First 6 Months in South Africa As An Expat

Johnny

It’s been six months since I’ve lived in the Rainbow nation as I write this post right now. It’s been quite the whirlwind getting situated with my professional and personal life. I’ve managed to visit a bunch of countries in Africa already like Kenya and Tanzania, with more trips to come.

If you’re looking to live in South Africa or get an idea of what life is like, make sure to also read my guide to living in Johannesburg!

 

No Longer Feel Like A Tourist


Up until perhaps the four month mark, I was still getting settled into my apartment, my car, and my day to day schedule. I went to many restaurants, clubs, and just did the things that anyone would when they move to a new city. Alas, my New York ways caught up to me. Being from NYC, you are programmed to do as much as you can as quickly as you can because time is of the essence. You’re always on the prowl for the new hotspots and many of your friends share the same mindset. The only thing is, there is an ENDLESS amount of things to eat, see, and do in New York. I didn’t stop feeling like a tourist until sometime near the end of year 2. As for Johannesburg, I’ve stopped feeling like such no more than 4 months into it.

I was also worried about the safety in South Africa at first, but those fears have been put to rest quit quickly. I wrote a whole post about whether South Africa is safe to visit, and even though it is geared towards tourists, I wrote it because of my experiences living in the country. I’m not here to say that there is no crime in South Africa, that would be foolish, but I think living in my bubble in Sandton has led me to not experience any of the horrors that Johannesburg is known for.

 

I’m super lazy now


Not that I wasn’t lazy already, but living in South Africa has really taken it to the next level. Everyone on the right side of the financial spectrum in this country has maids that come regularly to clean their homes. I remember paying $70 in New York to have a lady clean for two hours and do hardly anything. A cleaner here will cost you no more than 300R per cleaning and it is actually included as a weekly visit as a part of my rent.

My maid does absolutely everything. I’m so lazy now that I don’t even bother putting my dishes in the dishwasher because I know the maid is just two days away. In addition, she also does all the laundry AND ironing hence making my only contribution to cleaning my apartment is placing my dirty laundry bag next to the washer. This isn’t just my mentality either, but is echoed throughout the country in every household. I guess it is not something difficult to get used to!

 

South Africa is NOT like the rest of Africa


One of my favorite phrases is TIA, “This is Africa”. I’ve used it countless times since being here to describe anything that I couldn’t provide an explanation for, which turns out to be many things. I once saw a truck carrying enough furniture to furnish a large apartment, but there was a guy in the corner, sitting on a computer chair out in the open as the car was driving! Quintessential TIA. Nevertheless, having visited Kenya and Tanzania, my mindset has completely changed. South Africa, particularly the area I live in called Sandton, is NOT the rest of Africa.

Melrose Arch. Come here for a Saturday brunch to see people showcase their Ferraris and Maseratis.

Melrose Arch. Come here for a Saturday brunch to see people showcase their Ferraris and Maseratis.

When I first touched down at OR Tambo, I was driven to my temporary accommodation. Like most cities, the area right outside the airport is not pleasant, but as soon I as entered the vicinity of Sandton, I thought to myself, this is a million times nicer than I expected. After a few months of seeing nothing but Audis and Range Rovers driving through the streets, I thought to myself that perhaps I had misjudged whatever perception I had of Africa and that perhaps this is just how nice it is.

When I landed at Jomo Kenyatta Airport in Nairobi, I immediately realized that, wow THIS is the Africa I had envisioned: dirt roads, people walking all over the place, and just less developed infrastructure. It’s not a bad thing per se, it’s just more in line with what the media portrays, and my personal renditions of what I thought Africa would be like.

 

Weather is still amazing in South Africa


I arrived in South Africa in May as the country was heading into its “winter”. To anyone that knows what winter is, there is no winter here. As we get into December, and the start of summer in South Africa, there are really just two seasons in SA. Mild and Sunny, Warm and thunderstorms. Winter provides with as much sun as anybody could ask for, with days averaging around 15C (65F). The summers are “supposedly” the opposite but it is still sunny. There are more frequent days of cloud, but maybe a few days a month.

The gods are angry in Joburg.

The gods are angry in Joburg.

