Unfortunately my time at Go Girl has come to an end, which means this will be our last trip together. So rather than focus on one particular place, I thought I’d offer you a broad strokes overview of my home instead.
A while ago Beth mentioned to me that she’d love to know more about South Africa’s culture, its people and, most importantly, what it’s like to celebrate Christmas under a blazing summer sky.
It got me thinking, perhaps it’s the things that define us as a nation that tourists are most curious about and not our spectacular good looks as I’d previously assumed.
After chatting with Alexis Grant, an online friend and fellow writer visiting from Washington, D.C., and reading her reflections of her time in Cape Town, the notion became even more apparent.
To an outsider local customs can be anything from entertaining to just plain bizarre. Then again, wherever you go one person’s normal is always going to be another’s “out there”.
Life in South Africa
For the most part life here is interesting, although it can sometimes prove frustrating too. Our ‘rainbow nation’ consists of diverse cultural backgrounds, making misconstructions par for the course.
Cape Town definitely has a more European feel about it than the rest of South Africa, but in spite of our cosmopolitan ways we’re still very much an African city.
Minibus taxis hoot continually for customers, which, while annoying (especially if you have a hangover), is understandable. They only charge R6 (US 67c) a trip in town, so in order for them to turn a profit they need to coerce as many unsuspecting pedestrians as possible to climb aboard their base-thumping tightly packed vehicles.
Sometimes we’re aware of the noise; sometimes it fades into the background along with everything else. I think how much we notice of our day-to-day surroundings is like most things in life — largely dependent on our mood.
Africans are by their very nature loud and gregarious, whereas we — their Anglo-African compatriots — are for the most part a far quieter bunch (unless we’re watching sport).
This stiff upper lip approach to life is no doubt left over from our days as a British colony, a time when we were encouraged to speak softly and avoid making a spectacle of ourselves.
We’re doing out best to shake off the Anglo and embrace the African, but these things have been ingrained across generations and so are unlikely to just disappear overnight.
All that being said we’ve lightened up a lot in the last 20 years. These days we’re able to laugh at our differences rather than ridicule them. Not all of us obviously — there are still those for whom racism is a sport (on both sides of the color divide) — but they tend to stick to the areas the rest of us wouldn’t want to frequent anyway.
Let’s Talk About Food
We’re a meat-eating nation and our national pastime is braaing. In fact we’re so enamored with the activity that it even has its own song and public holiday (albeit a shared one with Heritage Day).
Here a meal without meat is cause for divorce. Chicken is considered a vegetable; fish is for sissies and actual vegetables the sole reserve of hippies and certain lesbians.
Our favorite thing to braai is boerewors, it’s tasty, convenient and perfect to slot inside a roll and enjoy on the go. If there’s a hardware store in the area you’re almost guaranteed to find a boerewors roll stand outside.
Recently, a smart-alecky carnivore opened up the Gourmet Boerie at the top of Long Street. Sporty and I were convinced it wouldn’t last a month. This is Cape Town after all, South Africa’s gourmet capital, how on earth could a rustic sausage bar ever hope to compete?
Wel,l it’s been almost a year and they’re more popular than ever, so I guess we should rethink that green juice bar we were planning on opening outside Mzoli’s because clearly we’re not the marketing geniuses we thought we were.
Christmas in July
Even though it’s the middle of summer and stinking hot by the time December 25th rolls around, most South Africans still insist on cooking a big Christmas dinner. It’s crazy, nobody wants to eat a hot meal but we do anyway.
There are those who have taken to laying out a buffet of cold meats, bread and cheese and eating picnic style at the pool, but they’re outcasts in our society and will likely never receive another Christmas card again (not even one of those free e-cards).
What we sometimes do to get that Christmassy feeling is celebrate the holiday again in July, when scoffing a hearty meal is more appealing. These events are usually done as a charity drive, which allows us to justify our hoggish behavior.
Lows and Highs
South Africa is a nation with gees (Afrikaans word that means spirit) and I’m proud to be a part of it, but our less than stellar history mortifies me. That it took us so long to right our wrongs even more so. I still can’t believe I had to take a boat trip to Robben Island to learn what they should have taught me in school.
On the upside, I’m proud of the fact that South Africa had a black president long before the U.S., even though we’re a much younger democracy. I also love that I was able to legally marry the woman of my dreams (and not just in one province, but right across South Africa).
There you have it, a Cliff Notes overview of my home. I hope you’ll come and visit some day and see South Africa for yourself. We’re a warm and hospitable bunch and we love visitors, so head on over.
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