One-of-a-kind

South Africa is where I hail from. You probably know this already.

What you may not know is that my country has 11 (yes, eleven) official languages, and quite a few unofficial ones. I am fluent in two of them, mainly because they were the two that were taught to me at school. We take English as a first language, and Afrikaans as a second language. Depending on which region/province you live in, you have the option of changing that second language to the African language of your location. When I started high school – Grade 8 – we took an extra subject which was the African language of Xhosa, which is the African language of my region. Admittedly, I don’t remember too much of this year of language studies, but do remember the basic words and so am at least able to greet someone and ask how they are in their native language around here. The problem comes in after this, because they assume I can speak the language and rattle off a sentence to me of which I have little to no understanding. This always results in laughter on both parts when I admit, in English, that what I said is about the extent of my abilities to speak their language.

I find it amusing typing blog posts on here, because I think the ‘spell check’ is set to American spelling. Yes, we spell differently. My friend in Kansas often teases me that we’re just wrong – I often think we are 😉 I do know that we spell the British way – and since I have some British blood in me as well, I guess I can’t be too upset about that.
We apparently like the letter ‘u’. It makes its appearance everywhere that it doesn’t belong! 😛 Honour, neighbour, labour, behaviour etc. And yes, these are now underlined in red in my editing 😉
We also prefer ‘re’ to ‘er’ – perhaps the ‘er’ makes us think of medical tragedies?
Litre, metre, meagre. Of course we ‘get it right’ when it comes to words like monster, disaster, sober, etc.
There also appears to be an interesting problem with Sammy Snake – the letter ‘s’.
We say defence, as opposed to defense; pretence as opposed to pretense.
There are many more differences, these are but a few examples. Isn’t it strange that we all speak English, and yet spell it differently?

The reason I addressed the languages (and then got a bit off topic with the spelling) is because I wanted to share an advertisement that is currently running on our television networks. I don’t usually like television advertisements – they annoy me and most times I am left wondering what the product had to do with anything I have just watched. This particular advertisement has me smiling every time it comes on though. I will post the link to it later, but will go into a bit of detail first. It’s an advertisement about foreigners who visit our country, and gives great insight into the quirky things about South Africa – mostly good, but also some bad, in a delightful and pleasing way! It’s an advert by an insurance company, promoting that you need ‘one-of-a-kind’ insurance in a ‘one-of-kind’ country. So this blog post is pretty much based on Sanlam’s brilliance!

In South Africa, especially if you’re doing a tour of the country, you will likely come across a sign that says ‘Hippo’s Crossing for 3km’. If someone ever shows you a picture they have of this, it’s real! I need to stress though that there are no hippos, lions or elephants in my backyard. (Although apparently, when I was about five years old, I told my mother there was an elephant living in among the banana trees at the bottom of our yard.) They also don’t roam down the street where I live, or sleep in the shade of the trees that line our main road.
The above may just be possibilities in North Africa, but I live in the South – and there are some very big differences between the two, which I may address in a later blog post.
The hippo crossing signs are in a town practically built on top of a wetland park, with an estuary that is home to about 800 hippos. So a hippopotamus roaming the streets is not actually a common thing either.
We do have plenty of safari type parks that are home to many wild animals who are living in captivity, and yet in such a way that the animals probably don’t even realize they’ve been captured, or in some cases, rescued. In two different directions from my home, both about twenty minutes drive away, there are animal ‘parks’/game reserves. At the one, I can have an elephant interaction, or just sip a cup of coffee and watch as zebra, giraffe and buck play on the hills not too far away. At the other, I can stand two meters away from the lazy Tigers, as they cool off in their pool, on the other side of the fence of course; and if there have been any new cubs born before my visit, I can go into the ‘cub cage’, with a member of staff, and play with them.
Two years ago, I had a six week old white lion cub, weighing approximately 60 pounds, lying in my lap. She was one of four cubs in the ‘cage’, kept there till they get a bit bigger and were more able to hold their own, for protection purposes. A cubs hunting instinct kicks in around this time though, so they only allow children in who are of a specific height or above. My daughter qualified; and since the cubs aren’t too dangerous, while my son and I held lazy cubs in our laps, we watched my daughter with great amusement as she played with one, and was being hunted by another. Of course the staff member intervened before the cub sprang, just in case.
We don’t have shark cage diving here in my town, despite the fact that I live at the sea. But if you’re up for that, it’s an experience you can encounter in the Western parts – Cape Town area.