However, the one aspect of summer weather that does stand out are the thunderstorms! Wow. These are something else. Usually around the late afternoon, you could have a full day of uninterrupted sun but suddenly, there will be ominous dark clouds in the distance that you can see making its way to you.

You can see the rain clouds AND the rain in the distance in this pic.

You can see the rain clouds and the rain in the distance.

Before they make their way to you however, the clouds are so noticeable, that you can actually see the rain falling in the distance. When the clouds do finally make it your way, they bring about some of the strongest and meanest rainstorms I’ve ever seen. You can hear the rain drops around you and at times, it feels like someone is throwing rocks at your window.

During this time, you’ll often see lightning all around you. I’m not talking about one or two strikes, but hundreds! The sky provides a lightshow unlike anywhere I’ve seen. These storms never last more than an hour as the clouds will pass by you and take the storm to the next city. I very much enjoy eating dinner on my balcony and watching the sky light up.

 

Slowly embracing South Africanisms


Lekker is Afrikaans for good/cool/alright but is used by all people here. "That's awesome bro" can be with "That's lekker bro"

Lekker is Afrikaans for good/cool/alright but is used by all people here. “That’s awesome bro” can be with “That’s lekker bro”

One way of knowing how much you’ve assimilated into local society is just listening to yourself speak. South Africa speaks English of course, albeit everyone has their own accent. I’m not talking about the Afrikaners and the Zulu, I’m talking everyone. Even among the English South Africans, everyone’s accent is a little different. Hard to explain, but it’s one of those things you notice while living here. This is also the reason I have such a hard time imitating a South African accent because there are hundreds of variations.

There are however, some words and phrases said here that made me laugh so much when I first arrived. Some of them sounded so ridiculous to me I couldn’t help but just laugh. I was convinced I would never emulate such things. Well, 6 months later, never say never. I’ve caught myself saying many things that only South Africans would and I’ve just caved now. They all of a sudden don’t sound ridiculous to me anymore and I’ve just decided to go with it. I am living in another country after all. Here are some examples among many:

Bru (pronounced brew)
I’m an avid user of the word “bro” and all its derivatives to refer to any friends. Brah, brosef, broski were some of the commonly used ones but Bru was one I’ve never heard of until I moved here. I’ve found myself replacing my previous American vernacular with this South Africa variation in speech and text. I don’t mind it either. All the South Africans around here use it. Now as for the Afrikaners…they use an even stranger variation, “boet”, pronounced somewhere in the middle of but and boot. I’ve yet to assimilate this into my vocabulary but never say never!

HOWB-front(1)Howzit
This word confused me greatly initially but I’m an avid fan of it now. Pronounced exactly like it’s spelled, it’s just “how’s it” in one flowing word. People use it frequently here as a way of greeting someone, just like someone would use “how’s it going”. However, the surprising thing is that this word doesn’t usually mean what it sounds like. It’s used by the locals almost exclusively as a greeting, and not a question. So when someone says, “Howzit Bru”, it is a statement, and not a question of how is it bru? This part still confuses me just because when I hear the word, I just naturally think someone is asking me a question and I always respond with a “I’m doing good, and you?” and immediately realize they weren’t asking me a question.

Now, just now, right now, now now
Still a work in progress for me, but the numerous variations of the word now really baffled me initially. Just now means 5 minutes to whenever I’m done what I’m currently doing. Now now can be anytime between now and when I die. Right now actually means right at this instance. If all else fails, people just say now to represent any reference of time. South Africans culture  doesn’t exactly encourage punctuality and people don’t believe in being specific with their times. While I’m accustomed to, “in a bit”, “in a few”, “in ____ minutes”, people here just use the word now.  So for example, if someone is on the phone telling the person on the other line that they’re about to arrive at the restaurant soonish, they’ll just say “I’ll see you now” when it should be “I’ll be there soon” or “I’ll see in you in 5”. Or if you ask someone if they can do something for you, they can reply with a “I’ll do that just now”  which could mean two minutes, to whenever they’re done with what they’re doing, to who the hell knows when. I still find this incredibly  entertaining and I’ve even caught myself, for humorous reasons, saying things like just now.

