01 April 2008

Dug and Tricia vs The World, part 3 - What to Expect When You're Expecting (to travel to Southern Africa)

I thought it would be fun to do a "what to expect" about South Africa and Swaziland. Granted, both are independent countries, but due to their close proximity and shared tribal peoples, there are a lot of similarities. Also keep in mind, these observations are made by people who grew up in the United States. So without further ado...

  1. Don't drive after dark. I have no statistics on it, but it is obvious that many, if not most, people do not have a vehicle. They walk everywhere. Busy highways have people walking right along the fog line. And in the dark, you don't see them until you are right on top of them. Cows, too, are a hazard, as they are allowed to roam wherever they please. Guess how easy it is to see a black cow on a dark road. There are also some safety issues, concerning carjackings. Especially if you are white. Because as we all know, the whiter you are, the more money you have. (Yes, that was a teeny-tiny bit sarcastic.)
  2. Be careful when you drive in the daytime. Same things apply as above but now we add kids to the mix. The kids in Swaziland walked to their schools right on the road. The roads were in pretty bad shape and the pavement ended right at the fog line. Tall, two- to four-foot grass grew right up to the road. So the kids would walk in the lane until a car came and then move into the grass. It was pretty scary. Some of these kids were little. I'm talking three year-olds right on the highway. Not a rural road, but the highway. I held my breath every time we went by a group of them; I was so afraid they would not pay attention and jump out in front of the car. And the kombis! (pronounced comb-bees) They are van-taxis. They are crazy! They race each other to get the fares and...let's just say that they didn't pay attention during the Defensive Driving section of Driver's Ed. (That's assuming they even went, which I don't think they did.)
  3. When you use your credit card they will ask you, "Straight or budget?" Your answer should be, "Straight." Budget is some sort of payment plan option, but straight is the "normal" way. Trust me, just say, "Straight."
  4. People do not say, "Excuse me." They say, "Sorry." A tour guide trying to get everyone's attention will shout, "Sorry! Sorry!" If someone doesn't understand what you just said (which is really, really often), they ask, "Sorry?" When you want to squeeze by someone in the grocery aisle you say, "Sorry." I always would say, "Excuse me. Dang it! I mean, 'Sorry.'" Luckily, they would just ignore me and pretend I didn't say anything. Whether they meant to do the nice thing or didn't know how to react to me, I appreciated that lack of response.
  5. Everything is To The Left. Cars drive on the left side of the road. (Although the drivers sit on the right.) The up escalator is to the left, down is to the right. The general movement of the people in the mall is to the left, while people are moving toward you on your right. You know in movies where the person is trying to get through a mob of people and everyone seems to be running into them? That was me until I realized that everyone moving in my direction were where? To the left! It's hard to remember, but once you get it, suddenly life is much smoother.

  6. The plugs for electrical stuff are much different and way bigger than we are used to. Also, remember that they run on 240v where we are on 110v. So even if you get an adapter for your hair dryer, just because you can plug it in, doesn't mean you should. You most likely need a transformer as well, unless your power cord has one built in. If you think they get hot normally, run them on twice the juice! One more quirk. The outlets have their own switches. It's right above the plug-in. Kind of a pain in the butt as far as I was concerned. Great! One more thing to remember!
  7. The soda cans are weighted on the bottom. I don't know if it's to prevent spilled sodas (you know, like those punching clowns that keep coming back up no matter how hard you hit them) or a dishonest let's-make-them-think-that-they-are-getting-more feature. Either way, I felt like I was part of some cruel practical joke. I always thought I had one last drink and when I brought the can to my lips...nothing! This would happen over and over until I removed the can from my presence. Beware the empty can!
  8. One more thing about soda. There are very few fountain machines. I only saw one the entire two weeks we were there. When you order a soda, it comes in cans. When you drink it all, you have to buy another one. They have never heard of the term "bottomless." Much to my camel-like husband's chagrin. Pepsi-lovers be warned, we only saw Coke products.
  9. Little vocab lesson. There's a huge British influence because of colonization and it shows up in their vernacular. Some common words that we might not recognize: bakkie (pr. bucky) = pickup (small truck); lorrie = large, usually commercial truck; traffic robot = traffic light; pudding = dessert; biscuit = cookie. If you run into a situation where they don't understand you, try speaking with an British accent. Many times, they will then understand you.
  10. Languages to expect: The whites are Afrikaners and speak Afrikaans, a language with Dutch roots. The blacks are from different tribes and have nine different languages, with the largest number speaking isiZulu and isiXhosa. Due to this amazing diversity, English is the business language that most people of any native tongue speak. The funny thing is when we would go to restaurants in South Africa, they would initially speak to us in Afrikaans and when we would answer, "Table for four." they would instantly switch to English. It was really nice that we could travel extensively and have at least a common language, even though our vastly different accent posed some problems.
  11. Now that you understand that pudding means dessert, know that unless you ask for it, coffee and tea will not be offered until after pudding. In restaurants, you eat your meal, have your pudding, then finish off with coffee or tea. (The brand of tea is Five Roses. You can just ask for Five Roses and they will bring you your tea.)

  12. If you like cheesecake, don't order it in South Africa or Swaziland. The don't use cream cheese to make it, they use creamed cottage cheese. It tastes like spoiled American cheese cake. It's not spoiled, but compared to what we're used to...blech! Poor Duggy. I ordered the Malva Pudding (oh my goodness! delicious!) and he ordered the cheesecake. Poor, poor guy. Luckily, I was stuffed and it wasn't too much of a sacrifice to share my deliciousness with him. Just remember: No cheesecake!
  13. I am conducting this ongoing social experiment that I started when I walked to my classes in college. I purposely try to make eye contact with people and smile. It's interesting who smiles back. I took this experiment overseas with me and found that the Swazis are some of the friendliest people I've met. Almost everyone would not only smile at me, they would wave as well. I talked to one of the ladies I met and she says it is because I'm a smiler and if I frowned, they would frown back. I didn't believe her but I didn't have the heart to test her theory. I didn't want to frown at people. What if I was the only American they met and I was frowning at them? So I smiled. What can I say? That's who I am.
  14. The last thing I can think of to mention...handshakes. In Swaziland, when you shake someone's hand there are two things to notice. First off, the actual handshake. It's pretty cool. First you grab hands in the normal way, then both of you rotate your hands so your fingers are now on top surrounding their thumb, then you go back to the normal way. It's a three-parter and I thought it was fun. The second part is your left hand. In order to show that you are in a friendly way and not holding a weapon, you put your left hand on your right forearm. This is respectful and shows that both hands are empty. This goes for handing items as well. Whenever you get change from someone, like at a gas station and such, they will hand you your money with their left hand on their right forearm.
  15. Okay, I said the handshakes was last, but I just thought of this, truly, last one. This is a broad generalization and not true of every Afrikaner (white South African) child, but Afrikaner children don't wear shoes. Often times in stores, restaurants, on sidewalks, in malls, anywhere, you'll see a little Afrikaner kid with no shoes. It was the darndest thing. I made it a sort of game to find the shoe-less children. The adults wear them, and to be honest, most kids did too. But there was definitely a noticeable number that didn't. It wasn't that they didn't have shoes, it was that they chose not to wear them. Different cultures have different ways.
There was a ton more, but these were the big ones. Now, when you travel to South Africa or Swaziland, you'll be more prepared, right?

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