In South Africa, we don’t barbeque/barbecue – we ‘braai’. I cannot find a way to explain how to pronounce this word, so if you’re interested you can listen to it here. It’s the same sort of concept though where we grill/cook meat over an open fire. Most of these fires are wood-burning, and so if you visit here and someone asks you to come over and ‘burn wood’ it may have two meanings: it could mean to either just sit and watch the flames and drink beer or brandy; but most times it means they’re inviting you to a braai. It’s commonly known as a ‘chop and dop’ – although the Afrikaans spelling is mostly used in a written invite – tjop and dop. And this means pretty much what it says – bring a chop/meat to braai, and don’t forget to bring a drink, or ten, depending who you’re braaiing with 😉

In South Africa, we have what we call ‘load shedding’. It has not been so common of late, which is a great relief. It is a huge bone of contention among our people. Basically, it is an interruption in our electricity supply to prevent overloading on the power stations. South Africans are frustrated by this because our country supplies electricity to other parts of Africa, and yet we are the ones who suffer interruptions. These interruptions can sometimes happen twice a day, depending where you live – and are usually for a two hour period. This is made slightly more frustrating by the fact that it is often at mealtimes – and in rush hour traffic times it can have disastrous consequences because the traffic lights are not working.

In South Africa, “The multi-billion rand minibus taxi industry carries over 60% of South Africa’s commuters. Generally speaking, these commuters are all of the lower economic class. Wealthy individuals drive their own cars for safety and convenience. The industry is almost entirely made up of 16-seater commuter Toyota HiAce buses, which are sometimes unsafe or not roadworthy. Minibus taxi drivers are well known for their disregard for the road rules and their proclivity for dangerously overloading their vehicles with passengers.
I have to chuckle when I read that wealthy individuals drive their own cars – while I am very wealthy in many areas in my life, money and possessions are not one of them – and yet, I have a car. It’s an older model though, and only really gets us from point A to point B – but at least it’s roadworthy! 😉
This information was taken from Wikipedia and you can view the rest of it here, if you’re interested. I had a look at some news articles thinking I could post some more ‘factual’ links, but they were all just too negative. I have to add that taxi’s also come in the form of cars, and overloading is probably the biggest problem, next to the safety issues. Sometimes, you can see ten people being transported in a vehicle meant for five. It happens. Not all taxi’s are bad though, but it may not be a recommended form of transportation if you’re visiting.

In South Africa, there is a good chance you will encounter monkeys who will take your food. At my daughter’s school they are prohibited from eating food in a certain area of the school, because the trees that fence that area are filled with monkeys – and when they want your food they can be aggressive to the point of life-endangering. I have not had them in my own home, but a friend who lives not far from me often returns from work to find that they have ransacked her kitchen again – impolitely leaving banana peels all over her floor. She stopped buying banana’s, but they still go back time after time. They can be rather destructive, and she returned once to find cereal scattered all over the floor. She tried closing all her windows when she left in the morning, and came home to a hot box, because that’s what happens in Summer around here. She does find that there’s less ‘monkeying around’ in Winter though.

In South Africa, crime is ridiculous. That’s all I am going to say about that, for now. You are welcome to google news stories and crime statistics if you’d like to know more. I don’t think it would leave you feeling very happy though, so it may be best to just avoid that whole point of interest entirely. Won’t you most likely won’t find in South African homes (although if you’re visiting, the Bed and Breakfasts and Hotels usually do have) is central heating and air conditioning. What you will find, more often than not, is high walls or fencing (electric, or razor wire on top), alarm systems and burglar bars – lots of them, on every window; burglar gates on every door. (Probably better known in the states as security gates and bars.) I think the biggest thing I struggle to come to terms with is that there is no regard for human life, and you can actually get killed, just for a dollar.

In South Africa, cars get broken into and stolen at an alarming rate, like a new trend on Twitter. There are companies, and individuals, who act as ‘car guards’, and their function is pretty much what it says. They hang around, and watch your car while you’re in the store or at the movies. If your car is still there when you come out, and it hasn’t been broken in to, then they would like you to give them a ‘tip’ – in fact, it’s expected. This is usually some spare change, and doesn’t really amount to much. The thing to watch out for is the ones who are trying to fulfill this role while inebriated – obviously they’re not very alert, and can get quite abusive if you point this out to them, or refuse to tip them. And of course, there are the 2% who are actually the criminals!

One more thing I need to mention – what Americans call a ‘truck’, we call a ‘bakkie’. It’s pronounced something like ‘buck-ee’, and refers to ‘little trucks’ – pretty much any truck shaped vehicle below 2 tons. What Americans would call an 18-wheeler? Well, over here, that’s a truck!

All right. All of the above is just a little bit of background, and information, for all of you. It was based on the advertisement and pretty much ‘gives away’ most of its contents (although the clip doesn’t have all the added explanations, of course), but if you still want to watch it, you can do so by going here.