So you are excused if you are now moving on to check out hot sales on Amazon.com. Or hot dudes on Singles.com. But if you're sticking around, I thought I'd share my Ultimate Expat Moving Checklist here with you. Or, if not with you, at the very least my own future self.

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How To Be a (Successful) Expat

I'm not sure the title of this post is quite right.

What makes an expat "successful?" If you set the bar low enough, you could argue that anyone coming back alive from an expat assignment can claim success. Which in our case, if you want to believe all the fear-mongers about life in South Africa, was quite the miracle. I guess what I really mean to discuss is how you can thrive as an expat, way beyond mere survival.

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Free Parking

Tips on free parking in Johannesburg. Also, have you ever found yourself at the exit boom of a parking garage without your ticket being paid for, because you either couldn't find the pay station or it wasn't working? Not a problem here in Africa – someone will materialize and happily take your ticket and some money from you, go to the machine, and redeem the ticket.

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Christmas For Criminals

South Africans are early risers, and they are early Christmas shoppers, too. By mid-October, you will find your local supermarket decked in Christmas decorations and delicatessen, and plenty of reindeer and snowmen will be grinning at you as you are buying your groceries. No wonder that the well-organized in these parts start making provisions for the Festive Seasons early.

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Let’s Talk Money

"What is the cost of living in South Africa?" This is the question I am asked most often by people contacting me through my blog (behind "How safe is South Africa," of course), and it is the one I most dread. Because it is very difficult to answer. Firstly, because we are a family of six with very different expenses from, say, a young couple without kids living in an apartment.

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Employing Domestic Help: A Cautionary Tale

"Insist on references, and don’t rely on the recommendation of a relative. Make sure you talk to the previous employer to find out as much as you can about the style and work habits of the domestic worker." This is just one of the many tips guest blogger and fellow expat Barbara Bruhwiler has about hiring domestic help in South Africa.

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Digging for the Water Meter

I’m making my way to another expat tip of mine, if you’ll just bear with me.

We recently had some repairs done to our irrigation system. I know you’ll accuse me of snobbery for daring to complain about such things as pools and irrigation systems, but it just reinforces my philosophy that material things don’t necessarily make you any happier. They mainly create more work. In my next life I want to be an irrigation system specialist. Oh how sweet would it be to just go out there and turn one of those sprinkler heads to point towards the lawn and not the road. Or the house. But it is strictly impossible to comprehend the workings of these pesky things. Whenever I can actually get someone to come out and take a look, I hover over them, at the risk of being drenched, to try and discern how in the world he turns that head so it’s pointing the right way. But invariably I lose track after he twists and turns and pushes down and turns again, and I have to admit to myself that I have no idea. The only thing I’ve ever succeeded in doing is ripping the head off completely, which then gives you a fountain in your yard where you really don’t want it. So we recently had some sprinkler heads replaced and some leaks repaired, and in order to do that, the repair guy had to turn off our water mains. I had no idea where that might be, and he somehow found it on his own. Later, as he was getting ready to leave when all the lawn cycles had been gone through and demonstrated to be working, he mentioned to me that “by the way, I had to dig sort of deep to actually get to the water mains, what with all the grass growing on top of it, and there is no way anyone has come and done an actual water meter reading in the last several years.” Hmmm. Now at least I know where the water meter is. Apparently, all the water meter readings we’ve been getting since moving here are pure estimates. We’ve been faithfully paying an entirely fictitious water bill. So for the expat tip: Find out where your water meter is, and do a reading as soon as you move into your new house, just so that you have an idea what the starting point is and if your monthly charges from then on out make any sense.
Successful excavation of our water meter. See the toad on the left? And meter on the right?
As for me? Out of curiosity, I trekked down to the road where the meter is hidden under a flap in the lawn and checked it out. I couldn’t find anything but a friendly toad and a bazillion ants, but a bit of digging indeed revealed a water meter. Do you think I should check it against our charges, ficticious as they might be? Seeing as our monthly City of Joburg bill seems reasonable (around R700 if you take out all the non-variables such as garbage and sewage fee), and considering I’ve spent a good part of last month on the phone with Eskom and Telkom and am not particularly keen to add yet another government agency to my calling list, and remembering that it took the City of Joburg only about three months to deliver a new trash can, I think I might well opt to let sleeping dogs lie. Read More ››

I’m Having an Affair

Yes, I have an affair. It started shortly after moving to South Africa. It wasn’t all that secret, to be honest, but it was very time consuming. I mostly conducted it over the phone, except for one not-so-clandestine encounter. Then I thought I ended it last July. 190 long days of not talking ... 

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