There comes a time in every expat’s life where he will be having a low key Sunday afternoon, soaking in his new surroundings, and all of a sudden, he has an itch to go grab a drink at the bar with some friends and realizes that Sunday Fundays don’t exist in said country. Yes, everyone misses home at some point. Some much more than others. I’ve been in South Africa almost a year now and have caught myself missing some of the simple things that could only be provided back home. It’s inevitable. Nothing to be ashamed of, it’s only natural. I know most South Africans admit they immediately miss Biltong (can’t blame them) when they are abroad. So without further ado, here are some of the things I miss about home, NYC in particular. Family and friends are of course assumed so I won’t bother writing about that.
Not having to drive
Oh how I miss the 1 train so much! We were just becoming the best of friends before I moved out here to navigate around the crazy traffic that is Johannesburg. Okay, I lie. My commute to work is not even 4km, and involves little to no traffic (unless the traffic lights are out, which seems to be the case 50% of the time). Nevertheless, driving is something I’m used to now and I have learned to accept, but I still don’t enjoy it. I much rather prefer to walk to where I need to go, and the subway, oh the beautiful NYC subway, how I miss it so much! And the NYC subways are not beautiful by any means, but that’s how much I miss it.
I’m looking forward to the day where I no longer need to worry about car maintenance (such a bitch in this country), gas, and drinking and driving. After a year of living here, I normally just say no to spur of the moment going out because of all the logistics and planning that becomes involved. I’m not ashamed to admit it but I’ve been pulled over a few times and have paid bribes but I say no more!
Fast pace life+convenience
Joburg is chilled, slow paced, and suburban living at its finest. I sometimes feel like I need a family with a house to do it properly here. South Africans will tell me I’m crazy to think Joburg is slow paced and most say, “If you think Joburg is slow, just wait until you go to Cape Town” to which I reply “I’ve actually been there four times and they’re all just the same slow paced life to me”. Fact of the matter is, after living in NYC, every city aside from Hong Kong has felt slower paced to me.
It’s not a bad thing, but I do miss the hustle and bustle of the big city. Having the freedom to do anything you want at any time, along with just having endless amounts of things to do is great. Some New Yorkers may say, “God I hate the city, I need to get out of here”. I agree, the big city is overwhelming at times, but try living in a suburban town in another country for over a year and then the city will never seem overwhelming again.
Walking from my office, to the subway, and from the subway to my apartment, I could do everything I wanted. I had at least a dozen solid dinner options at my disposal, haircut, groceries, gym, pharmacy, post office, etc whereas I must now save anything I want to do for Saturday mornings as stores here close early and fighting that traffic is unappealing.
When it comes to food, there is no where easier to obtain food than NYC. A few clicks of the mouse on seamless.com or taps of the phone on the Seamless app and my favorite meal is at my doorstep in 20 minutes. I miss food delivery dearly but it really only works when there are a large amount of choices in close proximity. I live in Sandton CBD and there are few restaurants with this proximity. Nothing I can walk to except the overpriced restaurant at my gym. I have to drive somewhere anytime I want to get food. There are delivery services in Joburg like Mr. Delivery but with how spread out everything is, food delivery takes ages and not always reliable. I miss you Seamless!!
Watching American Sports/ESPN
Likely what most expats miss the most is being able to watch American sports. I’ve realized after the first few months that the only channel I really watched in America was ESPN, and if I could just have an ESPN TV package, I would take it in a heartbeat. I since have not bothered getting DSTV (South Africa’s cable provider) because there is no coverage of any American Sports.
Few months ago, I limped through watching my Seahawks dominate in the Superbowl but that was a special occasion. Being 6-7 hours ahead of EST means most prime time sports games are in the early morning, and usually out of reach for me. In this day and age, recording a game and watching it later is almost impossible with all the distractions of the internet and Facebook. Sometimes, you just want to watch the game at your favorite bar with some beers and good company. I have good company, and there’s plenty of beers in this country, but no chance will you find a bar showing any American sports (or a bar playing any sports for that matter).
Food. Oh the Foooooood
Before I go on about how much I miss the food from back home, let me be the first to say the food in South Africa is fantastic. With steaks to rival any in the world, top quality seafood, amazing Indian food, biltong, Nandos, etc. there is no shortage of good food to be had in this place. Good food at restaurants also don’t come at huge premiums like they do in NYC so that is something I certainly do not miss. Nevertheless, there are just some foods you just can’t get in SA that I miss dearly. The variety of foods in Joburg is just so limited after living in New York for so long.
