This Thanksgiving break I inexplicably got it in my head to migrate my blog from Blogger to WordPress. What I should have done is a) picked a more opportune time when I wasn't already extremely busy, and b) created a test domain to migrate my blog to before switching to live, which I could have built in peace and tested to my heart's content until it was rock solid. But I didn't.
Americans are known to like the head-on approach to solving problems and to vanquish an opponent. Not so much subtlety as a show of overwhelming force, even if a lot of resources are needed that might be more wisely used with a more thoughtful approach. The latest brouhaha at United Airlines just underscores that point. Read how South Africa approaches problems differently.
The short answer to the question, Do they speak English in South Africa, is yes. Check. You can breathe easier now - one of the things not to be afraid of when moving to South Africa as opposed to, I don't know, Uzbekistan. But the long answer makes for some interesting insights.
One thing that makes expat life so interesting is that you do get to observe how other cultures foster behaviors different from our own, and often that teaches us something worth knowing about ourselves. Most Africans are patient. Very, VERY patient, in fact. If you see the kinds of queues people stand in on a Friday afternoon, you cannot help but marvel at such stoicism.
Koeksisters (pronounced "cook sisters" or close to it) are one of the South African food staples. Right behind biltong, rusks, and all things off the braai. They are a very sweet and very sticky delicacy made from a donut-like dough shaped into mini-braids and finished off with sugar syrup. The word derives from the Dutch koekje, which means cookie.
If you've ever been an exchange student or an expat, this will be familiar turf for you. We've all gotten them, the wide-eyed questions from those who've vaguely heard about our country but don't really know much about it. You kind of want to give them credit for asking, but you also kind of want to punch them in the face for knowing so very little.
One of the first things you always have to learn in a new country is how much to tip. This is especially true in South Africa. You'll be setting out on your very first errand to buy milk and butter at the Woolworth's around the corner, you'll return to your car with your bags, and as you pull out of your parking space, a guy will be at your window with outstretched hand. What to do?
South Africa has opened up a whole new dimension for me in my appreciation of pronouncing guttural sounds. It is like discovering subatomic particles after you’ve just mastered mechanics. If a word is in any way connected to Afrikaans, the language of the Boers and Voortrekkers, the letter G is basically out of bounds for you as the uninitiated.
More than anything else, the Unannounced Playdate is the face of the South African lifestyle. How many afternoons did I spend leisurely at a friend's house, only having meant to drop off or pick up my child, and, after being invited in, whiling away hours with great conversation while nibbling at biscuits and sipping tea? In South Africa, you are ALWAYS invited in, even if you're strangers.
I've mentioned South Africa's racial diversity before. But it is South Africa's two white tribes that perhaps have the longest or at least most intense history of tension with one another. To this day, even the most superficial visitor of South Africa will immediately sense the rift between the Afrikaans-speaking part of the population and the English-speaking part.