Izit?
Is it, pronounced very much as one word, is a commonly used term for “Oh really?”, “Is that so?”. It’s not really a question as it is more of a reinforcement of what someone’s said. Because of that, it can be used in pretty much any circumstance.
“I stayed out until 4am last night”.  “Izit?”.
“I’m going on vacation next week”. “Izit?”.
“I’ve decided to get a steak for lunch”. “Izit?”
“Cops pulled me over and I just paid a bribe”. “IZIT?!”
So you can see, this phrase can be used for anything, and some people here abuse it by saying it multiple times in a conversation. At first I thought this phrase was incredibly goofy and whenever someone would say it, I’d always reply with a “It is” just to sound clever. Fast forward to now, I find myself replacing “really” with “Izit” and I have no qualms with this anymore. I’m an avid user of this phrase.

 

Cape Town is amazing


I’ve finally made my visit to Cape Town and I must say it is the most naturally beautiful city I’ve ever visited in the world. I’ve been to a lot of cities but this one sits at the top. If I was working in Cape Town instead of Johannesburg, I’d likely stay for the rest of my life. If you haven’t been there yet, you seriously need to clear your calendar.

Thankfully, I have many more trips planned here so I do not need to say goodbye for awhile.

 

Given up on walking


I was so eager in thinking I could walk everywhere when I first moved here that it’s funny to look back on. With my New York mentality of always being on the go, and always being on foot, I thought I’d be the one to bring in the walking trend to this country. Terrible idea. I’ve walked a handful of times to my gym in the last few months and have just given up on the idea altogether. Walking is bearable in New York because there is endless things to see all around you that you really don’t’ feel like you’re walking at all.

There’s nothing to see on your walk to anywhere here and you quickly realize you’re walking. I wouldn’t even mind walking to places but there is just nothing around you and you feel like such a loner being the only person on the sidewalk. I still think it’s perfectly safe to walk around during the day but I’ve just given up on it altogether. Nevertheless, I have walked home extremely intoxicated one night from a club down the street from my apartment while talking to some homeless people along the way. This I don’t recommend :).

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Showing 8 comments
  • Avatar
    Manz
    Reply

    Greetings family

    I’m consent the future of South Africa.
    Government is clamping the wrong people with taxes.
    Expats aboard bringing funds into country, while other foreigners coming and enjoying our piece of bread without paying taxes or dependant taxes like middle east doing from 2016.

    Overall South Africa is beautiful.
    Someone in government must get taxes from foreigners to ensure everyone is happy
    Thank you…
    Pass it on.

  • Avatar
    Francois Williams
    Reply

    kwaai!!!

  • Avatar
    Kobus
    Reply

    I must say, I find it to be an interesting read, especially because im a South African thinking of moving to Napa Valley, Ca. I can only imagine how Sandton can impress you. Unfortunately for most of us living there will never happen. As an engineer, my entire salery wont cover rent of 27k per month. Sandton, Melrose and Cape Town is in no way representative of the life we as South Africans experience. That being said I LOVE this country, and am finding it hard to leave in search of a “better future “.

    • Johnny
      Johnny
      Reply

      Hi Kobus, you’re asbolutely correct. The income disparity in this country is the most noticeable out of all countries I’ve visited. The country is currently facing some serious problems too as I’m sure you’ve probably bnoticed from how much the rand is going down the tube. I would love to live in South Africa again but only if I were earning dollars because I just don’t know what to expect from South Africa’s economy in the coming years.

  • Avatar
    Monna M
    Reply

    Johnny I just stumbled upon your blog and I love it! I recently moved
    back to SA from LA so it’s been a fun read as the culture differences
    really resonate with me. I was online looking for an app here similar to
    Yelp in the States when I saw a link to your post comparing
    directories, mobile networks etc; awesome posts! Plus I have an
    apartment at Sandhurst Towers, how ironic:-)!

  • Avatar
    Adwoa Ankoma
    Reply

    I love your blog! Randomly found it just after you moved to joburg and I have enjoyed it ever since. Love you insights on living in the Towers (I work next door), the differences between The Baron and Newscafe, your take on everything from the weather to our accents is really refreshing. More please 🙂

    • Johnny Chen
      Johnny Chen
      Reply

      Hey thanks man, appreciate the kind words! You work in that norton rose building next door?

  • Avatar
    Casey Hatch
    Reply

    Lekker post, bru.

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