With that said, the first order of business when I visit NYC is to eat my way through everything I’ve been craving over the past year. This includes, in no particular order
- Mexican food. In fact, any type of Latin inspired cuisine (Peruvian, Cuban, etc). There is little to no Latin cuisines in this country. In fact, there are so few people of Hispanic origin in this country that there is no racial classification for Hispanics and South Africans would classify Hispanics as coloured. Chipotle, I’ve got my eye on you when I return.
- Real Thai food. There are a few so called Thai restaurants in this country but any “Thai” restaurant serving Pad See Ew using ramen noodles and calling it Pad See Ew should immediately be closed down.
American BBQ. Really, you can’t get this type of food anywhere else in the world. It’s simply amazing. Beef brisket, pulled pork, and ribs will be all eaten in one sitting when I finally get my hands on some!
- Street Food. NYC is home to countless street foods. Most are pretty bad but as long as you know where to go, there are amazing places. South Africa lacks any semblance of street food because NO one walks. In fact, SA really lacks any type of quick meal that doesn’t involve sitting down and ordering from a waiter (extremely frustrating)
Sliced Pizza. There are plenty of Italian restaurants in SA, some of which make good pizzas, but there is really nothing that beats Bleecker Street Pizza, John’s, or Artichoke. Also, see the point above, there’s also nothing like the convenience getting a quick slice of pizza before a big night out or at 4am after a big night. For comparison, the only late night dining here is McDonalds drive through.
- Bagels. Without a doubt, one of man’s simplest and most revered inventions. I could eat bagels for an entire’s days meals (and I have done this). I haven’t had a bagel in a year now and the things I would do to have a toasted low fat cream cheese cinnamon raisin bagel right now would be unspeakable…
- Meatball Shop. Well, because Anyone who has lived in NYC will understand this one.
Amazon.com and eBay.com
Easily the easiest point every expat in a non-Amazon country can agree on. I became so reliant on Amazon in NYC, I’d sometimes buy basic toiletries I could get at the pharmacy across the street! It is just the most convenient thing life can provide. Need to buy something but not sure what store has it? 99% chance Amazon or eBay has it!
One of the main challenges living here is figuring out which store to buy what from. All store names are new, and with no sense of direction and being the anti-driver that I am, I quickly give up looking for things. Back home? Go on Amazon.com, search for what I want, 1-click buy, 2 days later, it’s in my hands. For all those interested, Amazon.com actually does ship to South Africa but shipping can be anything from 10-40$. Shipping times are long, and the whole South African post system is suspect at best. I’ve since stopped shipping anything from abroad to South Africa.
Many Americans make the ceremonial pilgrimage to this establishment, killing off an entire Saturday, to cheaply but fashionably furnish their new place of residence without having to take out a new mortgage.
Thankfully, the furnished apartments culture is big in South Africa so I didn’t have to worry about this as much but there were a few things I wanted that I knew would be available at Ikea. In fact, I could remember the exact location where to find them at the Brooklyn Ikea. Nevertheless, I just kept delaying and never ended up getting them because of see the point above.
Things just . . . work
Last but certainly not least on the list is things back home just seem to work. It’s hard to explain this one but any ex-pat living in South Africa, hell any South African reading even, will know exactly what I mean. South Africa puts on a facade of first world glamour and charm with its glitzy malls and cleanly paved streets, but when it comes to doing ANYTHING in this country, the third world part rears its ugly head. This is going to be a rant so forgive me, but something tells me most South Africans won’t be too offended by any of this.
The bank is a good example. Don’t expect getting anything done when going to a bank in this country besides wait in long lines and become frustrated. When I opened an account, they used my passport issue date as my work permit expiry date, which would mean I left the country many years ago. How I was even able to open a bank account is beyond me, but this gave me nothing but problems until one of the bankers pointed it out to me a year later and despite the colossal error on the bank’s part, still took over a week to correct.
The post office is another terrible piece of government infrastructure. First and foremost, DO NOT ship anything here from abroad. Just don’t do it, don’t risk it. If something doesn’t get stolen, it will just get lost in transit and you’ll end up phoning people that don’t speak English well telling you they’ve lost your package. Best to save yourself the headache. The better alternative is to ship things to America (or wherever else) and have someone bring it over.
There are countless other examples but that could be a post on its own. I always thought there were infrastructure problems in America (like getting your drivers license renewed) but I am quick to appreciate how good we have it after living here. And no, I’ve never had to get a drivers license nor do I want to imagine that process. While I’m sure there are a few more things I miss about home, this list will do for now. All in all, I’m still very fortunate that I can fly back home any time I want. Plenty of people live away from their home and need to save a year’s pay just to see their families (granted they are probably not out working for their companies).
I’m sure I’ll be writing a follow up to this point about all the things I won’t miss about home when I return to NYC.